Reel Talk

Captive State and Narrative Glut



Boy, it sure has been a slow year for movies so far, huh? We’ve had a couple of really great movies, and it seems like things are going to start kicking into high gear shortly, but so far the first three months have been kind of weak, especially out here in the apparently artistically bereft wastes of Colorado where we aren’t getting things like Beach Bum for several more weeks. And yet, because I have some sort of obsessive disorder, I’m still going to check out at least something damn near every week, hoping that it will rise about “oh, that was okay,” which has been quite a struggle so far. So, you can imagine that I’ve been rather eager for something interesting I could sink my teeth into. And, I was pretty excited for Captive State. We never really got a whole lot of information about this film, but what little we did get seemed pretty up my alley. I kind of got worried that I had figured a majority of the plot out from the few trailers we got, but the idea of people surviving under the yoke of an alien invasion, focusing on the aftermath of an invasion rather than the invasion itself seemed like a really great idea. And, pleasantly, it turns out that I actually had envisioned this film much differently. And, unfortunately, I never would have guessed how utterly dull this movie was going to end up.

Captive State takes place in Chicago, several years after the entire planet succumbed to an alien invasion by a race we have come to know as the Legislators. Humanity seems to have given up pretty quickly, giving into these insect-like aliens, and have agrees to let them run our planet, getting to more or less live our lives while toiling under their control as they ransack the planet for all of its remaining natural resources. The Legislators have instilled an oppressive and fascistic government to keep the humans in line, corralling them in a dystopian Chicago while occasionally keeping in touch with the humans who have been chosen to perpetuate their new world order. And, through most of the film, we follow a young man named Gabriel who has spent most of his life under the rule of the Legislators, and has recently decided to try and follow in his presumably dead brother Rafe’s footsteps, attempting to spark a revolution against the Legislators.

But, while we do occasionally check in with Gabriel, we also spend time with William Mulligan, a member of the new government and a former police detective who just so happens to be Gabriel’s late-father’s former partner. Mulligan is convinced that a group of revolutionaries, Rafe included, didn’t actually die in a suicide attack from a few years ago, and has staked his career on finding these insurgents and stopping them from ruining this alliance with the Legislators. And, he’s right. Rafe is actually alive, and working with a new insurgency group who have planned a complicated attack on the Legislators, attempting to plant an alien bomb on a member of the Chicago government who is going to meet with the Legislators after a rally. And, they actually do pull it off, killing quite a few Legislators and putting a lot of pressure on the government. Mulligan then starts putting pressure on Gabriel, convincing him to work with the government to help free Rafe, who was captured in the aftermath after the bombing. And, with Gabriel’s help, the insurgency is taken down, all of the high-ranking members caught and killed. And, as a result, a whole slew of government officials are brought down too, because one of the high-ranking members of the insurgency was a prostitute who bugged members of the government, and who had quite a bit of incriminating evidence taken against them. So, quite a few government officials are taken down, and Mulligan is put into a high position of power, which turns out to be exactly what he was planning. Because Mulligan is actually a member of the insurgency as well, and has prepared a strike against the Legislators that end up defeating them to the point that Chicago is temporarily freed from their control, sparking a planet-wide revolution.





I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this film, but it certainly wasn’t this. Going in I had built up the idea that there would turn out to actually be no aliens, and that this was a really dark tale of a fascistic government taking over by stoking fear in the populace. And, I was wrong, but I found myself getting kind of interested in this plot that the film actually gave me. Unfortunately, that plot was told in one of the most frustratingly obtuse ways I’ve seen from a movie in years. This movie had some really interesting ideas, and clearly sought to tell an alien invasion story from a point of view that we don’t often get to see. And, I appreciated that. The problem is, the movie isn’t engaging at all. It has pretty good effects, and the movie looks nice, but it just feels like there’s way too much going on for one movie. Blame the writing or the editing, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a movie like M Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender movie, a film that attempted to take an entire television season’s worth of material and cram it into one movie, just resulting in an insane amount of narrative glut.

This film clearly had a lot on its mind. I assumed that it had to have been based on something, and was doing its best to adapt it in as authentic a way as possible. But, it’s not. It seems like it was just a passion project, a story that director Rupert Wyatt really wanted to tell. Unfortunately, I think that he chose the wrong medium. This story is interesting. The idea of an insurgency trying to topple an occupying alien government is something that we don’t see often, and could have made a great television series. It has a whole bunch of characters, all with their own intersecting plots, and it felt like if it had been given room to breathe, this could have been something special. Unfortunately, it was a movie, and it tried to cram way too much plot into too small of a runtime, resulting in an over-stuffed film that just felt hard to care about. A lot happened, and a lot of it seemed to have dramatic stakes, but it also kind of felt like three movies that had been edited together to save time. It was just a frustrating experience, because this story was interesting ,and yet, the form it took made it almost impossible to care about it, because there was just too much going on, and not enough of it was handled with care to be worth it.


Captive State was written by Erica Beeney and Rupert Wyatt, directed by Rupert Wyatt, and released by Focus Features, 2019.




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