Alien invasion, adventure stories are totally my cup of tea, so my excitement to see the movie adaptation of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey was palpable. Unfortunately, the film did not deliver what I had anticipated. The novel is a great mysterious puzzle, chalk-full of character development and gripping moments. The film version of The 5th Wave, however, seems to have been stripped of the funny, dark, and gritty parts of the book. The film lacks the quirk and charm that made the book more than just another teen disaster story. As a book-to-movie adaptation, I was not impressed.
If you saw the movie without reading the book, I think you would probably enjoy it. It’s not a great movie, but it is good, and you might come away wanting to read the book. The movie itself is visually striking. The scenes in the beginning — where we are told about the invasion and the waves — are incredible and visually rich. They were impressive and impactful in a way that surpasses one’s imagination while reading the book. However, if you were to take away the special effects, then the movie is lacking all charm. The dialogue was awkward and even laughable at times. The wit and sarcasm that dripped from the book was missing in the film.
The acting throughout the film was decent. Chloë Grace Moretz is a phenomenal actress, and her portrayal of Cassie Sullivan was excellent — even if her hair was always perfectly blown out. One of my favorite aspects of the book that is missing in the movie is Cassie’s comical tendency to talk to her brother’s stuffed bear. Her snark and sass were certainly absent as well.
In the beginning of the film, Cassie is seen at a beer keg-riddled teenage party. That scene is such a stereotypical trope of teen films, and Cassie from the book is not the type of girl who would be at a party like that. She is socially awkward and weird, so she wouldn’t just go up to her crush, who in the source material has no idea who she is, and talk to him about his phone case. The scene was so inauthentic to the characters and made the film more like every other teen movie in the process. Another typical “teen movie moment” happened when Cassie stares at Evan bathing in the river too long. It is such an awkward scene that was obviously put in just to have teenage girls giggle. It didn’t further the story, and it didn’t effectively develop the characters.
Evan Walker’s character development is swept under the rug in the film. Firstly, thanks to the movie trailers, audiences were spoiled about Evan being something other than human. Although he looks the part of the Brawny paper towel guy, he is still missing the essence that is Evan. He is a lovable, albeit creepy stalker, guy who would take a bomb for Cassie. His and Cassie’s conversations are rushed, and the chemistry is missing. Evan seems, like the rest of the film, really washed down and basic. He is not just another character, though, and in fact he narrates a good portion of the book.
The book itself is very gritty and dark. I’m not saying that the film had to be filled with gore to be great, but the fact that most of the blood was edited out makes the film boring. The third wave is the bird flu, which causes individuals to bleed to death until they eventually explode. That was not portrayed in the film, and more grit was edited out when the human children who are collected are put through a grueling boot camp. It is not just an obstacle course session, as it’s portrayed in the movie, but a gritty, nasty affair in which children are forced to strip clothing off of dead bodies and to sort them to be incinerated. Furthermore, characters like Zombie did not seem as dark and ready to die as per the books, and Ringer, who is a total badass, just seemed whiny and downtrodden in the film.
Between the director, the writers, and the editors, something was lost in translation. Maybe those in charge spent too much time perfecting the special effects. We do not fall in love with books because of the special effects; we fall in love with characters. We relate our souls to the characters we read about. You can change the story to adapt it into a movie, but give us our characters. We the readers demand more from our adaptations.