Bow Down Before the Ones You Serve

In ‘Captive State,’ Aliens Have Enslaved Chicago for Some Reason

Space invaders have attacked Earth. They’re strip-mining the planet—one person calls it “fracking times ten”—and hauling its resources off-planet. Humans don’t stand a chance against the invading hordes, hairy extraterrestrial quadrupeds whose shaggy follicles stiffen into attack-mode porcupine needles. Global domination comes swiftly, in no small part because of a nifty sonic-boom weapon that turns people into crimson puffs. So, do the aliens wipe out mankind? Apparently not. They prefer, oddly, to take over governance on every continent. People of the world, bow down before…The Legislature!


CAPTIVE STATE ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt
Starring: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Machine Gun Kelly, Vera Farmiga
Running time: 110min


 

A grim fantasy of oblique defiance, Captive State targets its rage-against-the-machine politics at an alien version of The Man. It’s a pity the tropes of an oppressed 99% fighting an effectively unseen 1% seem to overshadow any credible renderings of sympathetic heroes or compelling villains. Rupert Wyatt knows a thing or two about rebellious uprisings, having helmed the impressively reimagined reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But here his attention lacks focus. He’s all heat and no flame.

The script name-checks wealth disparity but doesn’t show it. Instead we simply live among the squalor of the unwashed masses. Who’s enjoying the high life? It’s never explained. Why do the aliens spare humanity and then go through the bother of oppressively governing them? Go figure. Nine years into the invasion, people glumly live their lives in what looks to be a society of regressive analog technology. Look, a fax machine! An audiocassette recorder! A dial-up modem! We glimpse one cell phone (a Blackberry!), but it clearly hasn’t been used in ages. Is this their idea of torture?

John Goodman takes a breather in Rupert Wyatt’s CAPTIVE STATE, a Focus Features release.

Science fiction has a rich history of being a vehicle for political parable, and Wyatt’s well-meaning misfire feels like a mash-up of Metropolis and District 9. Using the walled-in city of Chicago as his petri dish, the writer-director gets local to address universal themes. There are menacing allusions to off-planet deportations. Everyone has tracking-device identity implants in their necks. The lackeys in thrall to their intergalactic overlords hold a Unity Rally to celebrate the police state’s so-called prosperity, since crime is at an all-time low and employment has never been higher. “It’s an American renaissance!” crows one sycophantic official.

Meanwhile, grimacing cop John Goodman surveys a bank of TV screens, monitoring every move from restless dead-ender Ashton Sanders. The po-po is trying to unearth a mysterious resistance group called Phoenix, which (of course) wants to start a fire so free people can rise from the ashes of their oppression. So begins a cat-and-mouse game between them as Goodmen’s men lean into “pick a side” speechifying and Sanders’ posse schemes asymmetrical insurgency.

“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” becomes a cryptic mantra. Do I feel a plot twist coming? As Captive State progresses towards its climax, many bait-and switch moments feed byzantine story reversals to keep audiences on their toes. Then again, it’s almost impossible to stay grounded when a fictional world like this is so unmoored from its own reality.

Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. He is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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