What’s Wrong with “The 5th Wave”

You can learn anything by watching something done right and studying the exact same thing done wrong. So besides watching good movies to inspire you, watch bad movies to see what not to do as a screenwriter. One of the latest poorly reviewed films is “The 5th Wave.” Let’s dissect what made this movie so bad when the book was received so well.

If you haven’t read the book, you can truly study “The 5th Wave” from a cinematic point of view. Many novels and stage plays translate poorly into movies because the movie too closely follows the original source material, which makes for a dull visual story. That’s the huge problem with the beginning of “The 5th Wave.”

The basic story is that aliens have invaded the Earth and have decimated the world’s population in multiple waves where each wave is a different type of attack ranging from electromagnetic pulses to knock out machines to earthquakes, flash floods, and diseases. The premise is interesting, but the presentation of that initial premise is boring. To show the effects of each wave, we get to see short snippets of the disaster from tidal waves hitting coastal cities to people being quarantined and dying. Watching a parade of disasters strike is ultimately boring because how exciting can it be to watch a tidal wave blow apart the Tower Bridge in London?

Visually it’s interesting but from a story perspective, you have to ask why bother showing this when it has nothing to do with the main story, which is about a 16-year old girl in Ohio trying to survive? “The 5th Wave” spends most of Act I simply showing us one disaster after another with characters who pop up briefly, never to be seen again. The hero’s mother dies and the hero sees her best friend briefly in quarantine and you never see the hero’s best friend again.

Most likely the movie was simply following the book too closely, but from a cinematic point of view, what’s the point of introducing the hero’s best friend if she never plays a part in the rest of the story?

When the hero’s mother dies, we’re supposed to feel sad at the loss, but we briefly saw the mother in one scene before she’s dead in the next, so it’s hard to care about her at all.

What makes “The 5th Wave” so unsatisfying as a movie is the villain. The aliens, called the Others, are the villains, yet they’re never personified in any way to directly threaten the hero. Think of “Star Wars” where Darth Vader plays a major role from beginning to end. Since we constantly see him threatening and hurting others, we’re already cringing at the thought of the hero having to confront and fight him eventually.

In “the 5th Wave,” there is no single villain who represents a threat to the hero from beginning to end. Instead of a single person, we get the vague threat of aliens who we never get to see. When we finally do see a villain disguised as an Army commander, he pops up near the end and tries to kill the hero from a helicopter, but fails. Then he flies away. So there’s no anticipation or build up for the hero confronting the hero (unlike “Star Wars”) and there’s no final climactic battle at the end either.

In “Star Wars,” Luke clearly defeats Darth Vader by blowing up the Death Star. In “The 5th Wave,” the hero rescues her little brother while someone up blows up the military base the aliens were using, the alien villain tries to shoot the hero but fails, and the villain flies away. The hero does absolutely nothing to fight or defeat the villain. Imagine how exciting “Star Wars” would have been if someone else had blown up the Death Star while Luke watches. That would be boring, and that’s why the ending in “The 5th Wave” is so boring because the hero does nothing to defeat the villain.

How exciting would “Rocky” have been if instead of getting into the boxing ring to fight Apollo Creed, Rocky had simply sat in the audience and watched someone else beat up Apollo Creed?

“The 5th Wave” is dull with moments of excitement, but not enough to sustain the full movie. There’s no sense of finality in the hero defeating the villain (because the hero does not defeat the villain). There’s no sense of threat to the hero from the beginning because the villain is never personified until the end, and even in the end, the hero does little more than shoot at the hero and miss. Imagine if in “Star Wars,” Darth Vader shot at Luke’s X-Wing fighter escorts and kept missing. Imagine if Darth Vader swung his light saber at Obi-wan but kept missing. Real exciting, huh? That’s the level of excitement “The 5th Wave” offers where the villain never really threatens the hero directly.

“The 5th Wave” may be a good book, but as a movie, it fails miserably. The story structure is simply not there and it should be blatantly obvious to everyone except the people in Hollywood who will continue to ignore story structure as the foundation of a great movie while they focus on A-list actors, directors, and popular novels without ever thinking about structuring a story as a movie properly. Don’t make the same mistakes that Hollywood makes time and time again.

Make sure your story is visually compelling from start to finish, has a likable hero who’s constantly threatened by a villain, and who defeats the villain in a convincing and climactic struggle in the end. That’s the simple formula that “The 5th Wave” completely lacks, which means it’s not really a story at all but just a bunch of scenes thrown together that provide an emotionless moviegoing experience.

