Rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.
Running time: 112 minutes.
One and a half stars out of four.
“The 5th Wave” plays like a Wayans-brothers spoof of movies based on dystopian Young Adult novels. Seriously, it could have been called “YA Movie” the way it wallows in all the overly familiar tropes of the genre. Theaters could offer checklists at the door to allow us to play along and at least have a little fun with it.
Let’s see, we have:
— An apocalypse that decimates the planet (this time, aliens are to blame).
— A plucky teenage girl who dares to think for herself and defy the odds (Chloe Grace Moretz).
— Two hunky potential suitors competing for her affections (Nick Robinson and Alex Roe).
— Adults in control who are clearly untrustworthy, played by serious actors to give the film some semblance of heft (Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello).
— An intense training ritual in which kids learn how to become killers, complete with hand-to-hand combat and firing-range exercises.
— A maze. Seriously, there’s a maze of concrete corridors these kids must navigate in order to escape.
If this sounds familiar to you — if you’ve seen any or all of the movies in the “Hunger Games,” “Divergent” or “Maze Runner” series — then you know exactly what you’re in for with “The 5th Wave.” There’s even an ending to suggest hopes for a franchise of its own. Rick Yancey, who wrote the book “The 5th Wave,” also wrote a sequel, “The Infinite Sea.” The third installment in the trilogy, “The Last Star,” is due out later this year. Because they all come in trilogies. That’s something you should be familiar with by now, too.
Having said that, Moretz is game for all the physical and psychological mayhem that come her character’s way, and she clearly aims to add depth to this person which might not have existed on the page. Director J Blakeson, working from a script credited to some heavy-hitting veteran writers (Akiva Goldsman, Susannah Grant and Jeff Pinkner), quickly establishes that Moretz’s Cassie used to be a pretty average teenage girl in an idyllic Ohio town: soccer practice, keggers, a wisecracking best friend, an adorable younger brother (Zackary Arthur) and loving parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff).
But then … the aliens come. Who are they? What do they want? Doesn’t matter, although context might provide some actual tension and fear. Just know that they arrive, hover and wreak havoc in a series of waves: a devastating electromagnetic pulse, followed by earthquakes and tsunamis (with tidal wave effects that look pretty cheesy), then an avian flu, then snipers, I think …? People get shot.
(My 6-year-old son, who’s sitting next to me as I write this, just asked: “Why are there five waves? Why don’t the aliens just do it all in one?” It’s a legitimate question.)
Anyway, the fifth wave is coming. And the military (which suspiciously has working vehicles and dramatic overhead lighting out of “Dr. Strangelove”) needs children to help fight the battle. The cute football player Cassie had a crush on before the arrival of The Others, as the aliens become known, is among their most promising soldiers: Robinson’s Ben Parish, whose code name is Zombie. The group’s other bad-ass is a fierce young woman known as Ringer (Maika Monroe from the great “It Follows”), who somehow finds time each day to apply thick, black eyeliner, even though the world could end at any moment.
Cassie’s story runs parallel as she struggles to find her brother, Sam, whom the military has taken to an air force base for tiny soldier training. For a regular and rather sheltered girl, she figures out how to use a high-powered rifle and hide in the wilderness pretty quickly. (And her hair always looks amazing.) She also happens to get rescued by the handsomest farm boy imaginable: Roe’s Evan Walker. There are many moments in “The 5th Wave” that made me and my fellow critics giggle from the back row of the theater, but the one that made us cackle hysterically occurred when Cassie stumbled upon Evan enjoying an early-morning bath in the river. As she surreptitiously spies on him from behind a tree, he turns around to reveal ridiculously sculpted pecs and abs. Amid all the alien-hiding and girl-rescuing, Evan clearly found time to hit the gym.
The true enemy here isn’t too difficult to discern. The massively versatile Schreiber, who improves every film in which he appears, can’t do much with his under-written role as the commanding colonel calling the shots. But perhaps we’ll learn more about him — and come to truly fear him — in the inevitable sequel.