At work this past week there was a lively discussion about the upcoming box office numbers. So many outlets are predicting Ridealong 2 would win another week and The Revenant would take the number two spot, but the bigger question was who would land at number three? Dirty Grandpa or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No where in the conversation did The Fifth Wave come up… until we noticed that no one was talking about it. We had all seen the same trailers but I seemed to be the only one who knew the story they were attempting to tell in those couple minutes of advertising. Wanting a relaxing Saturday night, I decided to check it out by myself and I was shocked. This movie was really solid. Sure, there were some issues in the second half and I have a lot of questions for these “others” and the way they’re doing things, but of all the different YA novels-turned-movies (Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight) this is by far my favorite one.
This movie was surprisingly dual-protagonist. There were also a lot of set up beats early on to get through the first four waves and establish the military world that the kids would be entering. In order to keep this economical I’m going to just break down our two protagonists and then their basic, five-point break down with red for Cassie and blue for Ben/Zombie.
WANT: To save her brother from the military base.
NEED: To grow up (same as any other teenager) and learn to take help from others.
Why do we empathize? Because she’s a typical teenager so her struggles feel legitimate and we’ve seen the love she has for her brother and her parents’ reliance on her to take care of him.
WANT: To take out “the others.”
NEED: To regain his heart.
Why do we empathize? He’s lost a lot and we understand he’s grieving in his anger.
INNER: Cassie’s inability to trust. Ben’s anger.
PERSONAL: The snipers after Cassie. Ringer challenging Ben’s authority. Vosch and Reznick.
EXTRA PERSONAL: The Others.
The military arrive at the refugee camp and separate the kids from parents so they can take the kids directly to a military base. Cassie leaves the bus to get her brother’s teddy bear and ends up losing him.
PLOT PUSH / 1ST ACT DECISION
Cassie sees her father die. After struggling on her own, she becomes determined to find her brother and get him back.
Ben arrives at the military base. Reznick tests him to see if he is strong enough to be on her squad. He proves his worth as he coldly kills a boy they say is an alien.
Cassie has been shot in the leg and saved by Evan Walker. She agrees to continue on her journey to the base with his help. He’s more skilled in self-defense and survival than Cassie.
Ringer joins Ben’s squad and makes her skill level and dislike of friendships known. She’s more apathetic than Ben.
FALSE CLIMAX / LOW POINT
Cassie and Evan are just a few miles from the base. They are attacked and Evan is revealed to be an “other,” though he claims he loves Cassie. She tells him to stay back and she will go on without him.
Ben’s squad is being sent out to attack other’s and test new equipment that can show them who is aliens and who is not. On the mission, Ben and the team learn that they have been working and training for the others the whole time and they were sent out to kill humans.
Cassie sneaks onto the base and finds Ben who is also looking for Sammy. They team up and search for him. They run into Evan who declares his love for Cassie and helps them escape by blowing up the base just as Sammy, Ben, and Cassie manage to get away safely.
This story is interesting in that while the entire first act is from Cassie’s perspective and show’s her decision (or rather tells it in voiceover), the third act is driven by Ben. This is similar to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens breakdown from a couple weeks ago in how it winds back and forth between the two protagonists though that film had the two plotlines more directly involved with one another.
One thing that doing a shorter break like this doesn’t show is actually what made this film so great. The first hour is fairly tight in its structure but what I really appreciated was that we were watching normal kids. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games may be the best known heroine in a YA book-to-film but she always really bugged in both on the page and on the screen. On the screen she’s simply so cold and it’s from a lifetime of events that we never see. In the books we get a better sense of why but ultimately it seemed odd that she was the ONLY kid with those issues and caused her to turn out that way. I’m much more interested in Cassie, who always had a crush on Ben but was seemingly invisible to him and was painfully embarrassed after the tiniest of interaction with him. That may sound cliche but it’s normal and when that normal girl is thrown into a world of survival with zero skills, I’m much more interested than when Katniss plays up flirting with Peeta on camera for the masses while fighting with her lifelong skills. The most important thing about Cassie is that she admits she is vulnerable. For a world that keeps TELLING kids that pop culture movies and games are desensitizing them, Cassie represents the majority of teens who are resilient in their vulnerability regardless of the hardships in their life or the callous images put on the screens in front of them.
Then you have Ben, who lost his entire family in the first waves and has miraculously survived and he’s PISSED. You understand his anger, you understand his choices, and you also understand why his interactions with little Sammy are what bring him back to the light. With both protagonists and all the other young characters you are given a wide range of personalities each with unique reactions to things that felt much more fresh in their contemporary settings than much of the post-apocalyptic projects that have eaten up the big screens as of late.
Now the second half of this film is clunky-ish. Mostly the final moments because the movie has been so long and Cassie was so upset with Evan… and then he arrives and gives what is meant to be an emotionally epic speech but it winds up being epically long. I appreciate they give Ben a moment to call it out after but I wish they had gone with a sharper line. It just felt like a very “talky” scene amongst all the action when there was limited time and I couldn’t imagine Cassie stopping to listen to the whole damn thing.
There’s also an issue with the set up for Cassie’s first and third act decisions. They are the same: Save Sammy from the base. Except that in the beginning she doesn’t know the military is bad, she just knows Sammy is there. So resolving to join him would be enough but the voiceover makes a point of saying “get him back.” So when Cassie learns that the military is actually the aliens her new decision is exactly the same, “save Sammy from the base.” Ben’s third act decision is much more interesting since he’s the reason that Sammy was left behind on the base when the squad went out.
I hope this movie does well and gets a chance to build an audience because it has so much potential and the creators clearly worked very hard to tell it.
The rest of this week we will be sticking with YA book-to-screen but I wanted to pick ones that didn’t rely on the usual tropes but spoke to teens as teens without condescending and still presenting mature themes. To that end, I picked a break down of my favorite show currently on television, The 100, for tomorrow. It’s post-apocalyptic yes but it’s much more Lord Of The Flies and not so much Divergent. Then for our throw-back we’ll be looking at one of the greatest dramas out of The WB, Roswell. Which again presented teens acting like teens and challenged those characters with much larger questions of identity and faith. Until then…