Starring Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, John Goodman, Vera Farmiga, Machine Gun Kelly
Rupert Wyatt delivers what one can only hope is the worst sci-fi film of the year. The mind behind "The Gambler" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" drops a big deus with "Captive State." Its cinematic issues begin to unravel even before the movie gets started, inundating the audience with terms, information, concepts, and ideas we must process by reading text as the opening credits play out. This informational preface occurs because "Captive State" is a small budget movie trying to tell a large scale post-apocalyptic story that’s beyond the filmmakers budget and capabilities. The screenplay which Wyatt co-wrote is an epic mess of confusion and distortion. For most of the running time, the audience will have no idea what was going on or who is who on screen.
Nine years after the takeover, the entire world had yielded to a new power whom they refer to as The Legislators. Major cities are closed and the government now takes orders from a new race of beings. In Chicago, there has been a growing resistance to this new world order, a resistance which Special Detective Mulligan (Goodman) is tasked with investigating. Begun by his older brother Rafe (Majors), Gabriel (Sanders) has largely avoided being involved in the violent uprising. Rafe’s image is painted all over the city as the rebels form a new plan to fight back.
A small budget movie trying to tell a large scale post-apocalyptic story that’s beyond the filmmakers budget and capabilities.
Wyatt appears unable to streamline his vision for "Captive State," nor can he find one character to put forth as the point of view for the audience. This is perhaps the films most off putting obstacle. I'm reminded of the film "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" when pamphlets were handed out prior beforehand to explain code names, code phrases and other items to know before watching the movie. "Captive State" could have used the same (not that there was a budget for such a thing on this one), but it's usually a bad sign when a film requires so much pre-work for the audience to enjoy the film. For much of the first hour, you watch events unfold and character dialogue without really understanding who is on what side, what a “roach” is or what’s the ultimate goal? This might have worked if it was turned into a television series where things could be explained at length.
Wyatt has cast some really great talent here, Sanders from "Moonlight" and a brief scene with Kiki Layne from "If Beale Street Could Talk." Goodman’s performance might be more impactful if we could understand the movie. His character comes the closest to being understood though. Machine Gun Kelly has a handful of scenes that have little to no impact on the overall story. Vera Farmiga is given prominent placement in the advertising, but probably her three short scenes in one day. "Annihilation" is a great point of comparison here as another complex, low budget science fiction film that manages to answer all the audiences questions as it moves through the story. It also gives the audience an emotional point of view with the main character than "Captive State" severely lacks.
"Captive State" is a film with big budget concepts, truncated into an indie flick that can’t make sense of the complicated story on its limited budget.