Film Review: ‘The 5th Wave’

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

A smart, plucky teenager on the cusp of adulthood is thrust into action in this decent but not fully realized adaptation of Rick Yancey's novel. 

Taken on its own, “The 5th Wave” is an effectively decent post-apocalyptic, young-adult, world-in-the-balance survival thriller. Yet the multitudinous devotees of Rick Yancey’s wildly successful 2013 novel may have more issues with what has been edited or left out entirely than with what’s survived the transition. Still, the film will ride the inevitable wave of fandom and newcomers alike to moderate box office and a healthy afterlife, allowing producers Tobey Maguire and Graham King to move forward with production of the other two books in the author’s proposed trilogy, “The Infinite Sea” (2014) and “The Last Star,” to be published later this year.

Enough of Yancey’s ambitious narrative has made the final cut to reflect an arrestingly original spin on trendy genre tropes. In the present day, Ohio teenager Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz) does what modern young people do: drink beer at unsupervised house parties, moon over boys — in this case, oblivious high-school football heartthrob Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) — dote on her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur), and banter with her laid-back father, Oliver (Ron Livingston).

But Cassie’s cozy suburban cocoon is soon shattered by the arrival of a massive alien ship coincidentally floating just above their street. Though its occupants, dubbed “the Others,” are silent and unseen, they soon make their intentions clear by mounting a series of offensives. The first wave is an electromagnetic pulse that darkens the planet; the second wave consists of massive tsunamis and thunderous earthquakes; the third wave decimates most of the survivors via a deadly virus that claims Cassie’ mother, Lisa (Maggie Siff), but to which some remain immune; the fourth wave reveals that selected humans, dubbed Silencers, are actually Others intent on hunting down the hardy few who’ve scattered to the wind; and the fifth wave is, well, the final two-thirds of the film.

Showing up at a refugee camp in the woods, Cassie, Sam and Oliver are just in time for the arrival of Vosch (Liev Schreiber), a take-charge military colonel who orders the children bused to Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the adults to the camp meeting hall. What happens next is chaotic but necessarily inevitable, leaving Cassie alone and on the run with a scavenged M-16 and a determination to rescue Sam from the base. Along the way, she’s shot by a mysterious sniper on a highway clogged with derelict vehicles (shades of “The Walking Dead,” which shares with the film Georgia locations and more than a little visual iconography). She wakes up in the rustic cabin of Evan Walker (Alex Roe), a Chris Pine-ish hunk who insists on accompanying her but seems to be harboring a secret of his own.

The final act takes place at the base itself, and involves both the fate of the children and the improbable reunion of Cassie with Ben (by now nicknamed “Zombie”). Key players in this sequence include the tough-as-nails Goth teen warrior Ringer (Maika Monroe), the composite character Sgt. Reznik (Maria Bello in a thankless role), and a clutch of frighteningly young soldiers whose mission is not what it seems.

Yancey’s influences are as obvious as they are legion, yet the source novel managed to blend the bittersweet yearnings of an adolescent girl on the cusp of adulthood with the demands of a cinematic global catastrophe that forged her into a hardened, ruthless survival machine. Nevertheless, she understood intuitively that humanity was all she had left against an unseen yet brutal foe.

This message gamely survives a screenplay by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Alex Pinkner that seems perversely determined to keep the best parts of the book out of the movie (in the same way the much-discussed Battle of Yonkers didn’t make it into “World War Z”). Gone is the explanatory prologue, the siege at Cassie’s house during the third wave, her odyssey in the woods, most of the fallout from her gunshot wound and the bulk of the immensely appealing and very well-written common-sense internal monologues that make Cassie, well, Cassie. The gambit might have worked, except for what’s been substituted in their stead. Carrie and Ben are friendlier before the siege; the mostly off-screen second wave has been literalized with unnecessary (but not bad) CGI; the first four waves themselves are hurriedly compressed into the film’s initial half-hour; and the denouement plays as rushed and perfunctory. And Cassie doesn’t drink beer, either.

Director J Blakeson, whose only previous feature was the small but well-received British kidnap thriller “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” (2010), works well with his generally fine cast, yet seems increasingly unsure of the film’s pace and flow. Moretz makes the most of a script that gives her a softer Cassie than on the page, while Livingston, who’s looking more and more like George Clooney, and Schreiber, who can pivot plausibly from good to evil on a dime, play it like the pros they are. As the before-and-after faces of Cassie’s budding sexuality, Robinson and Roe make up in soulful looks what they lack in charisma.Craft contributions are above par, led by Jon Billington’s evocative and detailed production design; the sound mix emphasizes gunshots and explosions to a distracting degree.

Like the adaptations of Steven King’s “Dreamcatcher” and “The Mist,” “The 5th Wave” suffers primarily from a few key decisions that undercut the good intentions. Yet with two films left in the trilogy, the filmmakers still have the time and opportunity to get this quality material better than right.

Film Review: 'The 5th Wave'

Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Jan. 14, 2016. Running time: 106 MIN.


A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation, in association with LStar Capital, of a Material/GK Films production. Produced by Tobey Maguire, Graham King, Matthew Plouffe, Lynn Harris. Executive producers, Denis O’Sullivan, Richard Middleton, Ben Waisbren.


Directed by J Blakeson. Screenplay, Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, from the novel by Rick Yancey. Camera (color), Enrique Chediak; editor, Paul Rubell; music, Henry Jackman; production designer, Jon Billington; art directors, Julian Ashby, A. Todd Holland; set decorator, Frank Galline; costume designer, Sharen Davis; sound (Dolby Digital), Ed White; supervising sound editor and sound designer, Richard King; re-recording mixers, Kevin O’Connell, Richard King; visual effects supervisors, Scott Stokdyk, John Haley; visual effects producer, Diana Ibanez; visual effects, Scanline FFX, Spin, Mammal Studios, Shade VFX, Clearcut VFX, Method Studios, the Embassy, Pixomondo; assistant director, Matthew Dunne.


Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, Zackary Arthur, Liev Schreiber, Tony Revolori, Talitha Bateman, Nadji Jeter, Alex MacNicoll.

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  1. Michel says:

    Chloe & Liev gave it they’re best!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    While the movie was not horrific, it was not even close to the book.
    Some of the main/major parts of the story were excluded from the movie. It was back to back non-suspensful “action” that was unrealistic and confusing.
    The idea and plot of the story is great, but there was too much information that was excluded from the movie.
    On the other hand, I absolutely loved the book! I could have gone without ever seeing the movie, in facet, it annoyed me. This movie was bland and predictable… just another blah movie.

    I would reccomend adding a little more detail and get some better, more realistic actors.

  3. jonusb says:

    Please let me start by saying I haven’t read the books. I didn’t think the movie was all that bad; but it left at least one unanswered question to me. How come no one except Cassie finds the idea of the army having power (fully functional vehicles, for example) after the electromagnetic pulse wiped out everything on Earth the least bit suspicious?

  4. Salvadore says:

    Lets just say the book was amazing, there was sole, there was fear, there was alien tech. Then there was this movie with the same title, with bland to very little story, two main characters that could easily have dropped in from the twilight series, boasting their overplayed attributes, and that’s about it.
    No sole, no alien tech, lame acting.
    I would rather listen to Donald Trump, then ever watch that bit of flotsam again.

  5. liverpiggy says:

    Have just watched The Fifth Wave and found it to be an enjoyable experience. Moretz is an engaging lead and proved to be more than upto the task of portraying her role as Cassy.

    Those here in the comments seem to be such nitpickers it’s a wonder they enjoy any movie. This is a fun film, no masterpiece, but then not many films are. As a fan of apocalyptic drama and the science fiction genre, this tale was right up my alley.

    I do hope that the albeit very modest financial returns this film has generated, will still be enough to accommodate the concluding parts of this interesting story being given the green light.
    This is the only “YA” movie I’ve warmed to. Couldn’t hack Twilight. Gave up on the Hunger Games after the first film and could not raise any enthusiasm to see The Maze Runner and Divergent was a slog to get through. I guess with my critism of those movies I’m somewhat hypocritical, but this is all subjective and if people enjoy something I would have no desire to prevent there doing so by wanting the film not be made as some here have done. Really is it so hard to just NOT WATCH WHAT YOU DON’T ENJOY AND LET THOSE THAT DO ENJOY IT ENJOY IT IN PEACE!

  6. Ginger says:

    Yet another whitewashed film.

  7. “Yet with two films left in the trilogy, the filmmakers still have the time and opportunity to get this quality material better than right.”

    That’s one of the most wildly optimistic predictions you’re likely to read on these pages. The movie was a catastrophic train wreck. We won’t be seeing any more of Cassie and thank the maker for it.

  8. James says:

    I was less than impressed with the movie — among the worst I’ve seen.


    1) No explanation of how the “Others” take over the U.S. Military — and presumably, that of every other country on the planet as well. Also, no backstory on the rest of government, law enforcement, etc.

    2) The “Army” personnel, from the Colonel to all others, are all wearing Marpat — yet they advertise themselves as Army. There are some other service uniforms represented; and somehow they are all collected at Maxwell AFB.

    3) The appearance of military vehicles and aircraft after everything has stopped working should have generated more than passing suspicion; but also, an EMP event would not fry everything indefinitely. Once the EMP was passed, anything not damaged would work again.

    Even Science fiction should be plausible/believable.

  9. Disappointed says:

    How come there is not even an alien when there is a UFO floating around…if the alien are capable of making so many wave just to kill off all humans..why bother using human or should I say children to kill human? Cassie are able to survive so long in the a forest without any survival skill or at least show what she have to hunt in order to survive. the best part is Cassie peek at Evan when he takes a swim/bath in the river.. which usually the other way round…thanks the director for this daring decision and I personally feel this is a turn off…thumb up for all the actor and actress for trying their best to make this movie as interesting as possible. overall..this movie is a huge disappointment…

  10. Biancaxo says:

    Just watch this movie. The first 30minutes or so looks really promising, everything ruined when Cassie met Evan. Their scene is too much and overshadowed the main issue. The bootcamp scene seems more interesting than two lover Cassie and Evan the human-alien. The last part is even worst, Cassie’s reunion with Ben lack of feelings it could be dramatized like maybe she hugs him or so, and yes they should had extend the movie just a little more because the ending is so dissapointing.

    • Danique says:

      This is just What i thought, i mean casy en ben Realy need to have à relationship in THE end right i mean in de beginning it was about those two en then she met evan its so dissapointing i think

  11. nuri says:

    Watch The 5th Wave Full Movie

  12. John Hall says:

    its a trash! Creepiest movie ever..waste of time, i left the movie house full of frustration and anger..totally a garbage one!

  13. JC says:

    Total utter garbage. Pretty obvious if you can sit through this – that all involved are finished in the industry. I guess the producers are just trying to get some money back on it now.

  14. Gage says:

    I hope Nick Robinson’s career dies after this. He was also terrible in Jurassic World. He can’t act.

  15. DougW says:

    My guess is we won’t be seeing sequels to this. For an alien invasion story, we spend too much time in the woods and on a military base. Unlike the earlier waves in the story, the fifth wave is very small scale.

  16. Liz says:

    It’s The Infinite Sea, not The Invisibly Sea. That one doesn’t even make grammatical sense.

  17. says:

    Another end of the world movie but I will
    See it cuz it’s different from the other end of the world movies out there

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