Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 16, 2019)
With Captive State, we get another entry in the “alien invasion” genre. Circa 2019, aliens come to Earth and pose such a threat that all governments cede control to maintain humanity.
Known as “Legislators”, the aliens rule Earth with the cooperation of the humans, though pockets of resistance appear. 10 years after the initial invasion, most of these freedom fighters no longer battle against the extraterrestrials, but one group attempts to eliminate the alien presence in Chicago.
Siskel and Ebert used their thumbs to rate movies – I think I should start a “Sigh Scale”. I could evaluate films based on how often I sigh out of boredom, irritation of frustration.
State would earn more signs than a supercomputer could count.
Boy, did I want to like State, as I always find myself enticed by a (potentially) good sci-fi/action affair. Through the prologue, the film boasted a story that looked like it could go somewhere, as the theme of human/alien collaboration seemed intriguing.
Unfortunately, once the opening montage ended, so did the movie’s entertainment value. Astute viewers will note that I didn’t mention any characters as part of my synopsis.
That’s because they don’t matter. Sure, I could’ve specified that State focuses on human administrator William Mulligan (John Goodman) as well as Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders), the younger brother of deceased resistance leader Rafe (Jonathan Majors). I could also mention that Gabriel and Rafe’s father was Mulligan’s police force partner until the elder Drummond died during the initial alien onslaught.
Yeah, I could mention those plot/character elements, but why bother? In this mess of a movie, these notions don’t really matter – and neither does anything else.
State plays like a rough edit of a film, not a finished product. It introduces characters and then lets them languish off-screen for extended periods of time.
It also often brings us these roles in vague ways, all of which exist solely for a “big reveal” at the end. If you hang around through the movie’s entire running time, you’ll finally figure out who these various folks are and how they connect.
I’m betting you’ll have sighed yourself into a coma by then, though. Movies like The Usual Suspects can get away with “Bob the Explainer” endings because they’re so entertaining up until that point. Conclude Suspects with a more conventional finale and it’s still a delightful experience.
No such pleasures accompany the erratic, tedious State, and that “big reveal” doesn’t fix all its flaws. If anything, the conclusion complicates the problems because it seems like such a feeble payoff.
At its core, State comes with an inherently simple story. Space creatures take over the Earth and humans fight back. The basis of many an alien invasion flick, this seems like “don’t fix what isn’t broken” territory.
State fashions itself as less of a “war movie” and more of a tale about the underground resistance – which might be fine if the story didn’t meander so much. As noted, we lose characters - major characters – for extended amounts of time and never get a good handle for most of the participants we see.
Ostensibly the heart of State<, Gabriel vanishes often, and the movie fails to introduce others in a satisfying way. This means we go into “who’s that guy?” and “what’s she doing?” mode far too often.
As mentioned, the film ties these parts together at the end, but patience evaporated long before the finale. The clumsy, awkward attempt to tell this confusing story guarantees that no climax can fix its problems.
And in truth, we don’t get an actual “big finish” of the sort one might expect. I’ll avoid spoilers other than to say that the ending revolves almost entirely around explanations for the character connections, so don’t anticipate an Independence Day-style action extravaganza.
Which would be fine if the movie didn’t frustrate and bore so much of the time. As it stands, State becomes a tedious, confusing sci-fi effort that really disappoints.