We said goodbye to Katniss Everdeen, and soon enough we’ll say our farewells to Tris Prior. If it feels like all your favorite YA heroines are about to leave a hole in your heart, fret not. Cassie Sullivan is here to quench your YA thirst for what is definitely going to be the next couple of years.
Based on Rick Yancey’s novel of the same name, this story is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world thanks to the invasion of aliens, or “The Others” as they call them. Before we see this invasion take place, however, we meet Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) in an already invaded world where she walks through forests and deserted streets with a rifle over her shoulder and a hint of distrust in her eyes. In this world, everyone is suspect, even humans. So deep is the mistrust that it gives her license to kill an innocent man. “I miss the Cassie that I was,” her voice over narrates as we’re flashbacked to her old life, one where underage drinkers roamed the streets rather than foreign aliens.
After we’re introduced to her family, her best friend and her crush, Ben Parrish (Nick Robinson), the aliens soon arrive to interrupt her normal life. Parking their spacecraft right above Cassie’s hometown, at first it’s eerily silent. After 10 days, the titular waves begin. The first wave cloaks the world in darkness. All power in the planet lost, gone. The second wave drowns cities while the third wave brings the avian flu and death to most of the world’s population. A ground invasion takes place during the fourth wave, and then we’re left at the dawn of the fifth wave, back at where the film begins with Cassie on her own. Director J Blakeson condenses all of this in roughly the first half hour of the film while giving us end of the world scenes that are terrifying. Planes dropping out of the sky due to lack of power, coastal cities destroyed by tidal waves, even just the black screen on a powerless phone gives you chills. Blakeson rushes through it, but it’s fine. The movie is called The 5th Wave after all, so he’s taking us there as quickly as he can.
Like all these YA novels, circumstances leave everyone separated. Cassie is separated from her father (Ron Livingston) and adorable little brother (Zachary Arthur), who’s taken to a secure military base location run by colonel Vosch (Live Schriebner). Here, the kids are trained for combat and in a twist, we learn that these aliens can take human form, rendering everyone suspicious. One of the best parts of Rick Yancey’s novel is the effortless weave between perspectives. We see Cassie and her journey to get to her brother, her meeting a mysterious, but rugged farm boy Evan Walker played by Alex Roe. We see her encounter danger and love all at once. But 60 miles away, the real action is taking place, which we see through the eyes of her old school crush, Ben Parrish, or “Zombie” as he’s now called. The film interweaves in and out of these perspectives in the same manner, building the story and connecting the dots 60 miles apart from each other.
As Cassie is ogling at one half of her love triangle, the other half is leading a squad of kid soldiers into battle. The team includes Dumbo played by The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori and Ringer who steals every scene she’s in by It Follows star Maika Monroe. Chloë Grace Moretz is great as always. She has this innate control even when her character has no control. At just 18, she’s already a pro. Leading man Nick Robinson is also compelling to watch. He has charisma that exudes off the screen, and which will inevitably grow in the sequels to follow.
In the end, The 5th Wave is a fun ride to take. It’s got thrill, suspense, the classic love triangle and an end of the world scenario that we can’t keep away from. Still, for all the fun that it is, there’s something missing. Yancey’s novel reads like a poem. There are moments when Cassie is by herself, notebook in hand, only thinking and writing. These quiet, inner dialogue instances are what sets this story apart. Lines like, “I can hear the stars scraping against the sky,” when the constant hum of electricity is gone from the world brings beauty and a touch of humanity to this alien tale, and unfortunately, that quality goes missing during The 5th Wave.