Monday, 18 January 2016

The 5th Wave (2016) - Movie Review

If there’s one name that I have come to associate with sub-standard product, aside from our resident whipping boy Jai Courtney, it’s one all-time Hollywood hack by the name of Akiva Goldsman. Sure, he has a couple of winning films to his name like A Beautiful Mind and, depending on who you ask, I Am Legend, but as a whole, this man is responsible for a lot of shite as a screenwriter. Last year’s Insurgent, Winter’s Tale the year before, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, and let’s not forget the crowning jewel of bad comic book movies Batman & Robin; that’s a hefty platter for a single chef. With all this in mind, I look at today’s most recent YA adaptation with extreme scepticism; only this time, there’s more than definite reason for me to be so. But, given how lenient I’ve been with The Maze Runner and how much praise I’ve given to The Hunger Games, and knowing how it doesn’t get much worse than Divergent, I’m still willing to give this a chance. I’m holding out an idiot’s hope, aren’t I?

The plot: Aliens are systematically wiping out the human race through a series of attacks: First came the loss of all power, then severe natural disasters striking every major city, then an lethal airborne virus hits, and now they have taken on human form and infiltrated whatever human civilization is left behind. In the middle of all this, regular teenager Cassie (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) loses both of her parents in the proceeding Waves and now her brother has been taken to a government base for testing. Armed only with whatever she can scavenge and her own wits, she must fight and navigate her way to the base, even she doesn’t know who can be trusted along the way.

The scene from the trailer where Moretz goes into a convenience store and confronts another survivor? That is how the film starts out and it plays pretty beat-for-beat what is shown there. This is usually a bad sign, since it means that the most appealing part of the film is right at the start… sure enough, the film never manages to reach that level of engagement again. If anything, the film seems determined to completely ignore that scene from then on. Sure, it continues to work out decently enough for the rest of the first act, mostly out of how Moretz is seriously trying to sell the anguish her character’s been given. She’s being surrounded by high school shenanigans right after the prologue, but not only does it not last long enough to be all that annoying, it also makes sense considering all of these YA adaptations are meant to be allegories for high school anyway. Here, it just drops the pretence with its message about how little high school matters and how more important and urgent matters await after graduation. The writing is generic post-apocalypse fare, but considering I have Allegiant to deal with very soon, I know that I’ll see worse this year.

Enter Evan Walker (Alex Roe) and it’s here the film takes a very immediate and sharp decline. Let’s start with the character himself: Critics favourably thought that the original book this was adapted from “should do for aliens what Twilight did for vampires”. We’ll ignore how that isn’t a goal that any novelist should be aiming for and instead consider how Evan seems to be trying to out-creepy Edward in his first few moments. He ends up rescuing Cassie, because he’s the love interest, and dresses her wound, undressed her in her sleep (or possible coma, since she was apparently out of an entire week), hooked her up to an IV drip and read through her diary. I’ve seen blind aircraft marshallers give off better signals that this guy, and he hasn’t even appeared on screen yet. From there, he ends up fulfilling the usual wish fulfilment boyfriend role, complete with shirtless bathing in the river, and… okay *SPOILERS* just in case, but really I don’t think it’s worth worrying about; the film isn’t exactly subtle about anything. Turns out he is one of the Others, only he’s a good Other that wants to help Cassie. I’d give some credit to how inhuman he is in every scene, including saying the line “She looks like she’s funny” in all seriousness, but his backstory doesn’t even allow of that much.

I single out Evan here because, with his entrance, everything else seems to fall after him. The plot about who or what the Others actually are is revealed with the military being the real threat, a twist so weak and telegraphed that I’m not even bothering with a spoiler tag at this point. What makes this feel like an even bigger misstep is that, with how the prologue plays out, there was a chance for this film to actually take some risks with its morality and not play out as one-sided as all the others do. No such luck there, unfortunately. Their plan, for as needlessly elaborate as it is, seems to be known by every character in the film for seemingly no reason other than the plot requires them to. It ends up involving child soldiers, where what I suspect was meant to be commentary on childhood innocence involving violence is delivered with an anvil drop, thanks to their fire-fights being shown through ‘Shooting Gallery FMV Game’ vision. Actually, speaking of Little Weapons, for as much as this film wants to push the dark and disturbing button with its plot and character actions, this has got to be one of the weakest apocalypses I have seen in quite some time. The notions of taking another human’s life and not knowing who can be trusted? They get brought up and then never given the chance to grow into anything that can bear fruit. No paranoid atmosphere is reached, no sheer anguish is shown, no genuine emotion is portrayed in reaction to what goes on. It only seems to be bringing them up because it has to.

And speaking of this film doing what it feels it has to, these writers have a very limited skill set to pull from. This becomes increasingly obvious by how much the film ends up repeating its own scenes and explanations. For example, we get a scene between Zombie (Nick Robinson) and Ringer (Maika Monroe) which is meant to show sexual tension through self-defence training, and then Cassie and Evan do the same thing right after. Every scene that is meant to show off some semblance of nuance is repeated twice, and that’s if it has any potential value to it. If it’s Sam’s teddy bear, then we get constant ‘symbolic’ shots throughout the entire film. We get it, lost innocence, would you move on already?! Oh, and let’s not forget all the trite observations about humanity and “what it means to be human”; because we haven’t seen this in literally every other Body Snatcher film ever made! For all of its talk about hope and, from the Others’ point of view, our capacity for genocide, it reaches utter cheesedom when Evan starts talking about love, as if any character in this film is capable of portraying something complex.

All in all, what starts out as a bland but kind of promising post-apocalyptic story turns into one of the goofiest and heaviest-handed human genocides I’ve seen in a long time. Moretz is literally the only actor who seems to be trying in the entire cast, the writing hits unintentional comedy more times than it ever touches suspense and the attempts at creating said suspense pull from a very sparse toolbox that just ends up with the film constantly repeating itself.

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