Any author who chooses “aliens invade earth” for the plot of a book or a screenplay displays a either courage or hubris, for it has (as the phrase goes) “been done.” HG Wells’ 1897 novel War of the Worlds alone has been brought to the screen more than half a dozen times. Coming up with some original twist or perspective is getting ever more difficult. Wave after wave of new fictional aliens continue to wash over us nonetheless. Some presently are doing just that in theaters in the suitably titled The 5th Wave, based on the Young Adult novel of the same name by Rick Yancy.
In YA fiction, dystopias are the order of the day. Teen readers don’t seem to view their futures as very bright – or at least they have no patience for fiction that does. Whether they are right about that or not (there are credible arguments either way) novelists such as Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and James Dashner (Maze Runner) have tapped into their sentiment as have the movies based on them. They also tap into distrust of adult authority and disgruntlement at a world with too many rules. The protagonists, naturally enough for YA fiction, are teens – and nowadays they usually are young women. (F. Paul Wilson’s Jack series is one of the few to buck that trend.)
Chloe Grace Moretz plays the protagonist Cassie in the film adaptation of The 5th Wave. When the alien party-crashers arrive at earth they trash the house. They want the whole planet for themselves, but they want to scrape off the humans while still leaving the place livable. So, after killing off a bunch of humans in four massive but not planet-destroying ways, they turn the survivors against each other in order to exterminate the last of them. Cassie just wants to survive all of this and to reunite with her little brother from whom she was separated. As for romance, YA films – other than deliberately raunchy comedies – struggle with the current paradigm of gender relations among young people in which male initiative in romantic matters is problematical. The screenwriters for The 5th Wave handle this playfully. The two young men to whom Cassie is attracted consist of one who is clueless and one who longs for her but who is a paragon of restraint. In one scene there is a reversal of the old trope of a male character voyeuristically peeking at women bathing in a lake: Cassie hides in the bushes and spies on the pretty bathing Ethan (Alex Roe). The guys in the movie who do ogle without comment a hard-nosed young woman soldier (not Cassie) are appropriately punished by her.
Moretz is an appealing and competent young actress who is no stranger to off-beat parts, e.g. Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, the vampire in Let Me In, a werewolf in Dark Shadows, and Carrie in the remake of Carrie. By comparison her character in The 5th Wave is almost normal, and she handles it about as well as it can be handled. The film doesn’t try to be deep in any way and it doesn’t explore epic themes other than the heroine’s journey, which is hard to avoid in the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable adventure/disaster flick with likable actors.
The 5th Wave is not near the top of the best YA dystopia list: The Hunger Games still occupies top spot. But it’s not at the bottom either. It is reasonably good workaday scifi: not great but not awful. Two sequels are planned, though ticket sales, as always, will determine the ultimate fate of the series.
A casual Thumbs Up
Trailer – The 5th Wave
The Pretenders – Space Invader (1979)