The idea of alien invasions has been explored in very different ways in film history. Films like Arrivaland Annihilation show a surreal and cerebral view of what occurs during these invasions, while films like Independence Dayand War of the Worldsshow the destructive intent these alien invaders possess. Somewhere in the middle there are films like Men in Blackand Mars Attacks!that poke fun at the genre. And then there’s Captive State, a movie that sets up a pretty interesting post-invasion landscape and forgets to finish the rest of the plot.
The film begins with a short introduction of the ensuing alien invasion, following a family attempting to escape Chicago during a chaotic evacuation. After the escape fails, two young brothers are left orphaned in this new alien-controlled world. We watch a fast forwarded account of the nine years that followed as the human population begin to conform to their new alien “legislators” to meet their demands. While even the police begin to comply with the demands of the aliens, a small group of rebels work in secret to chip away at this invading race and take back their world.
It’s an idea that intrigues on paper and looses steam in execution. Where Captive State fails is its lack of character building. Throughout the story we primarily follow Gabriel (Ashton Sanders from Moonlight) and William Mulligan (John Goodman) who play two seemingly opposite characters at first. Gabriel is quietly carrying on the spirit of his brother Rafe who led a rebellion and was killed in the process. William is a law enforcement agent who has learned to work for the legislators while investigating the rebellion. From the very first time these two meet its painfully obvious that they are somehow connected.
This is where the lack of a coherent script comes into play. When you look at director Rupert Wyatt’s most well-known film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you see amazing examples of character interaction between the apes and humans. What we get in Captive Stateis a focus on setting up an overall tone through the heist-like sequences the film excels at doing. There is then little to no focus on the impact of that tone on the characters. In fact, the film felt at its best when it was pretending it was an Oceans Eleven spinoff, with a very elaborate and fun sequence set at a giant gathering of humans with the rebellion waiting to publicly strike the aliens.
This surprisingly intricate heist-like sequence, which takes place in a massive arena, was the films highlight. There were so many moving parts with characters having specific tasks and objectives that is just fun to watch regardless of what genre of film. This scene by itself would have made a far better short film than the full film did, also serving as one of the clearest looks at the legislators and their movements. The alien design was interesting and resembled a prickly version of the alien from Annihilation. These weird creatures sadly are only seen in several scenes and could’ve had a larger presence in the film overall.
It’s a story that’s never fully realized, running at nearly two hours long and still hinting at something incomplete. There were “big twists” that were almost slapping the audience in the face far before their official reveal. There were character introductions for individuals that were then forgotten about for large chunks of the film. It was as if there was an original (and probably lengthy) cut of Captive State that was shown to executives and was then remade in post-production.
Director Rupert Wyatt has proved his talent in the past, it failed to shine through here. Suffering from a weak script, disappointing performances by a solid cast, and an unfulfilling ending, while some sequences were entertaining it wasn’t enough to save the final product. 5