Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother. – IMDB
The movie opens with a teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz) exiting the woods and approaching a gas station. She is carrying an AR-15, so this is either a post-apocalyptic society or the Deep South. She starts looking around for supplies and stumbles upon a guy who is wounded. He’s asking for help, but our presumptive heroine seems pretty nervous. He’s reaching for something, is it a gun? Too late, she shot him. Turns out it was a crucifix.
This movie is called The Fifth Wave, so we clearly need a recap of the first four (since we don’t know them). Aliens show up unannounced and hover silently over major cities, just like in other movies you’ve seen (Independence Day, District 9). Ten days later a massive EMP hits the whole Earth (presumably) and knocks out all the power. Planes fall from the sky (a la Revolution). This is the First Wave.
Now Cassie and her younger brother Sam (Zachary Arthur) appear to be aimlessly wandering around in the woods, when suddenly a huge flood shows up. This almost gets them, but because this is a flashback, I have a good feeling that at least our heroine will survive. Apparently The Others (as the aliens are called, not just the ghosts from The Others) created some massive earthquakes causing tsunamis and devastation across the globe. This is the Second Wave.
Moving forward, the survivors are starting to get sick, and it is discovered The Others have modified bird flu and made it into some kind of super flu (The Stand). Cassie’s mother is a doctor, and she is working in a refugee camp and warns her family off for fear of them getting sick. Wouldn’t you know it? The mother gets sick and dies. Many people die from this super bird flu. This is the Third Wave.
Now the dad (Ron Livingston) decides to take his two children to another refugee camp. They arrive at the camp and it is looking a little shabby. In fact, soon after they arrive the dad gives Cassie a handgun and shows her how to load and fire it and tells her to keep the gun on her at all times. I think if the dad had always intended this he should have a) done it before they arrived at the camp and not after b) done it in a private place, instead of outside where anyone could have overheard or seen and c) maybe not gone to this obviously ‘dangerous for his teenage daughter’ camp in the first place.
The next day (or soon after they arrived) a bunch of military Humvees arrive. The US Army has come to save them! I’m immediately suspicious, not just because Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) is played by a guy with a history of being a bad guy, but mostly because of that. He explains that the Fourth Wave (highly anticipated by the survivors) had actually already happened. The Others can control humans, and they have random snipers in the woods slowly picking people off. Based on the global scale of waves 1-3, as a survivor I’d be pretty disappointed with the Fourth Wave. As a viewer I’m also disappointed. The Others didn’t bring their A game.
Vosch says that controlled humans are easy spot in children, but more difficult in adults. So he asks all the people to load up their kids into school buses to be tested back at the base. The adults will follow shortly. Dad decides to send his daughter and son on the bus. As they are waiting in their seats Sam suddenly has a fit and needs his teddy bear. Cassie (being an idiot) leaves the bus and runs back to get the bear. She didn’t bother to tell the guy organizing the bus loading that she was doing this, and not surprisingly, is left behind.
Meanwhile, Vosch has gathered all the adults into a barn and is attempting to explain how he so easily stole all their children. Eventually the adults go crazy and start attacking the soldiers, and the soldiers kill all the adults. Cassie sees this from the side and runs into the woods. Vosch and his men pull out. Cassie returns, grabs an AR-15 and decides to start heading to the army base, which is around 3-4 days away on foot (or so she assumes).
Back with Sam, they arrive at the base and are sorted into houses. Sam is Hufflepuff, so we don’t expect a lot from him. Oh, some football star Cassie liked back before the apocalypse is also there. The kids are taken in individually and shown a human boy with a parasite attached to his brain (Puppet Masters), this is how The Others control humans. The army nurse says they need soldiers to help them win this war, and asks football kid (Nick Robinson) if he is willing to help fight. He presses a button which fries the parasite.
Cassie is aimlessly wandering the woods, occasionally having fits of rage and depression and sleeping in or at the base of large trees (Hunger Games). Now we catch up to that opening scene where she is all alone and shoots the gas station clerk. The movie, titled The Fifth Wave, has spent approximately 50% of its time talking about previous waves.
Cassie comes upon a freeway and sees some freshly killed people in the middle. Instead of running away, she looks around. She is promptly shot in the leg. She then takes out her handgun and fires in random directions until she collapses and passes out from her wounds. She wakes up in a house and some dude named Evan saved her. She doesn’t trust him (perhaps her first smart move in this movie). She asks about her gun, but he says he didn’t find it. Later Evan is chopping wood, and Cassie snoops around and discovers her gun. Her leg isn’t 100% (even healing at the speed of movie), but she decides to run away anyways, because Evan is a liar. She doesn’t get far and trips over some noisemakers in the forest. Evan catches up with her and saves her from being seen by what is presumed to be a Fourth Wave stalker in the woods. Evan agrees to help Cassie reach the army base to look for her brother.
