The 5th Wave
Some guests are just the worst.
Take the extraterrestrial visitors that drop in on Earth in The 5th Wave. At first, they were like awkward 6th graders at a middle school dance—simply circling around the place in their gigantic spiky spaceship. And while that’s all well and good—who couldn’t use a spot of extra shade now and then?—it became pretty obvious that, like all bad guests, they showed no intention of leaving. And then they started trashing the place.
First came the electromagnetic pulse. All the cool things we’ve gotten used to in modern society—motorized transportation, electricity, running water, Facebook updates—were gone. Then came the earthquakes and floods. Then a particularly nasty strain of bird flu. Those three “waves,” as they came to be called, put the kibosh on most of humanity.
But not everyone terminally vacated the premises.
Cassie’s mom died in the bird flu epidemic, but Cassie, her dad and her teddy-bear-toting brother, Sammy, are still ticking along. In fact, they’ve found a place of relative safety—a refugee village deep in the Ohio woods where there’s food, clean water and lots of company.
And when Col. Vosch introduces himself at the head of a line of military Humvees, it seems as though their problems are over—or, if not over, at least alleviated a little. Because really, what alien in his right tentacled mind would dare take on the United States Army?
Vosch and his soldierly workmates quickly corral all the adults in the mess hall for a quick briefing while putting the kids on a bus bound for a nearby base—the safest place around, he says. Cassie and Sammy dutifully get onboard. But a panicked Sam realizes he's left his bear behind. (Alien invasion or no, Sammy isn’t going anywhere without his teddy.) So Cassie, dutiful big sister that she is, runs back into the camp to get it.
It's the best and worst thing she's ever done. Before you can bounce a laser beam off the moon, all the adults in that mess hall have been gunned down and the bus is racing away with all the kids.
Cue ominous music. And cut back to Cassie, who is now completely on her own.
How can one teenage girl survive in this "Other"-infested Ohio, with alien drones scouring the skies and human doppelgänger ready to shoot on sight? Yes, it turns out that "them" aliens can now impersonate people, and people aren't all who they say they are. But, hey, never underestimate teenage girls. Particularly in movies made for them.
If we’ve learned anything from alien invasions in the past, it’s that they tend to help folks prioritize. Cassie and her fellow survivors are no longer concerned with posting pouty pictures on Instagram or flirting with the cute guy in algebra class. For Cassie, life becomes all about saving Sammy. She made a promise that she wouldn’t leave him. And even though they’ve been forcibly separated, she aims to keep that promise as intact as possible.
And Sam has another protector with him at the military base: Ben Parish (who, ironically, used to be Cassie’s crush). When Sam is in serious peril, Ben risks his life—and takes a bullet—to save the kid. Cassie also finds a helpmate in her travels. After she gets shot by an Other-possessed human, a guy named Evan takes her home and nurses her back to health. “I couldn’t save [my family],” he tells her. “But I could save you.” And while Cassie worries that Evan might be an Other, too, he eventually wins her over with his dutiful devotion and, of course, his baby-blue eyes. (He risks his life for Cassie and helps her track down Sam.)
Cassie seems to have been a pretty nice, reliable kid before the invasion. She comes home on time after a party (her father gives her a thumbs-up for making curfew), and she sings to Sam before going to bed herself. She later mourns what happens when humans are stripped of their humanity.
At the military base, Vosch quotes the Apostle Paul in a pep talk to his young would-be soldiers (which is why the kids were stolen): “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child,” he says. “But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” We see a guy clutching a cross.
Despite the lack of fresh water, teens in The 5th Wave look remarkably well groomed. And there's a reason for that, apparently. Evan, we come to learn, takes his bathing habits particularly seriously: As he and Cassie make their way to the military base, Cassie watches him bathing in a lake and marvels at his chiseled torso. (The water covers everything below the waist.) Later, when Evan helps Cassie change the dressing on the bullet wound in her upper thigh, Cassie gives him a kiss in gratitude … which leads to more serious smooching … which leads to the two of them taking things "further" in the backseat of a deserted vehicle. (They wake up together, but clothed.)
There's talk of “end-of-the-world sex,” strip poker and girls' "hot" quotients. Guys ogle a girl's backside.
