The movie opens with a winsome Cassie, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, executing a man with a military-style assault rifle, and the gunplay only goes further from there. The sight of teens with rifles is one we’re used to from news reports of a much more tragic nature, so the imagery definitely gives one pause.
There’s a deeply antigovernment streak to the politics of “The 5th Wave,” which imagines a world in which an alien race takes over the planet and starts eradicating the human species in a series of waves that destroy infrastructure, environment and health. The panicked surviving humans band together in the woods until their children are rounded up by the army for “protection.”
Cassie escapes the collection and ends up alone in the woods with only a few guns for her comfort. She sets out to find her little brother, Sam, ostensibly to return his stuffed bear.
Perhaps the reason why some of the themes and imagery hit a bit too close is the way the film creates a recognizable world. In young adult hits of the same genre, such as “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” or “The Maze Runner,” the metaphor has a bit more freedom because the worlds in which they take place are visually fantastical, and therefore removed from our reality. Everything in the “The 5th Wave” feels, or at least looks, real.
There’s your to-be-expected love triangle, with hunky loner lumberjack Evan Walker (Alex Roe) positioned against high school crush Ben Parish (Nick Robinson). Unfortunately, the execution of said triangle is generically laughable.
Not only does Cassie have a voice-over to explain things, but characters dump information in rapid fire speeches filled with revelations of machinations that they’ve put together awfully quickly. The twists and turns of the plot are telegraphed from miles away, so there’s not an ounce of suspense. The filmmaking itself (The 5th Wave was directed by J Blakeson) is aesthetically pleasing enough, and the story clips along at a fair pace.
Maria Bello relishes a chance to chew scenery as one of the manipulative Army sergeants, while Liev Schreiber phones it in for a paycheck as the colonel. On the surface, “The 5th Wave” is mindlessly silly enough, but has a weirdly virulent pro-gun, libertarian streak just under the surface.