Watson Reviews: Captive State (Spoiler Free)

This movie wasn’t on my radar, which surprises me.  It is in the Watson sweet spot of modern sci-fi with a humanist slant.  Maybe I missed it because the production was plagued with delays, didn’t screen for critics, and when it was finally released, garnered fairly bad reviews.

Yet, I went in this weekend fairly intrigued solely because Tom said he loved it.  Though I think his grading rubric is shit (utter shit!), I tend to have similar tastes in movies with ol’ razor wit, so off I went….

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

In present day, Aliens invade Earth and completely take over, and install a puppet government to rule humanity as they mine the resources of the planet.

Flash forward nine years to 2027 (the film was delayed so their are a little off in the timing…), and a resistance has both risen and failed in their efforts to disrupt alien rule.  In the meantime, human collaborators have helped the aliens control the citizenry with a totalitarian fervor only seen on Fox News.

Sensing one last chance to tilt the odds back in humanity’s favor, the remainder of the Chicago resistance cell hatches a plot to “light the match and start a war…”

WHAT WORKED:

  • It landed firmly in my sweet spot. I love this geeky sub-genre: a sci-fi film that is set in a more contemporary era, and which explores the human response to amazing events. It is a very difficult needle to thread with this because you have to show a realistic response to the amazing.  I will suspend disbelief in a film set centuries down the road, but if you are set in my era the bar is higher.  Good takes on this type category of movies include Annihilation, The Arrival, Safety Not Guaranteed, District 9, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.  Misses include Chappie, Project Almanac, or Signal. I’d say this one falls much closer to working than not, so it gets a boost in how I rate it.
  • The best sci-fi is about modern issues… While the film may have begun before the election of Trump, you can’t tell me the overtones weren’t influenced by the current fear of rising world wide totalitarianism.   Some of the “glorious leader” vibe is front and center in the enablers’ behavior. It goes a little heavy handed at time, but the intellectual exercise the film puts you through is really interesting.
  • The movie ultimately gets to a cool place… The movie has some great twists and turns and comes out with a very satisfying product.  I enjoyed exploring this universe, how humanity interacts with this new crisis, and the social structures that developed as a result.  There were some really smart aspects to the film.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK:

  • It takes a bit of work to get to that cool place.  I didn’t come to the same negative place as other critics, because this is my sweet spot, but see there point.  This movie was a little meandering at times and didn’t do a great job of creating a central narrative.  There were some structural flaws that get in the way of storytelling that annoyed me.   You would think that the director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a film that in itself is modern sci-fi, would have delivered a crisper movie.
  • The script is loose… The dialogue in the movie is really weak.   This was a big problem that at times made it hard to enjoy the moment.  There was no elegance to the language, and the political allegories got heavy handed at times.  They didn’t need to be so expositional to tell the story, but at times they are hitting you over the head.  Oddly, they used obvious language to explain things at times, but the film was still a little opaque.  It’s like the worst of both worlds…
  • You won’t care about the characters. This movie has some famous people in it, but I am not going to mention any of them other than John Goodman (King Ralph) because the rest of the characters are merely empty vessels to tell the story.  It is a shame that we are more rooting for the situation rather than caring about anyone in the film.  I think it is OK in the end, because they are all pawns in a bigger game, but I think I would have connected with the film a little more if I cared about anyone in it.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This isn’t a perfect movie, and I understand exactly why a lot of critics came down on the the rotten side of the tomato. It was stilted and the storytelling showed some gaping flaws.  Still, I wound up really enjoying it despite the problems; mostly  because I like what the film had to say and where the story ultimately landed.

With a few improvements, this could have been as good as The Arrival; which is the standard bearer of the sub-genre for me.  As it was, it lands a decent (curved) grade from me.

Overall, I give Captive State a score of 8.5 “Bugged Rats” out of 10.

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