Riding the wave (pun intended) of dystopian YA novels like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, The 5th Wave arrived in 2013 to a decent level of acclaim– a solid book with a nifty premise. Sort of an Independence Day for the Clearasil crowd.
Less than three years later, the movie has arrived, and it will instantly remind you of every dystopian YA movie ever. Because it’s exactly like every dystopian YA movie ever.
We should have known, I suppose. Among the gaggle of screenwriters who adapted Rick Yancey’s novel was Akiva Goldsman, who’s never met a book he couldn’t kill. Sure, he won an Oscar for adapting A Beautiful Mind, but it’s become crystal clear in the years since that win that it was a bizarre aberration, not the shape of things to come. The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Winter’s Tale, and I, Robot all fell victim to Goldsman. The 5th Wave is simply the latest casualty.
The story of Cassie (Chloe Moretz), a teenager fighting to survive an alien invasion, The 5th Wave starts with a lot of promise. The special effects are clunky, sure, particularly as a tidal wave takes out London’s Tower Bridge, but Moretz’s presence and charisma demand your attention.
The main issue arises, though, with the fact that Goldsman gave Moretz nothing worthwhile to say. By truncating entire passages of text and instead relying on ridiculous, trope-heavy dialogue, Goldsman (and fellow screenwriters Susannah Grant and Jeff Pinkner) managed to take an interesting story and make it so cliched that you can actually mouth entire scenes right along with the actors.
Chuckle along, won’t you, as a US Army Colonel (Liev Schreiber) rallies his young troops with a speech that makes Idris Elba’s overblown rally in Pacific Rim seem like poetry? And make sure to not let your eyes roll out of your head as a dreamy young man (Alex Roe) tells Cassie that he’s here to save her, and that she has to believe him. She just has to!
Since The 5th Wave is only the first part of a planned trilogy, I’m not ready to abandon ship quite yet. There’s still plenty of time for producers to jettison Goldsman, after all, so he can go play with his G.I. Joes.