Watching “The 5th Wave” felt like when my dad made prepackaged macaroni and cheese a few years ago. By all reason the dish should have been easy to prepare: the ingredients were included and so were the instructions, but he still managed to set the kitchen on fire.
In a similar fashion, the book had the ingredients – a clever plot, developed characters and a sprinkle of romance – to make a great movie adaptation; but, just like my dad, the film creators may have metaphorically set things on fire.
“The 5th Wave” is an adaptation of the first book of Rick Yancey’s post-apocalyptic series, which centers around Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz), a girl who survives a massacre by the “Others,” who would be better described as an otherworldly species. The goal of the Others is to wipe out humanity in five calamitous “waves,” so they can eventually inhabit Earth. The waves range from tsunamis to snipers, each resulting in mass fatality.
With less than 2 percent of the world’s population left, Sullivan is one of the last humans alive. As she tries to mediate between doing whatever is necessary to survive and retaining the last of her humanity, the world she lives in becomes one where the idea of morality is absurd in the face of survival. While the book explores this theme by following the physical and emotional journey Sullivan embarks on as she desperately searches for her little brother, the movie turns the endeavor into a thriller chick flick.
Yancey begins the book with the fourth wave, and introduces Sullivan’s past through brief flashback interludes. The film, however, wastes too much time illustrating the party-going, boy-fawning Cassie who led a normal teenage life before the waves, taking away from the plot development.
The movie also attempts to make the romance between Sullivan and Evan Walker (Alex Roe), the archetypal hot male lead who saves her from a gunshot wound, the main selling point. But as the romance between the two is underdeveloped, their “love” is also unconvincing.
In addition to the film’s altered storyline, the casting, the acting and the cinematography are also quite rudimentary.
Although the doe-eyed Moretz fits the innocent pre-wave Sullivan, she stands out like a sore-thumb with her perfectly curled hair and well-managed blond highlights in a post-apocalyptic world. As a teenage girl who is forced to kill and to live in a constant state of paranoia, Moretz does not depict the stress Sullivan should feel under those conditions. If the Sullivan played by Moretz was placed in “The Hunger Games” universe, she would die before the opening gunshot sounded.
Although Moretz and Nick Robinson, the actor portraying Sullivan’s high school crush whom she meets later in the movie, have been in the film industry for some time, all of the other young actors are quite new. The casting could have been the director’s attempt at bringing in new talents, but the movie would definitely have benefited if it used more seasoned actors.
Similarly, the cinematography also adds to the unsatisfying movie experience. Certain scenes seem to have been filmed on a high-quality iPhone with slightly shaky hands, and many of the facial close-ups only serve to distract the viewers instead of develop the storyline.
Even with all of the flaws, I can’t say I hate the movie. Although it did not capture any of Yancey’s literary excellence, seeing the characters from a book I love come to life satisfied some part of my bookworm heart. The movie has redeeming qualities, two of which are the visual effects and the film soundtrack, which are stunning enough to partially mask the bland plotline.
“The 5th Wave” is not a total waste of my time, because even though it seems like a burnt macaroni and cheese, it’s a burnt macaroni and cheese originally written by Yancey.
– Carol Yao