The 5th Wave – Alien Invasion Lite: Review

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The 5th Wave
directed by J Blakeson
music by Henry Jackman


Whether they stay faithful to the original book, or keep merely a framework of a story, movies adapted from books are frequently not as good. Some, like Ender’s Game, make significant changes and still come up with a solid film; others, like last weekend’s debut The 5th Wave, stay as true to the book as they can be, and come up weak. Often, a movie can still be enjoyable (or especially) if you don’t know the original story (Jack Reacher, for example), but with The 5th Wave,  if you haven’t read the book, you’ll probably like it even less.

Not that this was a BAD film – it was weak. It wasn’t frightening, it wasn’t epic. My husband, who hasn’t read the book (and honestly doesn’t read anything but sports books, but he enjoys sci fi movies), sat at the end of the film and said, “well, that was OK. Just OK.” And he’s not usually tough on films. This was adapted from Rick Yancey’s book of the same name, the first in a trilogy.


The movie follows a high school student, Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz), after an alien invasion has killed most of humanity through a series of disasters – an EMP has shut down anything electrical (1st wave); a huge tidal wave has wiped any coastal cities (2nd wave); a fast-acting and highly contagious disease has killed most of the rest (3rd wave).  Some people are resistant to the disease, and have gathered together in survivor camps, as drones hunt down and kill anyone they can find (4th wave), when the Army comes in to bring them to military bases for safety, taking children first. Cassie is separated from her very young brother, Sam, and doesn’t make the bus. But the Army turns out not be the rescuers everyone thought they were, and they kill all the adults in the camp. Cassie is now on the run, trying to find her brother.

The 5th wave is supposed to be the scariest one – but it’s here where the movie falls. Not enough time is given to developing the menace of the 5th wave. Cassie is shot, and wakes up in the home of a young man named Ben (Alex Roe) are very important. But in the film, there’s no time given to this central relationship – and that’s the biggest problem with the entire film. It really needed to be longer – and we’re usually complaining that films run TOO long – but this could have used an extra half hour, at least. At just under 2 hours, it was an average-length film, and adding an extra half hour might have been too long for a young-adult-oriented movie – but it wasn’t long enough to set up the premise, explore the conflict, and explain the relationships.


Honestly, if you haven’t read the book, you may be mystified by much of the film – there just wasn’t enough there to hang on to. If you have read the book, like most of the teen girls who were in the audience, you’ll be able to fill in the gaps and enjoy what’s there. But as the first in a planned trilogy based on this book series, The 5th Wave doesn’t bode well for an ongoing franchise.

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Erin Conrad