Courtesy of Focus Features
Rupert Wyatt’s latest project: the sci-fi political thriller “Captive State” doesn’t have much to offer in its DNA regarding its content, as it sets up a glib post-apocalyptic Chicago where Aliens (dubbed as “The Legislators”) have taken over earth’s natural resources and run our government, but the vibe and disclosure of all these nifty ideas somehow feel authentic.
In “Captive State” the world is in shambles, and we get sparring glimpse of this in the opening minutes where a family meets their untimely demise via the hands of, what looks like, porcupine shapeshifting entities from a Dr. Seuss book. It seemed odd that Wyatt would reveal his secret predators so early in the film, but as the film begins to find a rhythm it becomes evident as we root for the heroes.
Those heroes are a batch of rebels who, unoriginally, call themselves “The Resistance” (if we had a dime for everytime a dystopian society had a batch of unsung heroes called The Resistance, perhaps those cities wouldn’t be in ruin) and they’re planning to ignite a war against the Alien menace who forced the United States hand in agreeing to an armistice and now run the world.
Taking place in the walled off sector known as Chicago, “Captive State” follows the tribulations of Gabe (“Moonlight’s” Ashton Sanders) brother to Rafe (Jonathan Majors) - the unofficial leader of the underground resistance - trying to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. He spends his days working for a Data Reclaim Center where he syphens through electronic devices, removing old sim cards, and uploading them to a government database (sound familiar?) And to make sure all humans remain in check, the legislators have implanted a bug like creature into their necks to help identify their whereabouts at all times. Big brother is always watching.
Hot on the resistance's trail is John Goodman’s agent William Mulligan, who studies the underground’s sloopy trail of breadcrumbs and enlists “Roaches” to spy on unsuspecting citizens to appease lawmakers. It’s a narrative spin that won’t feel new to anyone that’s ever watched a science fiction movie, but Wyatt’s casting of both Goodman and Sanders feels like one of the more unique bad guy vs good guy pairings of the decade.
If the story doesn’t hook you from the start, their relationship should (as well as fellow performances from KiKi Layne, Vera Farmiga, Kevin Dunn and Majors) But “Captive State” biggest strength is finding tension and consistent momentum in the plot. Specifically a rebel plan to assassinate the mayor of Chicago while inside Soldier Field during a unity event featuring a rare meeting with the alien creatures (the repercussions involve the legislators sending down “hunters” and, well, they do look like Predator knockoffs).
Still, the visual effects are decently crafted - (my description of the intergalactic captors could be a touch off-base - but that’s how they appear) with the legislators getting the most attention in regards to visual effects screen time. “Captive State” will also draw its fair share of speculation in the payoff before the closing credits, but I think Wyatt has woven a slick, if not entirely far-fetched, addition into his own sci-fi cannon that makes the ending (and the world this takes place in) seem believable.