Leaving “The 5th Wave” screening, I asked my daughter (nine-and-a-half) if she enjoyed the movie. She said that she did, that it was really fun and she was looking forward to a sequel. So, clearly Chloë Grace Moretz and company offered her something she quite enjoyed. As we talked more about it over dinner, my daughter said that she had some questions, that there was some stuff in the J Blakeson directed movie that she didn’t quite understand.
There were some big ideas in there about good and evil and right and wrong. Absolutely none of these ideas—not a single one—was really discussed, they were just brought up and then left to sit there, as if simply showing that big ideas exist in this universe is the equivalent of being deep. So, it made sense to me that my daughter might have some questions.
I will get to the specifics of her confusion in a minute, but first some basic background on the film. Taking place in the present day, “The 5th Wave” finds Moretz’s Cassie living happily with her parents (Ron Livingston & Maggie Siff) and younger brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur). One day, an alien spacecraft shows up and soon it becomes clear that the aliens, known as Others and never seen, aren’t friends. The Others begin the process of wiping the world clean of humanity, first setting off an EMP to destroy anything electric in the world and moving on from there to storms and plagues.
After finding themselves in a refugee camp, Cassie is separated from her family when the military arrives and takes kids back to a base to train them in how to defeat the alien menace. Missing the military bus and separated from her brother, Cassie sets off on a desperate attempt to get Sam back (some of the movie is told as a flashback, so we know from the opening that Cassie will wind up on this mission). Truths are discovered, loyalties tested, growing up is done, and there are two handsome young men Cassie has to choose between in the post-apocalyptic dating pool.
Okay, back to where I began – what didn’t my daughter understand. Talking with her about the movie, it became clear that the things she had trouble with were some of the massive plot flaws in the film. My daughter’s assumption wasn’t that the movie had made a mistake in its construction, but rather that she had simply not understood how and why things came together as they did. So, why did the kids in the army do x, y, or z? Why didn’t the kids or parents ask this or that question? Why did the adults at the refugee camp allow the separation to take place? On and on we discussed these things that she felt like she simply hadn’t understood and all of them were things that the movie did poorly. That is, she didn’t understand them because there was no way to make logical sense of what had taken place.
At one point, we hit on a particularly interesting bit. It will come as no surprise to anyone that Liev Schreiber’s Colonel Vosch is hiding something in the movie, that he isn’t being honest when he shows up at the refugee camp. The vast majority of people in the camp allow him to proceed with separating families, they don’t question it. But, Schreiber’s character oozes evil, he is a wolf in tattered sheep’s clothing, barely concealed. I thought I could tell Schreiber was not entirely a savior because I don’t think of him as playing that sort of role, but, there we were, after dinner, and my daughter said she knew there was something wrong about him immediately, that she could tell he wasn’t being completely honest. And yet, I repeat, the families were just fine with going along with this guy who one of the youngest folks at the screening last night could tell wasn’t being entirely honest.
Even so, even as we were discussing all these issues, my daughter still proclaimed that she enjoyed it, and that’s great. The movie may be rated PG-13, but it most definitely feels geared towards a tween, or not-quite-tween crowd. Moretz is solid playing this young woman who has lost everything but will do anything to fulfill a promise she made to keep her brother safe. Putting ordinary people, especially a young woman, into extraordinary circumstances is the exact kind of thing that ought to fuel my daughter’s imagination and it did just that here. My daughter garnered enough enjoyment from Cassie’s journey that it didn’t matter that the stuff that was going on with the military and Sam made no sense, even if the movie spends an extraordinary amount of time on it.
Anyone who doesn’t fit into that age category, however, will find little to enjoy. More than once during the screening the audience chuckled at moments clearly not meant to be funny. “The 5th Wave” may work for a narrow segment of the audience, but just not enough, and not well enough, to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
photo credit: Sony Pictures