‘The Fifth Wave’ drowned out by sappy plot and weak script

Rebecca Smalbach

Adapted from Rick Yancey’s book of the same name, “The Fifth Wave” is a dull romance movie masquerading as science fiction.

Yes, there are aliens, and yes, there is fighting, but what screenwriters Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner unfortunately choose to highlight is the love story between Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and her childhood crush Ben Parish (Nick Robinson). This is unfortunate because the science fiction storyline is as original as teen dystopia usually gets.

The requisite stereotypical love triangle is completed by Evan Walker (Alex Roe), at whom Cassie spends an inordinate amount of time staring. Movie plots don’t get more predictable than this.

Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Photo Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

After aliens land on Earth and take away electricity and cause natural disasters and produce other catastrophes, Cassie’s little brother Sam is taken by the military, which claims it is trying to help the citizens of Earth survive the disaster. The movie follows Cassie and Evan looking for Sam, and also gives screen time to Ben, who is training for war at an Air Force Base.

The acting in “The Fifth Wave” is lackluster for every character, though Grace-Moretz could shine given deeper material, as evidenced by her past performances in “Hugo” and “Dark Shadows.” The Cassie in the book version is much less frivolous than the one in the movie, and had Grace-Moretz been given a script with as much depth as the character in the book, she would have been much more successful in her emotional scenes.

Where the movie does succeed, however, is in its beautiful portrayal of the post-apocalyptic wastelands left by the aliens, though it does seem like the colors in the movie should be more muted––bright primaries and neons don’t seem quite appropriate for an alien invasion.

Infographic by Rebecca Smalbach
Infographic by Rebecca Smalbach

Production designer John Billington has a knack for creating slightly more tasteful versions of scenes that could be gory or disturbing, re-emphasizing that this movie is like the diet version of a true science fiction thriller.  

The ending of the movie is unpalatable and dissatisfying. The cliffhangers are the most obvious lead-in to a sequel I’ve ever seen.

This explicitness is emblematic of the tone of the entire movie––everything is so overt that every plot twist seems inevitable and each bit of symbolism is spelled out so transparently it’s painful.

The climax of the movie, when Cassie, Evan and Ben finally meet up, is disappointing. It causes the plot for the rest of the movie to be more focused on the romance than it was before, which is ridiculous. I’ve never seen a science fiction movie with such little focus on science throughout the plot.

Ultimately, the screenwriting trips up “The Fifth Wave.” A focus on all the wrong subplots means that fans of the book should steer clear, and most everyone else should as well.