Given the popularity of such film adaptations as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent series, it’s not surprising that authors and filmmakers alike continue to capitalize on the young adult dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre of storytelling. The latest addition to the craze is here in the form of The 5th Wave. Adapted from the first novel of an intended trilogy by author Rick Yancey, this tells the story of 16-year old Cassie, one of the few survivors of an alien invasion that is intent on wiping out all human life on planet Earth.
Right away, the idea of an apocalypse caused by an alien invasion sets The 5th Wave apart from other YA dystopian films of recent years, in which the post-apocalyptic world is almost universally found to be the work of our own human race. Instead, this latest addition finds almost everyone on Earth wiped out by the first four “waves” put into play by the Others, the name given to the invaders by those few of the human race that are left. With such a unique concept and the possibility of a trilogy of films to mirror the planned trilogy of novels, this new series could be a serious rival to the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent (info here and here).
While Cassie’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) life appears normal enough – attending parties, doting over the high-school heart-throb Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), and hanging out with her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) – her cozy Ohio cocoon soon crumbles as the Others begin to make their presence known. The first wave came as a global electromagnetic pulse that took down the power grid on a global scale and wiped out all electronics, including all vehicles and modes of transportation. While this wouldn’t seem deadly in and of itself, the death count rose from traffic accidents, trains derailing, and airplanes, commercial and otherwise, suddenly falling out of the sky.
The second wave involved gargantuan steel beams being dropped onto all of Earth’s major fault lines, causing major earthquakes and massive tsunamis that wiped out about a quarter of the planet’s population – the approximate number that live on or near the world’s coastlines. The third wave was by far the most devastating in both the novel and film, involving a deadly virus distributed among the remaining population by way of the world’s birds and infecting and killing more than 90 percent of the remaining population. As devastating as this would be, this scenario is also unfortunately the most realistic – increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and “superbugs” could conceivably outpace our ability to fight off such bacteria and the diseases they cause.
Finally, the fourth wave comes in the form of what the survivors call the Silencers, body-snatched humans under the control of the aliens and intent on killing any and all remaining humans. It’s this wave more than any other in the film that causes Cassie and the other survivors to adopt a stance of no trust. The majority of the film, which has thus far received mixed reviews from critics and general viewers, follows Cassie’s journey to rescue her brother and escape the Others herself, along with her newfound comrades. While the novel received generally positive reviews when it debuted in 2013, the film has been described in turns as being highly faithful to the source material, but also leaving out some of the main elements that made the novel so captivating.
While The 5th Wave has been compared to other YA dystopian adaptations, the only definitive parallel can be found in the form of a strong and independent female protagonist, with Cassie now joining the ranks of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior. And not only does the overall premise differ, this story also spans a larger scope – rather than the threats and action being confined to an enclosed Chicago or game arena, the threat is on a global scale with the plot and themes grounded in a reality that is terrifyingly similar to current realistic scenarios. But with two stories left in the trilogy, fans will have to wait and see where Cassie and crew will go from here.