By Brian Truitt | Gannett News Service
For those kids looking for a little more sci in their fi, “The 5th Wave” acts as a perfect Alien Invasions 101 assignment for the teen set.
Chloë Grace Moretz is the youngster at the center of a struggle to save mankind in the thriller, based on Rick Yancey’s young-adult book series and directed by J Blakeson (“The Disappearance of Alice Creed”). Natural disasters hit, the enemy is among us, and although the alien apocalypse grows campy at times, Blakeson maintains a grounded balance in this spiritual successor to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Independence Day.”
Cassie Sullivan (Moretz) is an Atlanta teenager with an ordinary existence when a large spaceship arrives overhead on “the last normal day of my life,” she says in voiceover. Panic doesn’t set in at first — people do skedaddle out of downtown quickly — but the global status quo truly gets blown up when the Others begin their nasty multi-wave assault: an electromagnetic pulse knocks out all electricity, tidal waves take out major cities, a modified avian flu wipes out millions, and the antagonists hide in plain sight as humans to attack from within.
Things actually find way to get worse, as Cassie loses her mom (Maggie Siff) to disease, her dad (Ron Livingston) is murdered and her beloved baby brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) winds up at an Ohio Air Force base where kids are trained to battle the Others. Cassie’s high-school crush Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) is also in one of these squads of soldiers, and in her quest to rescue Sam, Cassie receives help from Evan Walker (Alex Roe), a mysterious farm boy with his own agenda.
“The 5th Wave” finds a way to make the most of Moretz’s talents, with the emotionality she showed in “If I Stay” and the utter physical chutzpah of her “Kick-Ass” films. Robinson, a co-lead of sorts here, is equally strong in his character arc, as Ben goes from popular star quarterback to the dead-eyed, unemotional guy known to his squadmates as “Zombie.”
Cassie gets swoony watching Evan chop wood and take a shirtless dip into a lake, though moviegoers expecting the requisite love triangle and YA tropes will discover a nice surprise in how deep “The 5th Wave” is both in story and character. Liev Schreiber follows up his exceptional “Spotlight” role with a fun turn as the stoically villainous Colonel Vosch, and Maika Monroe, a breakout star from last year’s “It Follows,” is emo-cool as the sharpshooting spitfire Ringer. (It is a smidge unbelievable how quickly she and her fellow military teens get trained for war and the speed at which they figure out a pretty major twist regarding the Others.)Ben’s treacherous journey isn’t as showy as Cassie’s but it’s nonetheless important in setting up the overarching plot of “The 5th Wave,” a film that nicely stokes the imagination of a new generation of science-fiction movie nerds.
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by J Blakeson and written by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner, based on a novel by Rick Yancey. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying). Opens Friday at local theaters.