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The 5th Wave

D: J Blakeson / 112m

Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Liev Schreiber, Maria Bello, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Zackary Arthur, Maika Monroe, Tony Revolori, Talitha Bateman, Cade Canon Ball, Alex MacNicoll, Nadji Jeter, Gabriela Lopez

It’s actually hard to know where to start with The 5th Wave. (It’s equally hard to know where to finish as well.) Yet another adaptation of the first in a trilogy of YA novels – this time by Rick Yancey – the movie has so many problems, and so many flaws it’s almost embarrassing. Up front and centre there’s Chloë Grace Moretz, an actress whose career has evolved – somehow – out of calling a bunch of goons “c*nts”, and who lacks the wherewithal to cry properly when her character’s father dies (look closely and you’ll find that Moretz’s face is not the definition of “tear-streaked”). Moretz just isn’t convincing enough as Cassie, the nominal heroine of the novels and the movie, and every time she’s asked to show some emotion it’s like there’s a war of attrition going on in her head, as she struggles to work out which facial expression will fit the bill. Often she settles for confused, or confused and angry, almost like they’re default modes for acting.

The 5th Wave - scene2

Then there’s the supporting cast, a mix of relative newcomers and veterans who all should have known better and sought employment elsewhere. On the veterans side there’s Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello, two very good, accomplished actors who are more than capable of giving award-winning performances (and they have). But here it’s a very different story (much like this adaptation of Yancey’s novel). Schreiber, playing a US military commander, looks bored and sounds bored throughout, as if he’s committed to the movie before reading the script and is now regretting the decision completely. Bello, on the other hand, at least has the luxury of being almost unrecognisable as another member of the military, but even she can’t bring anything resembling an effective portrayal to a role that requires her to jab her co-stars with a needle gun or spit out her lines as if they were poisonous.

On the relative newcomers side, it’s disheartening to see the likes of Revolori, excellent as the bellboy in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and Monroe, also excellent as the heroine of It Follows (2014), reduced to making ends meet by playing characters who are either unmemorable (Revolori) or stereotypically superficial (Monroe – the tough as nails female who doesn’t take shit from anyone). If this is the best movie they could get to work on in 2015 then they need to seriously rethink who’s representing them. As the two male leads, Robinson (as Cassie’s high school crush, Ben) opts for sulky and remote, while Roe (as Evan, who helps Cassie when she’s injured) aims for a combination of Theo James and Ansel Elgort from the Divergent series, and misses them both by a mile.

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The look of the movie is also a problem. At the beginning, as Cassie provides an overview of the alien invasion and the various waves that have occurred so far, there’s a definite feel of money being well-spent, and the movie has an exciting buzz about it. But once that section is over, and Cassie, her father (Livingston), and her younger brother Sam (Arthur), arrive at the refugee camp it all becomes very generic in terms of both the art direction and the cinematography. And by the movie’s end, the cast are consigned to running around empty underground corridors in a volley of scenes that could be taking place in any post-apocalyptic low-budget sci-fi movie.

All this can be laid firmly at the door of the script, a mishmash of YA tropes and sci-fi melodrama that’s been cobbled together by three writers, all of whom should have been able to do a better job than this. Susannah Grant wrote the script for Erin Brockovich (2000) and was nominated for an Oscar, while Jeff Pinkner has an envious track record on TV shows such as Lost and Fringe. And then there’s Akiva Goldsman, an Oscar winner for A Beautiful Mind (2001), and a recent participant in YA adaptations with the script for Insurgent (2015). But when all three can’t stop a movie from sounding like it was written by a trio of people who believe caricature and cliché are the best options, then the movie is pretty much abandoning all hope and waving a surrender flag.

The 5th Wave - scene1

But all this pales in comparison to the flaccid direction foisted on the movie by Blakeson. Making only his second feature after The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009), Blakeson has trouble making any of it sound or look convincing, from the tepid romance between Cassie and Evan, to the video game sequences where Ben and his squad try and hunt down the aliens – possibly the worst example of the movie’s haphazard approach to editing – whatever the requirement, Blakeson finds some way to spoil it or prevent it from reaching its full potential. When you can’t even find a way of making Liev Schreiber look menacing, or inject any excitement into the destruction of a major air force base then you’ve got real problems. Maybe there’s a budgetary explanation for some of this but in the main, nothing works as well as it should.

Rating: 3/10 – its opening salvo of disaster aside, The 5th Wave works best as a cautionary tale to other makers of dystopian YA movies, in that they should avoid replicating this movie’s mistakes and do exactly the opposite of what it does here; limp and unappealing, with yet another inexplicable lead role for Moretz, it’s a movie that redefines the term “lacklustre” and has hopefully done enough to dissuade any sequels from being made.