Overview: An apocalyptic event forces attractive but relatable teens to fight for their lives against sinister adult forces, and the female lead is torn between a ruggedly mysterious boy and a cute but haunted boy. Columbia Pictures; 2016; Rated PG-13; 112 Minutes.
Femin-isn’t: The 5th Wave gets off to a surprisingly promising start. In the opening scene, protagonist Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace-Moretz) raids an abandoned convenience store for supplies. She’s shown grabbing a box of tampons off of a shelf. In the age of the so-called “Strong Female Protagonist,” which often just amounts to a female character with superior fighting skills, this scene is a welcome acknowledgement of Cassie’s femininity that doesn’t detract from her capability or agency. It’s only been two minutes or so, and the film has already peaked. Everything is downhill after this point, the film’s depiction of women in particular. It Follows star Maika Monroe appears halfway through as the character Ringer, whose introductory scene features a lingering shot of her butt from the point of view of a few pre-pubescent boys. The film then has her punch one of them and proclaim, “No sexist or demeaning remarks,” as if it makes up for the preceding leering. It’s possibly the least self-aware attempt at an “empowering” female character in recent history. Like everything else in The 5th Wave, this scene plays like someone overheard several talking points about The Hunger Games and tried to replicate them.
What Do You Mean, Imagery Is Political?: The most obvious example of this blatant thievery is the half-assed love triangle, which is a triangle in name only since Cassie crushes on the two boys separately rather than simultaneously. She doesn’t even know the first boy is still alive for most of the movie, and by the time they reunite, the second boy is pretty much out of the picture. The most upsetting example, though, is the way the film treats violence involving children. The Hunger Games is about the impact of violence and war on the kids who are forced to take part in them. Say what you will about those films, but they at least understood the gravity of seeing young children being murdered. The 5th Wave is the apparent result of turning that theme into a boiled-down marketing tool. I imagined some executive thinking, “People like movies where kids are killing each other, eh? Sure, let’s keep doing that.” As a result, The 5th Wave isn’t about that violence in anything resembling a meaningful way. It has children as young as eight running through a war zone with assault rifles, clad in body armor, and getting shot through the chest. It’s horrifying, but the film doesn’t seem to notice. It’s as lazily reproduced as the love triangle, only with a much more disturbing result.
Rookie Mistake: As if that weren’t enough, the direction is embarrassingly incompetent. Filmmaker J Blakeson’s only other feature credit is the well-received British thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which I haven’t seen. It seems like Blakeson is another one-hit wonder who was launched too quickly into big-budget studio fare. In one early scene, he uses a lens which is slightly blurred around the edges. He frames the shot so that the three actors’ heads are at the top of the frame, making their faces blurry. There’s really no excuse for a mistake like this in such a large production. It’s indicative of The 5th Wave’s toxic mix of misguidedness and apathy.
Overall: The 5th Wave refuses to reach beyond its origins as a bad Hunger Games knockoff, and lacks the ability to understand the weight of its own imagery.