“When you’re in high school, every day feels like the end of the world,” says Cassie Sullivan, the heroine of “The 5th Wave.” When a giant spacecraft begins working its way across the sky and methodically killing everyone, Cassie realizes that it isn’t the world ending — it’s her species.
That’s the premise of this post-apocalypse sci-fi adventure film, the first in a possible franchise based on Rick Yancey’s acclaimed novels. That series launched in 2013, which seems eons ago in the timeline of the young-adult fiction craze. Since then we’ve seen the end of “The Hunger Games” and the launch of both the “Divergent” and “Maze Runner” series, to name only the most successful examples.
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“The 5th Wave” doesn’t, which is too bad considering how well-made it is. It’s fast-paced, surprisingly intense and capably acted by a young cast led by Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie, a carefree teenager whose life suddenly becomes unfathomably dark. The invasion, by aliens nicknamed The Others, arrives in “waves,” including a power outage, earthquakes and disease.
Thanks to director J Blakeson, these sequences are skillfully executed and feel grippingly real, particularly the tsunami that overwhelms Thailand. (It’s tough to enjoy that one, given the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 5,000 people there.)
At any rate, the death and destruction in “The 5th Wave” can be highly entertaining, but once that’s over, the movie must follow its predetermined formula.
That includes the slightly suspicious military leader Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber), troops of kids training for combat (Maika Monroe plays Ringer, a rebellious Goth girl) and the inevitable love triangle of Cassie, her classmate Ben Parish (a likable Nick Robinson) and an alluring but mysterious hunk, Evan Walker (Alex Roe, very pretty).
As “The 5th Wave” hits its required beats — and stumbles through some slightly clumsy plotting — a sense of young-adult fatigue sets in. There’s little to set Cassie apart from the many heroes who have come before her, and her bleak new world functions in all-too-familiar ways.
Though better crafted than many movies in its genre, “The 5th Wave” feels like a late arrival to a played-out game.