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2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with “The 5th Wave”

  1. Dan says:

    Your wrong bud Let’s take a look at your arguement let’s start at the beginning you realize in the book they explain the first 3 waves over 15-20+ chapters right? So it being 5-10mins of the movie to show and set the scene makes sense, tho I do agree with the mom argument you contradict your argument by saying “why show the hero’s best friend if she doesn’t play apart of the main story” well the same could be said about the mom but it’s important to the hero so it was shown

    Next up the Main Villain the reason the Villain isnt personified as an individual in The Fifth Wave is because THE MAIN VILLAIN IS A WHOLE ALIEN INVASION AND SLEEPER CELLS your not supposed to know who the bad guy is it’s kinda the whole point of the main story and the plot twists. Making it one person defeats the purpose of the isolation of humankind and the mistrust put into everyone that the movie and book both set from the beginning

    How is a 16 year old supposed to uproot an entire alien invasion and sleeper organization equipped with military grade weapons with no training no magical power no nothing when her man goal is to save her little brother that’s it save her brother. The global military couldnt deal with it so your reaching for alot. Further more in Star Wars storm troopers miss all the good guys all the time like there is a protective force field around them in the same sense that this commander guy misses the same way as he is no different than a storm trooper he is not Darth Vader he’s a grunt maybe a leader grunt but non the less a grunt

    You keep comparing the story to story’s of a completely different type, story’s with a equal 1v1 battle between the main character and their adversary but the fifth wave the main character is supposed to be helpless like if Luke didn’t have the force or a lightsaber no training no innate pilot skill but had to take out the death star it’s not happening obviously

    The fifth wave was a great book and the movie did a good job showing the book off I wish more movies stuck with the source material as it is how the author wanted the story told so maybe just maybe your just a cynic and judge a movie YOU couldnt get into as I enjoyed it being able to put more picture to the story that I had read was great… Real question in Is have you read the book

    PS main reason I wrote this is because your way to extra about your article and just blatantly stupid with half of your arguement good day to you

    1. wallyadmin says:

      If you had read an early post, you’ll know that I have indeed read the book and loved it. That’s why I was so disappointed in the movie precisely because it tried to follow the book so closely that it created a disjointed, confusing, and dull movie — and that’s coming from someone who read and loved the book. First of all, the main conflict of the story is about the hero dealing with the alien invasion. So yes, the book covered the first four waves of invasion in the early chapters, but the movie doesn’t have time to cover all of these waves. As a result, the movie just showed enough of each wave to intrigue viewers, and then immediately dropped it for the next wave. This created a disjointed experience that showed lots of information (from the book) that didn’t seem connected with the main conflict that the aliens are disguised as humans and using kids to kill off the rest of the humans. I think a far better approach would be to hint of these waves without spending too much time showing the hero dealing with them such as the floods or the disease.

      Second, the main villain is eventually personified as the military commander. So even though the 5th wave is that we’re not supposed to know who the bad guy is, we eventually do know who the bad guys are. In every movie, the hero must battle someone who represents the villain, not just a vague, abstract idea like the main villain is the whole alien invasion and sleeper cells. Stories need a specific villain for the hero to defeat. It’s impossible for a 16-year old girl to defeat the entire alien invasion, but it is possible for a 16-year old girl to defeat one villain who is a representative of the entire alien invasion. So the movie and the book eventually do define the villain as one person (the military commander).

      In a movie, the hero must defeat a villain. In the 5th Wave movie, the villain has no idea the hero even exists. The hero saving her brother does nothing to hurt the villain (the military commander) in the least bit. Whether the hero succeeds or not doesn’t matter to the villain and that’s a huge flaw. Identify any story where the villain is completely unaffected by the hero’s actions. In every good story, the hero and villain must fight and only one can win. In the 5th Wave, the hero wins but it has no affect on the villain since the villain has only lost one child soldier who wasn’t that important to begin with.

      The hero in the 5th Wave doesn’t need to defeat the entire alien invasion, just defeat a single villain’s goal, which the hero does NOT do.

      Finally, if you’re going to disagree with someone, blatant insults are probably not the best way to convince someone that you’re right. Intelligent conversation is fine, even with typos and grammatical errors as long as your ideas are sound and logical. So to answer the real question, yes I have read the book. Yes I loved the book. Yes I hated the movie even though I loved the book. Books and movies are simply different mediums for telling stories and a story told in one medium may not translate exactly in a different medium. This is why Hollywood has followed the source material of books like “Mortal Engines,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” The Golden Compass,” “Divergent,” and more, and still created poor movies.

      If the only way you can enjoy a movie is if you read the book first, then the movie has failed as an independent story. If a movie contains a hero who doesn’t achieve some type of goal, however small, against a clearly defined villain, then that movie will not be appealing. The fact that The 5th Wave flopped as a movie and killed any chances to film the rest of the book series is evidence that far too many people did not enjoy the movie, and many of them were likely fans of the book.

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