From War of the Worlds to Independence Day to Arrival, everyone loves a good alien invasion movie. In Captive State, Director Rupert Wyatt takes the invasion to the next stage focusing on the alien occupation intent on stripping the Earth of all its natural resources. Wyatt’s film is set in the city of Chicago, nine years after the initial invasion resulting in a world-wide armistice, ceding governing power to an alien race known as the Legislators.
Over the last nine years, humans were conscripted to build an underground habitat for the Legislators, while at the same time propping up the rich and elite to serve as its puppet government. The Legislators great power comes in its oppressive use of technology. Every citizen has implanted in their neck a living alien bug acting as both a GPS device and permanent identification card. The aliens also employ an army of surveillance drones to watch the streets for insurgents, and they actively collect all personal electronic devices such as cell phones, like Enemy of the State on steroids. Needless to say, your whereabouts, activities, and conversations are continually being monitored, and the first sign of trouble is quickly stamped out.
Captive State follows three main characters. The first is William Mulligan (John Goodman) working on the side of the Legislators. He is a veteran police detective, and his job is to investigate any potential uprisings amongst the population. He’s very good at his job, and he’s on the cusp of uncovering a well-hidden resistance. One of his contacts is a prostitute known as Jane Doe (Vera Farmiga) with whom he has affection for but stays morally strong for integrity sake.
“…takes the invasion to the next stage focusing on the alien occupation intent on stripping the Earth of all its natural resources.”
The other two characters are brothers Gabriel and Rafe Drummond (Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors). They became orphan at the beginning of the alien occupation. As the family was trying to escape the city, Gabriel and Rafe’s parents were obliterated by the aliens faster than a twist of Thanos’ wrist. In a little twist, their father was Mulligan’s partner on the police force.
Nine years later, Rafe is killed fighting for the resistance (known as Phoenix) and scaring Gabriel into a life of “normalcy” working at an intelligence office uploading data, mostly pictures and videos, from old cell phones into a master database for the Legislators. During lunch, he agrees to pass on a code of some sort, given to him by a co-worker Carrie (KiKi Layne), and give it to a member of Phoenix.
Using a collar that inhibits the tracker signal, Gabriel escapes surveillance to meet up with the member of Phoenix, which happens to be his not-so-dead brother Rafe, who was able to remove the alien tracker and pass himself off as dead. The code is essential in Phoenix’s plan to perpetrate a very public form of terrorism when the eyes of the world are on Chicago for a Unity Day celebration at Soldier Field.
Captive State is an exercise in building and maintaining tension. There are few moments to relax as the heroes of Phoenix race against the clock to publically subvert the alien’s destructive plans. The first half of the film resembles The Great Escape as our heroes gather the make-shift tools and intelligence necessary to pull off their attack and adapt when the plan is knocked off course. It is here the story is told through the eyes of first Gabriel and then Rafe as he executes the plan.
“Rather than an over-reliance on special effects, Captive State thrives on the riveting performances…”
The second half of the film centers on William Mulligan, whose job is to investigate and apprehend the members of Phoenix in the aftermath of their terrorist attack. John Goodman is likeably unlikable and pulls off this image as a competent detective. As he’s hunting down his former partner’s kids, he has to deal with the Legislators wanting to demolish the city of Chicago as punishment. And then there’s a twist at the end, that honestly, I should have seen coming, but didn’t. Good job, you tricked me.
Like a good sci-fi film, Captive States hits upon a few themes pertinent to we humans. Whether you like it or not, we love our freedom, and we’ll go through extreme measures to keep it. This then begs the question, does acting upon these extreme measures make us terrorists or freedom fighters. At the same time, most of us choose life over death. Will survival during extreme times turn us against our friends, family, and neighbors. The questions are great, just don’t look too deep for answers.
Captive State is a high-speed rollercoaster ride that’s more political thriller than science fiction fantasy and worth seeing. While you see the aliens, their screentime is minimal. Rather than an over-reliance on special effects, Captive State thrives on the riveting performances from specifically from John Goodman. This is a cat-and-mouse game between the authoritarian pawns of the aliens with immense technological power and the resistance hiding in plain sight. This is one of those films that will have you thinking in the end.
Captive State (2019) Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Written by Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt. Starring Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, John Goodman, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Dunn, Alan Ruck, Madeline Brewer, KiKi Layne. Captive State screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. Listen to Chris Gore’s interview with director Rupert Wyatt on the Film Threat Podcast.
8 out of 10 stars