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Family Movie Review: The 5th Wave (PG-13)

The5thWave ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 112 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. This latest young-adult-literature adaptation is more of the same, with aliens invading the Earth and teenagers fighting back. Some cursing, including one use of the f-word; a high school party where teens drink underage, but aren’t shown drunk; some sexually themed humor; a few kissing scenes, clothed teenagers sleeping together, the suggestion of another teenage love triangle, and some teenage declarations of love; and a lot of violence and its effects, including fields of corpses, various characters (both adults and teenagers) who are killed, teens engaging in warfare, fighting, shooting guns, and killing innocent people, and general dystopian mayhem, including an earthquake and a tsunami.

‘The 5th Wave’ is more ‘Twilight’ than ‘Hunger Games,’ with a bland protagonist, a completely nonsensical story, and another teen love triangle. It’s simultaneously boring and cringingly overwrought.

By Roxana Hadadi

Years later, we’re still not out of the clutches of “Twilight.” The young-adult franchise that spawned a veritable avalanche of copycat literature and films has yet another imitator in “The 5th Wave,” which like so much YA media nowadays is set in a dystopian future with impossibly attractive teenagers forced to get violent to protect themselves from villains intent on gaining power over them for some reason or another. None of “The 5th Wave” is very creative, and none of it is very good.

Placed in the YA spectrum, “The 5th Wave” wants to be “The Hunger Games,” but with its clunky, goofy plot, it ends up more in line with Bella and her pining over Edward and Jacob with occasional bouts against evil vampires than Katniss and her revolution-inspiring defiance against President Snow. And in execution, “The 5th Wave” is probably most equal to the “Divergent” series, which also tried to copy “The Hunger Games” but has just become increasingly derivative and convoluted with each installment, like last year’s “Insurgent.” “The 5th Wave,” adapted from the same-named book by Rick Yancey, suffers from the same kind of problem as that film, in that the stakes of the universe seem both way too high and utterly forgettable.

Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz, of “If I Stay”) is an Ohio teenager living with her parents and beloved younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) when mysterious aliens, “the Others,” attack Earth through a series of “wave” attacks. The first is an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out all electricity; the second is an earthquake and tsunami that floods all coastal areas; the third is an engineered strain of avian flu that kills most everyone; and the fourth wave is “the Others” descending to Earth and taking over people’s brains with their parasitic life forms.

How are people supposed to fight back? According to U.S. Army Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber, of “Creed”), the military needs the help of children out to avenge their murdered families. It’s Vosch who has Sam when he and Cassie end up separated after their parents die, and it’s up to Cassie to find him so they can reunite—even though the Others are stronger, smarter, and in control, while Cassie just a teenage girl with her father’s gifted gun.

Or is she? A boy Cassie meets, Evan (Alex Roe), seems to believe she has more strength than she thinks. And although Cassie had a crush back in high school, Ben (Nick Robinson, of “Jurassic World”), Evan seems different—maybe more different than she anticipated. But if he helps her find Sam, maybe their differences don’t matter … do they?

Moretz has bounced around a few different teen films at this point, and unfortunately “The 5th Wave” asks very little of her; she vacillates between looking sad, anxious, and confused, and because the film has her describe herself early on as a “normal teenager,” it doesn’t give her any further character development. We see her playing soccer and she refutes Evan’s initial impression of her as a cheerleader, but that’s basically it. Her growth is inspired only by her interactions with Evan, and it’s disappointing to see yet another female-led YA franchise be defined solely by that character’s romantic relationship and how it changes her. Sure, she wants to find her brother, but she’s saved by a guy, coached by a guy, led to safety by another guy. There’s practically no female agency here at all.

But asking for any kind of creativity from “The 5th Wave” is a fruitless task. The film’s main themes, delivered baldly through irritating, clichéd narration, are that war is bad and kids should get the chance to have a childhood, but those aren’t new ideas—and “The 5th Wave” puts no spin on them that we haven’t seen before, and done better, than this.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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