Speaking of the brother, all those kids are going through boot camp, being taught to shoot and play soldier. With all the adult soldiers walking around, one wonders why they aren’t doing any of the fighting. They keep talking about how the kids are going to win the war. I’d question this (and so should these kids). Anyways football guy and Sam are assigned to the same platoon, and they then get assigned some smart but alternative girl (Maika Monroe) too. She is the smartest one, because she is the only one questioning the rationale of this whole adventure. She and Ben eventually have a sparing match to if she will help her squad or not (Divergent).
Cassie and Evan are meandering around the woods and come to an old station wagon. This is obviously the moment where they are going to hook up, and the movie doesn’t disappoint. Cassie falls asleep, but is awoken later when she hears voices. Someone outside is saying Evan left his drone zone, and Evan fights him and another guy off. From what little Cassie can see it is obvious that Evan is either an Other or is Captain America (based on his physical prowess). This was actually obvious to the audience as well. After the fight Cassie asks Evan about his Otherness. He says he’s an Other and Human, part of an advanced sleeper unit send before the First Wave. At this point everyone should be asking themselves two things. One, are the others just those parasite things, and does that mean their ships had some other race enslaved on it when they arrived at work? Two, if the Others can control humans, why are they bothering to kill so many of them.
Back at the base, Sam and company are set for a mission. The “army” has developed these helmets that allow you to see infected / uninfected individuals. Now their squad is assigned a proof of concept mission to use the tech. Football Ben decides Sam is too young and scared to play soldier, and ties him up in the showers and claims he was sick. They are dropped into a city supposedly crawling with infected and immediate engage the enemy. Everywhere they go they find more infected! In fact, they haven’t seen a single non-infected member since they left the base. The world is lost! After several skirmishes and the death of some character I didn’t bother to remember the name of, they get holed up in an old department store.
Now these kids start to ask questions. Alternative girl pulls out her implant (the base personnel gave them implants when they arrived, FYI) and lo and behold, she reads as an OTHER! It turns out these kids have been duped (shock!) and they are the Fifth Wave. This comes as a surprise to many, but only those contained within the film. If The Others can control people, why not just mind control all the kids? We may never know the truth. Now these kids decide to go AWOL, but Football Ben decides he needs to go back for Sam. He has one of his soldiers shoot him in a non-lethal way and he returns to base as the supposed sole-survivor of his squad.
Cassie and Evan have arrived near the base. They decide the best way for Cassie to get in is to get brought in as one of the kids. She is sorted by number and eventually brought to the same army nurse we saw before. What do you know, the same supposedly infected kid is also there, and she is asked if she is willing to help win the war against The Others. She says yes, and then promptly attacks and kills army nurse. The presumption here is army nurse is an Other, and based on what we saw of Evan, she should be far and above stronger than Cassie, and yet Cassie kills her with relative ease. It is always disappointing to see Earth fall to alien hands when the enemy is so easily defeated (Signs).
In Operations, Football Ben is being confronted by Vosch about his story of survival. Ben outright accuses Vosch of being an Other, and Vosch admits it. Pretty stupid of Ben, because now he is going to die. Suddenly a series of explosions occurs and Vosch runs off. Traitor Ben is escorted out, but somehow overpowers his guard and takes his gun. Maybe the reason the Others wanted kids fighting this war is because their superior strength, endurance, and speed is no match for teenagers.
Ben starts searching for Sam, as does Cassie. Cassie and Ben find each other and after about two seconds of uncertainty, recognize each other and go to find Sam. but they get caught by two guards. Evan miraclously shows up and kills them. Now Evan is saying he can’t be both Human and Other (even though I think he can). He decides to finish off the base himself. Evan’s sabotage seems to be doing a number on the base, so Vosch orders the evacuation of everyone. All child-soldiers are to report to transports. The kids are moving like cattle through a corridor towards the planes. Cassie, moves through the crowd, quite obviously, and eventually is able to find Sam. All this while there are lots of adults corralling the kids along, they don’t seem to care or notice though. Cassie, Sam, and Football Ben duck out a side exit and try to make their escape.
At this point Vosch, getting on a gunship, sees them and tries to take them down, but a sudden earthquake takes out the base and just as the trio think they are done for, a Humvee rolls up and it has alternative girl in it. They escape the base and the squad is reunited. Assuming there is a sequel (The Sixth Wave?) there is going to be some obvious love-triangle tension between alternative girl, Cassie, and Football Ben, but who cares.