The 5th Wave might have the highest body count of any movie since 2009’s 2012, given the death and destruction the first three waves inflict. And we see an alarming number of those fatalities.
The first wave knocks airplanes out of the sky. One crashes in a horrific explosion, with chunks of it landing on at least one car that came to a sudden halt, too. The second wave triggers floods worldwide. And even though Cassie and her family live in Ohio, the movie takes pains to take us to a number of coastlines, where every major city gets wiped out. We see water swamp streets, knock over towering hotels and flood into high-rises, consuming everyone unfortunate enough to be in the way. (Some folks fall from massive heights into the waters below.) The third wave—the bird flu—leaves scads of bodies lying around. Most are covered, but even when they are, it’s still jarring to see human remains resting beside trashcans, as if waiting for the weekly collection.
Vosch and his soldiers open fire on a largely unarmed populace. Cassie walks in to see the floor covered with dead bodies, including that of her father. Bullet holes pock the walls. Cassie is shot in the leg; blood seeps through her jeans. Later, when she’s being nursed back to health, she tries to escape and rips open her stitches, leaving her bandages, bed and body covered with red residue. Evan inserts a needle into her skin to repair the damage.
Cassie discovers a man, apparently injured, in a deserted gas station. Both have guns, and there’s an intense standoff, with a shot finally getting fired. Child soldiers go into battle, shooting people who appear to be infested with alien-ness. One kid is shot and killed. Other people and other Others fight and die, sometimes by way of bullets, sometimes through bludgeoning hand-to-hand combat. A bus blows up. Explosions rock a military base. A woman has her head rammed into a glass window. A guy gets punched in the throat. People talk about a gross injury.
Ben is encouraged to push a button that he’s told will kill an alien (and the human child in which the alien resides). He pushes it. He and the other kids are forced to wear trackers in the backs of their necks: The devices are inserted painfully through a nail-gun-like injection and can only be removed by slicing open the skin. (We see a few children remove their trackers this way.)
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. A half-dozen or so s-words. Also, a few uses each of “a--” and “h---.” "Balls" gets blurted out. God’s name is abused a dozen times; Jesus’ name twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Cassie and some friends drink at a party, with the assumption being that at least some of those drinks are alcoholic.
Other Negative Elements
The 5th Wave is based on the bestselling young adult book by Rick Yancey. The story, published in 2013, is said to be the first installment of a planned trilogy, and it's received some strong reviews.
The same sorts of things are not being said about the movie. While it has some interesting twists to it, this cinematic rendition feels a wee bit tired—a “me too” addition to already second-string YA post-apocalyptic franchises such as The Maze Runner and Divergent. Indeed, the main way The 5th Wave stands out from its cinematic cohorts is, sadly, through its problematic content.
While Divergent's Tris waited at least until the second book before falling into Four's arms, and Hunger Games' Katniss didn’t choose either of her battling beaus until the final chapter of the third book, 16-year-old Cassie wastes no such time getting intimate with her handsome paramour. The language is far harsher in Ohio, it seems, than on even Panem’s most hateful streets. And the violence? How does a body count of billions strike you? While the blood is minimal, that doesn’t really help the countless dead people strewn on the streets—nor the viewer who see them. And then there's the "typical" fisticuffs and ferocity of up-close gun battles, too.
Stories meant for teens certainly can effectively, even profitably, deal with harsh subject matter. The Hunger Games is proof. But there’s a huge difference between difficult topics and difficult—sometimes gratuitous—content. One does not need to see thousands of people drown in an overlong special-effects bonanza to get the idea that an alien invasion is a bad thing.
That means lots of families are going to be waving good-bye long before The 6th Wave says hello.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie Sullivan; Nick Robinson as Ben Parish/Zombie; Ron Livingston as Oliver Sullivan; Zackary Arthur as Sam Sullivan; Maggie Siff as Lisa Sullivan; Alex Roe as Evan Walker; Maika Monroe as Ringer; Live Schreiber as Colonel Vosch; Maria Bello as Sergeant Reznik
J Blakeson ( )
January 22, 2016
May 3, 2016