The fate of mankind rests uneasily in the trembling hands of child soldiers in J Blakeson’s rollicking sci-fi adventure.
Adapted from Rick Yancey’s young adult novel - the opening salvo of a trilogy - The 5th Wave employs an alien invasion as the catalyst for one plucky teenage girl’s blood-spattered rites-of-passage.
The stakes are perilously high - London is decimated by a raging tsunami in one early sequence - but like Divergent, The Scorch Trials and other pretenders to The Hunger Games’ glittering crown, this slick yet formulaic yarn plays out familiar growing pains and hormone-addled desire in the midst of global catastrophe.
Fans of the genre will stay one step ahead of a script which forces the heroine to pull the trigger on her childhood innocence and introduces her hunky love interest with a gratuitous scene of skinny dipping.
Even merciless extraterrestrials are no match, it would seem, for handsome young men with washboard stomachs, smooth talk and a twinkle in their eye.
Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a “normal high school student”, who lives with her parents (Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff) and cherubic younger brother, Sammy (Zackary Arthur).
She has a sassy best friend, Lizbeth (Gabriela Lopez), and an embarrassing crush on star football player Ben Parish (Nick Robinson).
Overnight, the teenager’s world shifts on its axis when an extra-terrestrial mothership enters Earth’s atmosphere and wipes out vast swathes of mankind with a series of power cuts, earthquakes, tsunamis and modified avian flu.
In the ensuing chaos, Cassie is separated from Sammy and she vows to track him down.
Her trek unfolds during the aliens’ fifth wave: the eradication of survivors using human hosts under the control of parasites.
Cassie works alone, unable to trust anyone, but serious injury jeopardises her plans until hunky farm boy Evan Walker (Alex Roe) comes to her rescue.
Meanwhile, little Sammy is conscripted into a children’s army under the control of US Army Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber).
Sammy joins Squad 53, led by Cassie’s crush Ben, who must overcome his own fears to inspire his ragtag platoon including ballsy outcast Ringer (Maika Monroe), wisecracking Dumbo (Tony Revolori) and weakling Teacup (Talitha Bateman).
The 5th Wave is an entertaining, if emotionally malnourished, opening chapter that whets our appetites for the remainder of the trilogy, but hardly leaves us feeling ravenous.
Casting Moretz, best known as Hit-Girl in the Kick Ass films, as the beleaguered heroine is a savvy move.
Cassie is no Katniss Everdeen, but the 18-year-old actress brings grit and vulnerability to a role that would be more compelling if director Blakeson didn’t have to continually cut away from her emotionally wrought odyssey to events involving family and classmates.
Uneven pacing and a rushed final act stoke our disappointment.