‘Captive State’ movie review: Can John Goodman save the world (or this movie)?Today 10:15 AM
The enemy has infiltrated us. Our government leaders are colluding with them. It’s up to the people to act if there’s any chance of preserving our freedom. “Light a match,” is the saying being used. “Ignite a war.”
No, that’s not a rundown of Democrats’ election-season talking points. It’s the backdrop for “Captive State,” a fast-starting dystopian sci-fi thriller that would seem to have a lot to say about current events.
But while director Rupert Wyatt’s film has a handful of things going for it — alien invaders, bursts of action, sociopolitical subtext, a stern-faced John Goodman — it is missing one key element: a soul.
Thanks largely to Wyatt’s prioritizing of visual texture over character development, the perfunctory “Captive State” ends up telling an intriguing but ultimately unmoving story, one built around largely humorless characters that feel more like paper dolls than flesh-and-blood people.
It’s set in Chicago, but not the one you know. Rather, Wyatt’s story begins in earnest 10 years after aliens have invaded Earth and begun colonizing it.
Humans, who, we learn, failed in their efforts to rebel against the technologically superior aliens, have now become oppressed annoyances. Helping to hold them in check are human governmental leaders working with the alien “Legislature” to sniff out, and then snuff out, any simmering dissent.
Chief among those human collaborators: Officer Mulligan (played by Goodman; great, as always), a Chicago cop who is hot on the trail of an underground resistance movement known as The Phoenix. As he tells his co-workers and superiors, he’s also certain members of that movement are planning an attack at a government-sponsored rally to “celebrate” the 10-year anniversary of first contact — and at which members of the alien Legislature are scheduled to make a rare appearance.
Mulligan has good reason to be concerned. Because he’s absolutely right. But knowing something is going to happen and doing something to stop it are two different things.
Chief among the rebels is Gabriel, played by “Moonlight” actor Ashton Sanders. (Yes, “Gabriel.” Just like the archangel.) He’s a reluctant rebel, still mourning the death of his parents in the decade-earlier invasion and of his brother in a previous uprising. But he’s a rebel just the same.
Also in Wyatt’s cast: Vera Farmiga, although she seems to be there mostly because it’s always nice to have Vera Farmiga classing up a joint, not because her character is really necessary to the at-times muddled story.
By the time it’s all done, Gabriel — feeling no small amount of heat from Mulligan — is going to have to choose sides once and for all, whether he likes it or not. But nobody should really be surprised at which side he falls on. While it has moments of suspense, “Captive State” is a largely predictable exercise, right down to its big third-act twist, which you’ll probably see coming if you’re paying attention.
What we end up with a film that feels faintly like “District 9” crossed with “The Hunger Games,” but just without that crucial spark of creativity — and one in which it’s hard to muster the emotional energy to care about what happens next.
Consequently, while it’s passable as entertainment, it won’t likely live long in audiences’ minds once they leave the theater.
Watching “Captive State” is like watching the fourth and final preseason game before the NFL season kicks. You want to be excited about it. You might actually even be excited just before kickoff.
But once it begins, you can’t help but unplug — and look forward to what’s coming next week.
CAPTIVE STATE, 2 stars, out of 5
Snapshot: A sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian future in which a determined band of human rebels tries to mount a resistance against a race of powerful alien invaders and their human collaborators.
What works: It’s a fast-starter with nice outbursts of sci-fi action and sociopolitical subtext.
What doesn’t: The characters never feel fully developed, giving it all an empty, soulless feel.
Starring: John Goodman, Aston Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Machine Gun Kelly, Vera Farmiga. Director: Rupert Wyatt. MPAA rating: PG-13, for sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief language and drug material. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. When and where: Opens Friday (March 15) at the Chalmette Movies, Elmwood Place, Clearview Palace, Westbank Palace, Hammond Palace, Covington Stadium 14.