Friday, January 22, 2016

The 5th Wave

Damn aliens!
Yesterday, a fellow critic shared his condolences that I had to go to a screening of The 5th Wave on the eve of my birthday. But what he didn't know is that I am a fourteen year old trapped in a fortysomething's body when it comes to both books and movies: I can't get enough of the whole YA scene, especially when there's post-Apocalyptic stuff going down. And in some aliens for good measure and let's call it a party!

So yes, I had already read Rick Yancey's novel of the same name over a year ago, and I'll have you know that it was one of The New York Times' Best YA Books of 2013. So in other words, it's not Twilight. (Though as you may remember I liked that series, too; I never claimed to be the most discerning reader. It's all about escapism, people.)

There are some YA books I read and I feel like they're just great books, period. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy and John Green's The Fault in Our Stars are on that list. Then there are others, like Paper Towns (also by Green), or the Divergent and Mortal Instruments series, where I am conscious from beginning to end that I am not the target demographic and I feel a little silly. Not silly enough to actually stop reading these kinds of books, but a tad sheepish nonetheless.

The 5th Wave fell into the "just a good book overall" category for me, which is why I was disappointed when I saw its trailer. First, I thought ChloĆ« Grace Moretz was not the right choice for the lead—she just didn't fit what I had in my head. Second, what little dialogue was highlighted was absolutely generic and awful. So I had extremely low expectations going into the screening.

The good news is that I enjoyed the film and was quite surprised by how much it didn't suck (by Teen Apocalypse Movie standards). The bad news is that I'm not sure I could outright recommend it to anyone who: 1) hasn't read (and liked) the book, and/or 2) is over the age of, say, 23. What seemed to be a lot more logical on paper comes off as totally bananas on the big screen—from how aliens destroy our planet in four "waves," to how we fight back by, um, attempting to turn shrimpy little kids into extraterrestrial killing machines. There are undeniable shades of The Hunger Games in the film that I never picked up in the book, and I can't help but feel like that was an intentional, conscious choice by director J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) and the very accomplished screenwriting team of Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinker.

Don't worry Cassie, I'll just mesmerize the aliens with my dreaminess
So how did CGM do in the Feisty Heroine You Don't Want To Mess With role? Just fine. She wasn't who I had pictured as Cassie, the high-schooler whose perspective we're viewing the alien attacks and aftermath from, but she also wasn't who I had in my head as the lead in If I Stay (yet another YA book/movie I liked), either, and she was able to make that role her own as well. Though some other fairly impressive names and recognizable faces round out the supporting cast of The 5th Wave, if Moretz hadn't been able to pull her weight, it all would've fallen apart.

Instead we have two strong first acts where we see the Earth get destroyed and pretty much everyone on it be killed, learn what happened to Cassie's family, find out what's become of her crush Ben (Nick Robinson, only slightly less scowly than he was in Jurassic World, but still likable), and meet Evan (Alex Roe, almost too pretty to look at), some random guy who saves Cassie from alien snipers but may or may not be completely trustworthy.

In the final act, Cassie is hellbent on finding her little brother Sammy (cute moptop Zackary Arthur from Transparent) and can't stop Evan from tagging along with her. Little do they know that Sammy has been with Ben, a badass chick who goes by "Ringer" (Maika Monroe from It Follows, whose performance is one of the highlights of the film), and a bunch of other little kids who are under the direction of the shady Colonel Vosch (Liev Schrieber). From there, things get even more messed up than they already were. There are some hokey effects that distract from the action sequences, and the dialogue goes from decent to godawful near the end. But to me it was more like the screenwriters knew they were being cheesy, and so it came off as a little "wink-wink" and amusing rather than out-and-out cringeworthy. Which is why I still enjoyed The 5th Wave and didn't walk out of the theater all bitter that Hollywood had ruined yet another good book.

I'm not going to tell you if Cassie succeeds in reuniting with her bro and finally giving him back his damn teddy bear she's managed to carry with her this whole time. Nor will I tell you if any of the aforementioned characters die. And the film ends before we get the final answer on whether humanity survives or the aliens win. However, the bigger question is this: Will this movie make enough green to get a sequel? The book The 5th Wave is based on is the first of three (with the final installment out in May of this year), yet I'm not sure the series has the Twilight/Hunger Games/Divergent-level fandom necessary to translate into profit at the box office. But I was entertained enough to hope it does.

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