Movie Review: Captive State
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Director: Rupert Wyatt
by Jason Koenigsberg
How do you make an alien invasion movie without aliens? Captive State is the answer. For when you are lacking the budget or ideas to pull off your big reveal, just hide behind talented actors spouting off good ideas about our current political strife. Captive State is a frustrating movie because there is so much to applaud but either because of budgetary reasons or bad decisions from the director that by the end it squanders whatever goodwill it built up. It really feels like they did not have enough money to film the climax.
The opening shot is the back of an Audi packed up with luggage on the inside as we hear audio about massive terrorist attacks taking place. We then meet a family of four that are trying to leave Chicago and the two children in the backseat are going to end up being two of the main characters in the movie. The aliens are shown very sparsely but we do get some clear images of them right away before the pre-credits sequence which is primarily used to catch the audience up to date about what happened in the years from when the aliens first landed on Earth and where we are now when the two boys are grown up and want to plan an insurrection against the extraterrestrial overlords.
Unfortunately, Captive State has better ideas than it is as a complete movie. It opens up as a social commentary about class structure in Chicago, one of the most crime-ridden and racially divided cities in the nation, but then gets bogged down in dialogue that goes all over the place. The pacing is slow and that hinders Captive State from having any suspense. It tries so hard and shows so much promise as a political allegory about people rising up against a government that is not serving the people and a government that is creating a culture of poverty, it is a real shame that the movie does not go anywhere or have a profound statement to resolve either the action on screen or the themes it presents.
The first hour of Captive State is really captivating. It has the viewer on the edge as these relevant topics under the metaphor of an alien government even include images of walls and building more walls. It was at times a sharp story about inequality and how citizens are brainwashed to feel loyal to their government suppressors. But sadly it lacks direction and the script does not know where to go, or it did but the production ran out of money which is possible considering the abrupt conclusion and epilogue over the end credits. It also abandoned a good subplot about our overreliance on technology. All the humans in this near future have homing devices embedded in their necks. One character takes his implant out and explains that he is “off the grid” as if he does not exist anymore.
Captive State is very darkly lit with a lot of grays and blues being predominant colors. Nothing fun or flashy other than some red meant to stand out as a symbol of the aliens or worn by characters that we are supposed to have our attention drawn to. The second hour gets filled up with convoluted talk about their Trojan Horse plan to take down the ruling alien regime. Which makes it even more frustrating because we never actually see the plan they talk so much about happen. There is no satisfying conclusion other than a few hints and words on the screen. The aliens themselves are ugly and uninspired creatures that look like a cross between humans and porcupines. The special effects themselves are not very memorable or exciting and a lot happens off screen which would have been acceptable if the rest of Captive State gave the audience more reason to care about the circumstances. Instead, it felt like Captive State was unsure what it wanted to be, a crowd-pleasing blockbuster or an unconventional social commentary about our current political climate. It ends up being mediocre at both which is so frustrating because it started off with so much potential.
Skip Captive State and see District 9 (2009) instead. A much better science fiction political allegory, in fact, one of the best sci-fi movies of the century thus far.