Aliens have come to Earth and are gradually wiping out humanity. Teenager Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz) decides to fight back when someone precious is taken from her.
Teenage-girl-saves-post-apocalyptic-world movies, you can’t move for ’em these days. This one is based on a series by Rick Yancey that boasts a much more coherent idea than, say, Divergent. If only it were more original in execution. It starts excitingly enough, with our heroine, Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), killing a stranger in a panic. That instantly gives us a world of high stakes in which all moral bets are off. Then we learn that Earth is under steady attack from an alien species, hovering in spaceships and releasing waves of destruction — disease, tsunamis, electromagnetic pulses — to clean away humanity, like pest controllers fumigating a house before you move in. There’s a brutal practicality to the way director J Blakeson relates this apocalypse, with little time to mourn as Cassie learns survival on the fly.
If only it were more original in execution.
It must be these scenes that earned the film a 15 instead of the usual 12A; there’s a dark familiarity that we haven’t seen in the more distant dystopias of other adaptations. This twisted tone does not last, sadly. As soon as Cassie meets a boy, Evan (Alex Roe), who is a bit different from the other boy she likes, Ben (Nick Robinson), the mood swings away from Cassie as a woman of action to Cassie as a woman able to sigh in a variety of locations. Cassie sighs at Evan as he chops wood. Cassie sighs at Evan as he rinses his pecs in a lake. If there’s a sequel, perhaps we’ll get to see Cassie sigh as Evan cradles an injured puppy or builds an orphanage. Of course, romance is an important part of many young-adult films, but couldn’t it be done with more dynamism? A bit more than the basic ‘he’s complicated; she’s confused’ schtick? Admittedly, she’s weak from blood-loss for part of their acquaintance, but the lightheadedness lasts far too long.
The adults also get short shrift. Blakeson had the foresight to cast the likes of Maria Bello and Liev Schreiber to add some weight, but they simply don’t have enough space to make an impact. By the time we reach the second hour, it’s all box-ticking. Kids outsmart the grown-ups? Done. One of the romantic interests turns out to be more complicated than he seems? Yup. A whole lot of questions about what’s going on, virtually none of which are answered because you want people to come back for a sequel? Wearyingly, yes. This began with the promise of a braver tone than most of its predecessors; it ends content to blend into the crowd.
Everything that comes after the confident, dangerous first half-hour just makes you pine for what could have been as this devolves into ten-a-penny teen-lit sludge.