This Alien Invasion Won’t Keep You Captive for Long


CAPTIVE STATE poster (2019)

The aliens have arrived.

Imagine a world where no Bill Pullman can inspire us to victory and we lose on Independence Day. Our governments cower in fear before they consider defending our home, and a false peace takes hold of our planet. The informative opening credits of Captive State tell us this world is now our reality, one where our invaders spare us only if we cooperate.

Almost a decade later, the only ones questioning these aliens’ authority are ragtag insurgents with more dreams than plans. Commander William Mulligan (John Goodman) of the Chicago P.D. is hunting down the rebel group Phoenix in the Pilsen neighborhood, aiming to prevent another attack on their extraterrestrial rulers. Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders) lost his parents as a child to the invaders, and his brother became a martyr for their rebel cause not long ago. He is committed to fulfilling his brother’s legacy, and since he lives in Pilsen, it’s only a matter of time before he’ll cross paths with Mulligan.

John Goodman and Ashton Sanders in CAPTIVE STATE (2019)

Even though the premise of living under alien subjugation borrows from quite a few other sci-fi stories (especially the TV series Colony), it earns points for the big-budget attention to detail you can can only see at the cinemas. Every element of the world building feels thought through, and it’s a good-looking dystopia at that. Director Rupert Wyatt and cinematographer Alex Disenhof know what they’re doing with a camera, finding elegant compositions all over a crumbling society. The finishing touch comes in Rob Simonson’s electro-meets-percussive score, which adds an undercurrent of urgency.

That urgency is much needed in a script that gets bogged down in its own detail. Though the film opens with a burst of action and mystery, the abundance of mythology and an absence of aliens drag its momentum. The second act takes a curious turn, switching our focus to a group of rebels (Ben Daniels, Caitlin Ewald, Lawrence Grimm, Jonathan Majors, Guy Van Swearingen) with forgettable names and hazy personalities. While they plan an attack, Goodman and Sanders disappear for almost a half hour. These accomplished actors have little to work with in their top billing, and we don’t have enough time to develop a connection to anyone.

Caitlin Ewald, James Ransone, Jonathan Majors, Ben Daniels, Lawrence Grimm, and Guy Van Swearingen in CAPTIVE STATE (2019)

Captive State also relies too much on sci-fi tropes like characters constantly watching screens, explaining alien tech, and speaking in dystopian mumbo jumbo. Though this film doesn’t indulge to the absurd levels of something like Mortal Engines, I did once find myself dreading another drone shot of Goodman driving his Chevy with the graphics on his police monitor. All that is a shame because the creativity behind this story and its stacked cast show potential. (I haven’t even mentioned supporting players Vera Farmiga and Alan Ruck!) But with haphazard action, barely a scare, and a messy middle, Captive State doesn’t keep its audience captive for long.