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Captive State ••

Starring: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay: Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt
Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2019


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, were you captivated by this latest movie?

Well, I felt like a captive audience. Let’s recap:

The movie begins with a family trying to escape an alien invasion by car. Their attempt fails, and the mother and father are vaporized in the front seat by the aliens. Sitting in the back seat are two young boys, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders) and Rafe (Jonathan Majors). Nine years later, the aliens have taken over earth and are referred to as the legislators. Gabriel and Rafe are both part of the resistance, and Rafe is presumed dead while he hides out in a burned out neighborhood. Police commander William Mulligan (John Goodman) has the job of trying to undermine the resistance.

The aliens, known collectively as the “Legislators” corral the humans in closed-in areas in major cities. The live underground and employ humans as slaves carving out underground hives for them. Some humans serve the Legislators by policing the above-ground – keeping the other humans in line. A group of resistance fighters make a plan to blow up one of the human leaders along with an entourage of Legislators. Now, Rafe and Gabriel are on the run.

Greg, Captive State should have been a good movie but it missed the mark. The film has a terrific science fiction premise – how would humanity fight back if a superior alien force commandeered the planet? The answer the film gives (which is reasonable) is that people would form a resistance movement in the same way that resistance movements have operated during hostile occupations throughout human history. The science fiction thus gives way to a rather pedestrian treatment of cat-and-mouse chases between resistors and law enforcement. I didn’t find it particularly interesting.

This year we’re evaluating the message of the movie, and the message is the rather plain and obvious truth that human beings don’t enjoy being occupied by a foreign power, nor do they tolerate the enslavement and manipulation that comes with occupation. That’s a pretty obvious message, and so if we dig deeper we might find some sub-messages, such as the lesson of loyalty to family and loyalty to the principles of justice. I’m not sure what non-obvious message we can glean for this movie other than the hope that if we do get taken over by aliens, their bodies aren’t covered with razor sharp porcupine quills.

I have to agree, Scott. I think the reason you found this film lackluster is that it lacked a central character to identify with. After the prologue where the brothers lose their parents, and we flash-forward nine year, it looks like we’re going to follow Gabriel. But then the attention turns to resistance fighters and their plan to blow up the Legislators at a Super Bowl event. What is just plain weird is… this sequence takes up about half the film – the entire middle of the film in fact. We never learn who these resistance fighters are, get any personal stake in them, and all the while, our ‘hero’, Gabriel is nowhere to be seen. From the point of view of story structure, this is a disastrous choice. And the result is a middling Rotten Tomatoes score where even the audience liked it less than critics.

The final twist almost makes up for these faults. I’m a huge fan of John Goodman. He is a different man in every role he plays. He has a blue-collar work ethic and is highly professional. I loved him in this movie. The idea is that he, as an ‘enforcer,’ and his friends became the resistance and planned the Super Bowl attack to actually FAIL as a misdirection so that Goodman’s character would be promoted. Once promoted, Goodman is selected to go below into the Legislator’s hive where he sets off a suicide bomb. This ignites a passion in our hero Gabriel who takes up the mantle of the now eliminated resistance which (apparently based upon the ending credits) he then leads to the emancipation of the human race.

It’s a nice twist – but if you don’t get us invested in the characters, it’s not a compelling story. And, as you point out, Scott, there’s not much of a message to take home as the boon. Perhaps Tim Allen’s Captain Nesmith (Galaxy Quest) said it best: “Never give up, Never Surrender”.

I think we both agree that Galaxy Quest was a far better film than Captive State. GQ had far better aliens, much more developed heroes, and a message we could sink our teeth into.

Captive State is a wasted opportunity because it gives us a great sci-fi premise but then doesn’t explore it at all. Who are these aliens? What are they like? Do they have any depth or variation or are they pure evil? Why don’t they just kill all the humans? Rather than delve into these sci-fi elements, we’re given a movie about a pretty standard and predictable resistance movement featuring humans that we never really get to know. I was definitely deflated by the lost opportunity here and can only give this film 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero of this film is John Goodman’s character, Mulligan, whom we’re led to believe is actually a villainous collaborator with the aliens throughout 97% of the story. He’s a competent cop and we admire his heroic sacrifice at film’s end, but there really is no character development at all. In fact, that pretty much sums up all the characters in this movie – we admire them but it’s hard to conjure up any feelings for them. I give our heroes (Mulligan, Rafe, and Gabriel) an anemic score of 2 out of 5 Heroes to match the movie’s impoverished treatment of its characters.

I’ve already described by less-than-favorable views of the message of the movie, so I’ll just come right out and give the anemic message 2 Message points out of 5.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

That’s actually a pretty generous doling out of points, Scott. I can’t agree that Mulligan (is that some sort of golf reference) is the hero. I think of him more as a tragic mentor who demonstrates resistance through self-sacrifice. The ultimate hero is Gabriel – although scant little time is spent on him. Truly, just about any script with these elements could have found a better way to tell the story. I also award just 2 out of 5 Reels and 1 Hero. Like you, I didn’t find a compelling message to speak of, so just 1 Message point out of 5. Party on, Scott.

Movie: Message: Heroes:

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