A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The 5th Wave is based on Rick Yancey's best-selling YA sci-fi alien-invasion thriller. Like the book, the movie features end-of-the-world catastrophes, deaths, and violence (mostly from bullet wounds, but also from natural disasters and a worldwide killer virus), but it's not quite as graphically violent as The Hunger Games trilogy. Focusing mostly on Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), the story features about as much romance as the first Divergent movie (a couple of passionate kisses, the apparently requisite shot of a shirtless hunk) and a few uses of strong language (including one exclamation of "f--king," plus "s--t," "ass," "dumbass," "bulls--t," etc.). Cassie is a brave and determined main character, but fans of the book series will want to discuss whether the filmmakers fully captured her personality -- and those of most of the characters portrayed in the movie.
What's the story?
This adaptation of Rick Yancey's best-seller follows Ohio teen Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose life used to revolve around her close-knit family, her best friend, and her unrequited crush on football star Ben Parish (Nick Robinson). But everything changes the day mysterious extra-terrestrial forces start attacking humans in coordinated waves. The first wave wipes out all electricity; the second wave causes natural disasters; the third wave is a killer virus (which takes out Cassie's mom, a nurse), and so on. Mr. Sullivan (Ron Livingston) takes Cassie and her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) to a refugee camp, but when Army Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber) arrives to transport the camp's children to a nearby military base, Cassie is separated from Sammy, and tragedy ensues. Vowing to reunite with her brother, Cassie wanders alone on the streets until she's shot in the leg by a sniper and saved by the mysterious (and attractive) Evan Walker (Alex Roe).
Is it any good?
Fans of Yancey's gripping sci-fi thriller will wonder how his page-turning action and riveting, charming characters got transformed into this flat, humorless, and disappointing movie. Although Moretz is certainly up to the task of playing Cassie, from the movie's very first scene, the on-screen Cassie bears little resemblance to the Cassie of the page, especially in the set up. While edits and trims from the source material are to be expected in the process of creating a film adaptation, THE 5TH WAVE strips several of the key players of everything that makes them not just likable but also instrumental to the story. Cassie's relationship with Evan is so compressed that he's reduced to being no more than hot and stoic. By the time he's making declarations of affection, the audience has no choice but to laugh at the cheesy lines -- and not in an endearing way.
Everything that made Cassie and Evan's slow-burning connection feel realistic on the page has been cut, including the humor. In fact, the humor is missing from most of the film. As the young soldiers deployed to fight the enemy, Robinson is fine as Ben, and Maika Monroe is reminiscent of Jena Malone's Hunger Games character, Joanna, as Ringer, the tough-as-nails recruit who's the only one to question Vosch's authority. Unfortunately, some of the other supporting characters from the book barely get a couple of lines between them, including Tony Revolori as Dumbo, Parish's intelligent squad-mate. Schreiber earns his paycheck with a couple of bombastic speeches, and Maria Bello sports a distracting accent (and looks positively evil) as one of the military officers in charge of the kids. On the bright side, if enough of the novel's fans turn out to see it, perhaps the filmmakers will summon a stronger script for the second film in the trilogy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of movie adaptations of YA books about surviving against the odds. What do these stories have in common? How are they different?
What purpose does the violence serve in The 5th Wave? Is it different to see violence rather than to read about it? How does the violence in the book compare to the movie? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
How does Cassie compare to other female protagonists in YA books and movies? Is she an ordinary girl thrown into extraordinary circumstances or an already extraordinary girl who finally gets a chance to show off her talents? Is she a role model?
Unlike many post-apocalyptic stories that take place in the distant future, this one could be set today. Does that impact your ability to relate to the story -- that it could take place at any moment? How does it compare to other movies?
For those who've read the book, how does the movie compare? What was added? Removed? How did you picture the movie in your head?
- In theaters: January 22, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: May 3, 2016
- Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Liev Schreiber
- Director: J Blakeson
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying
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