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Crashing of The 5th Wave'

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YA sci-fi adaptation fails to live up to source material

Young adult apocalypses are big business at the box office. Book-based franchises such as 'The Hunger Games' and 'Divergent' and 'The Maze Runner' have shown themselves to be lucrative properties. Unfortunately, we've definitely passed the point at which the law of diminishing returns kicks in. For every success, there is going to be at least one failure.

Unfortunately, 'The 5th Wave' appears destined to fall in the latter category.

The film based on Rick Yancey's 2013 novel of the same name offers a look at a world in the throes of an alien invasion. The attacks on Earth come in waves. The first wave is an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out the power worldwide. The second is a series of floods that decimate coastal areas around the globe. The third is a mutated avian flu that proves almost universally deadly. The fourth is a series of parasitic attacks in which some aliens take human form and walk among us. And the fifthis coming.

This is the world in which Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz, 'Dark Places') finds herself living. When she and her brother Sam (Zackary Arthur, TV's 'Transparent') are separated at a refugee camp Sam is taken away to a nearby military base by forces led by the mysterious Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber, 'Spotlight') Cassie struggles to track him down.

She winds up in the company of Evan Walker (Alex Roe, 'Sniper: Legacy'), who has rescued her from an ambush by some of the alien occupiers. After some initial conflict, the two wind up setting off together in hopes of a reunion with Sam.

Meanwhile, Ben Parish (Nick Robinson, 'Jurassic World'), Cassie's high school classmate and crush, has also been brought to the base. It turns out that Vosch's grand plan is to turn the world's remaining children into soldiers to battle the alien enemy. Now known as Zombie, Ben takes leadership of a squad that just happens to include Sam.

However, in a world where anyone could be an enemy, it's almost impossible to determine just who you can trust. So many people allies and foes alike are not exactly what they seem to be. Cassie and her friends are left to try and find some way any way to help save humanity and defeat the invaders.

'The 5th Wave' struggles in a number of ways. The exposition is scattershot, with some ideas getting far too much and others not nearly enough. The pace borders on the glacial, with events unfolding far too slowly for the film to ever achieve a real rhythm. The effects work is humdrum at best and outright lazy at worst. Any character development is an afterthought assuming it gets addressed at all. The performances are oatmeal-level bland (though that degree of competence actually makes them a 'highlight').

Moretz isn't particularly impressive, but she's fine. The role basically asks her to serve as an audience surrogate anyway; she isn't asked to do a whole lot. It's too bad she's got real talent, but it's largely wasted here. Roe and Robinson are your standard sci-fi/fantasy teen-girl protagonist love triangle points (seriously at one point, my wife turned and asked me which one I thought was the vampire and which was the werewolf); they are remarkable solely for how unremarkable they are. Meanwhile, Liev Schreiber plays every scene like he's waiting for the check to clear. There are other characters a fair number actually but none make any kind of actual impact.

Neither director J Blakeson nor the three credited screenwriters (Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner) do the source material any favors. And that's really too bad, because Yancey's book is actually quite good. It's an interesting take on alien invasions, with some new angles and a style that blurs the line between YA fiction and just plain fiction. It contains all the relevant detail and character development that the film sorely lacks, but while some adjustments inevitably need to be made when adapting a novel for the screen, it seems as though the people involved chose those adjustments poorly.

'The 5th Wave' comes off as a case of going to the well once too often. Rather than focus on the aspects of Yancey's novel that were fresh and interesting, the filmmakers instead chose to focus on the same old tired tropes that we've all seen a million times before. The end result is something that feels sadly derivative, a YA sci-fi game of Mad Libs in which no one really comes out on top. The film was clearly intended to kick off a franchise, but with this kind of misfire, that now seems unlikely.

In short, it looks like 'The 5th Wave' is a wave good-bye.

[1.5 out of 5]

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