Nine years after aliens first land on Earth, all governments have been taken over by spiky alien “legislators” (as they call themselves), and all human life is under constant surveillance in the form of neck–implanted, trackable bugs. Captive State, released March 15, follows several main characters in one long, highly confusing espionage plot. Rebelling against the alien takeover are Rafe Drummond (Jonathan Majors) and a gaggle of nameless faces, and supporting the aliens is William Mulligan (John Goodman). Caught in between is Rafe’s brother, Gabriel (Ashton Sanders).
In a 109–minute run time, Captive State tries to introduce nearly ten different characters, all integral to the success of the movie’s plot. But in execution, Captive State fails to develop any character past one–dimensionality, instead treating each individual as a pawn in a bigger–than–them rebel plot. Rafe, the face of the rebellion, calls himself a dead man and lives solely to fight the aliens—understandable, given that he’s already been living off the grid for years.
But even Gabriel, the boy who shoulders the moral dilemma of the movie, acts only for Rafe, and throws everything else away—his girlfriend, his job, and even (as he believes) the success of Rafe’s rebellion—for Rafe's survival. There's also the “tech guy,” played by James Ranson, the “media guy,”s played by Alan Ruck, the drivers, played by Madeline Brewer and Kevin J. O’Connor, and finally the super–secret prostitute spy played by Vera Farmiga. The only character handed any semblance of genuine personality is Mulligan—but between Goodman’s line mumbling and monotonous portrayal of the hard—pressed detective, he doesn’t add much interest to the movie either.
The plot of Captive State is fairly entertaining, but only in theory. (Spoilers!) Rafe was presumed to be dead by both the American police force and his brother, but Gabriel finds him, alive, hours before Rafe carries out a rebel ploy to hurt a legislator and spark a war. Rafe is captured by the cops, Gabriel sells out the rebellion in return for Rafe’s life, and—the one worthwhile twist in the movie—Mulligan turns out to be the linchpin of the whole operation. The very last shot of Captive State, with Mulligan equipped with a kamikaze bomb, heading into the legislators’ underground haven, is chilling and fierce. But what about the entire movie leading up to this scene?
Exposition is either handed to the viewer through the literal typed–out journal entries of a rebel or not at all, and for the most part it’s the latter. The workings of Rafe’s rebellion is nearly indecipherable until after it has already been executed, and the purpose is even less clear. Mulligan’s collusion with Jane (Farmiga) goes unexplained for over an hour, the legislators’ power fluctuates between easily killable and capable of split–second human disintegration, and Machine Gun Kelly makes two cameos of very little importance. Captive State feels incredibly convoluted until Mulligan reveals himself as the true head of the rebellion—and that only happens within the very last minute of the movie. Regardless of how satisfying it is to piece together the movie's plot points is after credits have been rolled, its initial 100 minutes of messy buildup is almost excruciating to watch.
Captive State tries extremely hard to be a bleak depiction of the state versus the individual in a thinly–veiled metaphor for an authoritarian global future. It could’ve been great. Gabriel had the potential to stumble and assert himself somewhere between Rafe and Mulligan’s black–and–white perceptions of legislator rule, which might've given the revelation of Mulligan’s rebel roots more emotional (and politically–charged) impact. Captive State traded two hours of thought–provoking entertainment for two minutes of an unnecessarily confusing twist ending. Enjoyability: very low.
And if you’re thinking of checking it out just for the aliens—don’t. They look about as compelling as big metal rambutans.