I like surprises…usually. And today I felt like I needed a surprise, something unexpected, so out of the two most intriguing flicks on The Big Screen right now, this and Marvel’s…er…Captain Marvel, I went with this one. Now despite my own admitted superhero fatigue, I do still like me a good Marvel flick. With only a couple notable exceptions, they are consistent in their vision, their strategy and their execution (*golf clap to Marvel). By now Marvel has earned our trust, as a paying audience, and we can usually expect a solid entry, regardless of the source material. That being said, Captain Marvel just isn’t blowing my skirt up right now. I don’t NEED to rush out to see it. I felt the same way about Black Panther (2018) on its release. No sense of urgency. However, when I DID get around to seeing ‘BP’…I really liked it. It was Marvel Quality, through and through. I expect the same with Captain Marvel. I will see it…just not today.
Another reason why Captive State caught my eye was due to how little I knew about it. I didn’t come across much media for this one, though having seen it…I can understand why. I knew it featured John Goodman, had to do with an alien invasion and…that’s about it, folks! I felt like going for something new, hoping to be surprised. I…sorta…wasn’t let down.
Captive State quickly lets us know that sometime in the near future, an alien force subjugated, with reasonably little over all destructive violence, our planet. Humans were still allowed to maintain a fractured and controlled society, to toil at the will of the alien overlords. We are then introduced to a number of seemingly unrelated characters, on both sides of the law, concerned with a certain, dangerous neighborhood in urban Chicago and the re-emergence of a notorious band of insurrectionists, intent on dealing a death blow to the alien-sponsored fascism. And off we go.
I can understand why there was a lack of advertising for this $25 million sci-fi flick. It doesn’t move like an action-filled romp, though whether that’s on purpose or by accident, I don’t know. I wouldn’t quite know who to market this too, if I was the studio. In some respects, I was very much reminded of Neil Blomkamp’s classic District 9 (2009), and his overall style, so I would think the sci-fi fanboys might dig it(?). While I did find some of the editing a little choppy and the pacing somewhat sluggish in the 3rd Act, I was intently engaged for a large chunk of the 1 hour and 49 minute run-time. I like a good heist / espionage story, and this played out like one, in many respects, just set against this age-old story of armed revolution against a tyrannical force, that just happen to be superior alien beings.
I suppose that a sound argument could be made for there being two main characters, those being a bitter, budding revolutionary ‘Drummond’ (Ashton Sanders) and Collaborator-with-Motives ‘Mulligan’ (John Goodman), but the machinations of the cat-n-mouse game between the rebels and the oppressive authorities is what I found took centre stage as a whole, not any one character. That may not make much sense…but…shut up! I felt that all the characters, no matter how much screen time they got, had a key part to play in the story and that kept me engaged. I was also taken in by the atmosphere director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) had crafted. This movie is sombre and gritty, with a cold, nihilistic tone. I was again reminded of yet another dystopian classic, Children of Men (2006), where the consistent use of hand-held shots gave the proceedings a sense of immediacy and danger, while the bleached-out color motif kept things appropriately dour. I loved lived-in science fiction environments (Thanks, James Cameron and Ridley Scott!) and this version of Chicago was grim and ugly. A perfect backdrop for a harrowing tale of Fascistic Subjugation to the Will of The Powerful and The Threatening, and the resistance movement against. Oh, and if you come into this one expecting just shit-loads of cool alien muthafuckahs just tearing shit up…you’re going to be disappointed. There is a LOT of restraint, when it comes to showing the Antagonists of the story, which could be seen as either cheap or effective, in that whole Your-Mind-Fills-in-The-Blanks way (*think Jaws). That being said, when we do see more than just flashing glimpses, what we ARE shown is pretty cool. The look of the creatures and their technology (loved the asteroid ships!) was interesting and it felt like the filmmakers were toying with something a touch higher than just generic-monster-thing level quality (*see original Predator creature design). You don’t get much of the aliens…but what I got scratched my Sc-Fi Itch!
Most of the issues I have with Captive State lie in some of the pacing and the script. For a good 3/4’s, I was happily into what was going on, but heading into Act 3, some plot elements were starting to meander, I thought, and the pacing started to slip, taking on more chop. Not that every flick needs one, but there was a lack of crescendo, some of which IS by design, but some of which I just think is either a clumsy script or clunky editing.
All in all, Captive State was an interesting lower-budget science-fiction thriller that dared to ask some reflective questions of us, the viewer, regarding our current mercurial and, at times, legitimately frightening state-of-things today. It’s refreshing in that the overall scope of the story, while part of this huge, cataclysmic world-altering invasion backdrop, is confined to the happenings of one Chicago neighborhood and it’s inhabitants. No scenes of wild, city-leveling destruction, no mass aerial dog fights or flashy combat scenes, a la Independence Day. Just a grungy neighborhood and the growing insurrection to fight back on a local level. It has a solid Production Design (loved all the outdated tech in use!) and a slick, ominous Music Score to compliment the right-to-the-point compositions, at times, kicking in with a sweet 80’s synth-wave vibe. While I did enjoy seeing this in the theatre (gift certificates are great!), for the average movie-goer, there is no burning need to see this in an auditorium. A streaming version, on a lazy afternoon or do-nothing night, is just fine so on that level, if you like heist / spy / alien invasion / political metaphor / with some action-type movies, Captive State might just captivate you*!
*Sorry…I had to!