Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Premise: A decade after an alien invasion, the governments of the world cooperate with extraterrestrials while a small cell of insurgents plot an attack.
What Works: Captive State takes a scenario we’ve seen in many other science fiction films—the alien invasion—and gives it a different spin. Thematically and tonally, Captive State is about as far from the jingoism and moral simplicity of Independence Day as is imaginable. After a brief introductory sequence, the story skips ahead to the point at which humanity has surrendered to the extraterrestrials and Earth’s governments cooperate with the alien’s plans to strip the planet of its resources. Those who continue the fight against alien occupation must also fight the human beings and institutions that have allied themselves with the invaders. This is a more complex premise than alien invasion stories usually provide. The narrative is split among a variety of different characters including an investigator played by John Goodman and a team of insurgents who plan to assassinate the extraterrestrial and human leadership in a dramatic attack. The premise and style of Captive State is politically provocative but the filmmakers don’t spell out the connections to contemporary world events; they just present the sci-fi scenario in a way that’s recognizable to today’s viewers and allow us to make the connections. The story moves along briskly and Captive State features an unusual and very effective musical score by Rob Simonsen. The story has a lot of different moving parts and while it is sometimes difficult to grasp how they connect, the finale pulls it all together in a way that clarifies everything and even manages a surprise without seeming contrived.
What Doesn’t: Captive State introduces complex ideas and a sprawling cast of characters. The story dumps a lot of exposition on the audience without dramatizing this world of alien occupation and what that means for the human beings living in it. There’s too much of everything in this film and the characters suffer for it. Almost none of the characters are explored in a meaningful way; they are members of the revolution or they work for the establishment but little else is known about them. The filmmakers don’t engage with the ideologies of these people or the implicit moral complexity of the story world. Aside from the way that undercuts the drama, the lack of depth is troubling because Captive State tacitly endorsement terrorism. The structure of the story and the design of the movie prevent it from exploring the moral implications in any kind of meaningful way.
Bottom Line: Captive State suffers from being overstuffed with ideas that it doesn’t explore and characters without depth. But the movie is also smart, politically provocative, and stylistically bold and the filmmakers bring a fresh approach to the alien invasion story. Ultimately, Captive State might have been better as a television series than as a feature film.
Episode: #742 (March 24, 2019)