Captive State (2019), Rupert Wyatt’s independent sci-fi thriller, bogs itself down with too much politics and plot intricacies. With no heartfelt characters at its heart, the film is occasionally enjoyable albeit not emotional enough to stay with you longer.
Numerous science fiction films hang onto what’s already known to work in the genre, and only several risk it to venture out into the unknown. Rupert Wyatt, the brains behind Captive State (2019), tapped into the latter when he directed Rise of the Planet of The Apes (2011), an unconventional, epigrammatic origin story that dusted off the franchise after Tim Burton’s calamitous attempt at a revival back in 2001. To say that Rupert Wyatt was fitting for the job of pulling off a riveting sci-fi mind-bender would be an understatement.
What is Captive State (2019) about?
Captive State (2019) finds humanity – represented by a Chicago-based sample – at mercy of mysterious aliens known as Legislators. While many Earth-dwellers made their peace with the cosmic occupation and carried on with their lives, the rumor about an insurgency forming underground travels faster than light. As a result, a local police officer William Mulligan (John Goodman) tries to pin down the leaders of the rebellion, while a young boy named Gabriel (Ashton Sanders) looks for his way out of the mess, and yet accidentally he finds himself in the middle of the conflicting sides.
Even a triviality – such as pointing out the two main figures in this incredibly complex plot – requires deep thinking. Characters double and triple in front of us, meanwhile Rupert Wyatt scuttles between them, feverishly building bridges that connect them all together. Foundations of these constructions are wobbly at best, and soon the surplus of characters incurs a debt to their development. Because in order to make it to all of the checkpoints that the ever-rushing plot needs them to reach, the characters lack the essential moments to make us care about their fate.
As a consequence, the acting crew on board this ship has trouble putting their talents to work. John Goodman’s deadbeat cop routine wears off without background story, while Ashton Sanders’ charisma – proven in a powerhouse performance in Moonlight (2016) – suffers from incompetent character direction. Other figures that appear on the screen serve specific purposes – they’re cogs in Rupert Wyatt’s meticulous machinery. That is mostly true about the faces of the rebellion – James Ransone and Jonathan Majors – whose motives remain confusingly shrouded.
I can’t help but wish that this very structured, layered intrigue in Captive State (2019) had more clarity. With the siege of Earth going on for a decade when the film’s events take place, there’s enough lore to build upon. Although the intergalactic co-existence issues in Captive State (2019) may not feel as visceral as Neil Blomkamp’s unforgettable District 9 (2009) for example, and the rules of captivity lack context to fully resonate, there’s clearly a compelling story about human resistance that’s buried in Wyatt’s film. Sadly, the message about the never-dying fire could have been much, much stronger though, if balanced with more engaging characters.
Despite the flaws of the plot, Wyatt’s firm hand somehow keeps this boiling mess inside the pot. Because Captive State (2019) is not a bad film. The main idea that circulates around ‘igniting the flame’ works quite well and the spirit of underground guerilla tactics becomes closer to World War II revolts rather than the beaten-track rebellion from Star Wars. Oozing the rugged, halfway-destroyed look of the city, and the chaotic, although overly vintage ways to operate (such as sending pigeons as messengers) adds spiciness to the cause of the insurgency too. Wyatt went for the sense of urgency, and despite many people accepting the captivity state, there’s the general notion of ‘we’ve had enough of your bs.‘
What about the aliens in Captive State (2019)?
In an exciting prologue of the film, Wyatt reveals his alien cutie pies. Long-limbed humanoids crouch in a dark tunnel, and turn deadly in a second by revealing a sea of knife-sharp spikes that cover their bodies. Unfortunately, these appearances are very scarce, however, each one of those cherished moments injects new energy into the story. Quite honestly, I wished for more screen time for these creatures. What we get’s an appetizer that promises a very tasty main course.
Rob Simonsen’s incredible job as the film’s composer, along with sound editor’s Paul Hsu smooth design, also deserves appreciation. Simonsen sustains the unsettling pulse of the film through sounds of electronic sirens, dynamic drums, and ominous beats that often remind of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Hitting both pompous and dark tunes almost effortlessly, Rob Simonsen really makes the encounter with Captive State (2019) more pleasurable.
Amid the many pawns of an underground rebellion, Captive State (2019) lacks its own Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. The characters we follow have trouble conjuring up the spark that would make them appealing. Even though Rupert Wyatt patches some of the holes – through original alien design, sharp pacing, and fantastic sound design – Captive State (2019) eventually loses its own fight to break out of its shackles.
Captive State (2019)
Reversed Grade: 3.5/10
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writer: Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt
Composer: Rob Simonsen
Starring: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Vera Farmiga, Jonathan Majors, Madeline Brewer, James Ransone, Machine Gun Kelly
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