The 5th Wave was one of my favorite guilty pleasure reads of 2013 coming out of the Young Adult world. Unfortunately, the film adaptation is definitely not in the same category. It’s guilty of a lot, but being a pleasure isn’t one of them.
The problem with The 5th Wave is simple: it spends too much time setting up the premise of the film, too much time breaking down the arrival of the aliens and what the waves designed to annihilation the human race are. Obviously the apocalypse is important to the story, and what has happened is very significant in understanding what brings the main character, Cassie, to who she is and why she’s willing to do what she does in the opening of the film, but by making it a flashback it no longer needs to be broken down step by step. It’s all just exposition at this point, so edit it down to what you’d put in a trailer so we can move on to the meat of the story.
Or two stories, really. The book is broken down into sections with different narrators, but for the film adaptation Cassie becomes the main focal point, at least for the first half. We see her struggling with survival and adapting to this new world, one that she now finds herself alone in. But as quickly as she becomes an interesting character thanks to a split second decision, she becomes a weak and unoriginal teen girl wrapped up in an lifeless love story that will have everyone groaning. Especially if you were the man sitting next to me at the screening. My God he hated the movie…
With Cassie indisposed, edits take us away to another plot focusing more on the alien invasion and what is being done to fight it, i.e. the part of this story that at least somewhat stands out to other similar genre films. That said, at this point we’re too deep into the run time so that as Cassie’s story is jumping from point A to point B in a rather sudden relationship, the second story is reaching its conclusion before it even has time to get good and explore what it promises. In both cases nothing has time to develop, with characters making huge proclamations and assumptions with no real evidence leading in that direction along the way.
To put it simply, nothing has time to develop naturally in The 5th Wave, from the characters (why was Maria Bello in this movie!?) to the relationships to the story itself, as if it was based on an outline and not a fleshed out script. Because of this, what was supposed to be a respectable and not at all embarrassing YA pleasure like The Hunger Games became something that isn’t even worth shamefully watching and then lying about, like The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. It’s just plain bad.