Review – Not Quite Captivating (“Captive State”)

The problem with aliens-taking-over-the-Earth movies is that they’re pretty much all the same. Oblivion, V: the Mini Series, The 5th Wave, Alien Nation, Battlefield Earth, They Live, The Darkest Hour, etc. Every one has humans fighting aliens to win back Earth, but at least you knew what was going on in those movies.

For some reason in Captive State, details (like exposition) take a back seat as this story unfolds in starts and spurts. Imagine a 10-episode Netflix series that’s been chopped-up and fed to a hungry editor to make an hour and 47min film. With a complete disregard to logic, pacing, and answers, we are left with this: a race of aliens have taken over Earth. How? Beats me, they just did. We gave in without a fight because they let us have some resources (electricity, fuel) which THEY are plundering to take back to their home world… along with US! The super-rich are allowed their comforts, while the poor live in squalor.

After nine years, a small faction of resistance fighters (called the Phoenix) wants to wipe out the aliens (called the Legislators) as they have implanted everyone with living homing devices. Top Chicago Police Officer William Mulligan (John Goodman) is in charge of locating these terrorists and, after two long years, thinks he’s located the ring-leaders. Meanwhile, young Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders) is trying live up to Rafe (Jonathan Majors), his heroic brothers legacy of fighting the good fight, and learns of the Phoenix’s plan to attack some Legislators at a huge rally at Soldier Field.

Afterwards, things go south and Rafe the rest of the Phoenix gang have to scramble to not get caught, as the Legislators are generally pissed about getting attacked. There’s some weird communications Q&A (like in Arrival), plans within plans within plans, and an ending that just leaves you scratching your head in confusion. In fact, most of the movie has you doing that, as the screenplay by director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler) and Erica Beeney (The Battle of Shaker Heights) makes you beg for some Cliffs Notes as you’re watching the film.

Several plot points begin, then get dropped with no explanation. I kept watching this movie and asking, “How did… why did… how come he…  why did they… what is that?” Nobody should ask this many questions during a film. The only good thing about this movie I can say is that the alien ships are quite unique looking. A ginormous carved rock. Not bad.>Oh, and let’s talk about those dumb *ahem* Legislators, which are rarely seen, always in the dark, and look like a large walking porcupine-tree/human/hybrid. Uh, this IS a movie about aliens, right? Then show them!! Uniformly, the cast is good, with Goodman doing his best emotionless King Kong persona again, but the whole vibe of the movie feels like the far superior District 9 film where aliens, politics, and social issues collide. Rent that movie instead, it’s so much better.

Oblivion (2013)


Open a blender and pour in Wall-E, Independence Day, Total Recall, and Planet of the Apes, and hit “puree” and you have Oblivion, courtesy of co-writer, producer, and director Joseph Kosinski, who also brought us the dismal Tron: Legacy awhile back. And yes, Tom Cruise sprints in this movie, too!

The story is pretty dismal: Earth in 2077 is ravaged by an alien race referred to as the Scavengers (or “Scav’s”). They nearly destroyed our Earth by blowing up our moon, but we fought back with nuke’s and won… at a price. The entire human population was relocated to Titan (near Saturn) and only a handful of these alien Scav’s are left on Earth to wreak terror on our only source of power: ginormous ocean water converters.

Roving the planet to keep the peace are nasty spherical drones (think of Eve from Wall-E, but heavily armed). A clean-up crew consisting of ace pilot and drone repairman Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his live-in love & supervisor Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) have only two weeks left in their mission, and then it’s home-sweet-home to Titan.

Their off-planet boss is Sally (Melissa Leo–seen only on a video link) is high above on a circling space station and makes sure all goes well with her two employees with Southern charm and advice. But there’s a problem. Well, two actually. Y’see, Jack has these strange recurring dreams and memories that he’s not supposed to have since, as protocol, his memories have been wiped prior to his assignment. And a mysterious 60-year-old NASA probe has crashed in the desert and the only survivor is… Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko) a woman from Jack’s dreams!

My, is that coincidental! But Jack’s problems mount when he and Julia are soon taken captive by a band of Scav’s lead by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman–wearing sunglasses and a Darth Vader cape–I kid you not!). Hold on! These aren’t Scav’s…they’re humans! But, what are they still doing on Earth when…? Jack’s confused and quicker than you can say, “Don’t go into the Forbidden Zone, Taylor, you may not like what you find” (a Planet of the Apes reference), Jack and Julia are off into the forbidden radiation zone where they find… gulp! Egads!!

I won’t reveal the twisty third act, which is something straight out of a M. Night Shamalamading-dong plot. As far as story, it does take a while for the premise to get up and start running, but then it drags its heels for “moments” that slow the tempo. This was the same fate that befell Kosinki’s Tron sequel. At just over 2 hours, you get your fill of Tom Cruise and lotsa cool looking science fiction gizmo stuff, both of which look great thanks to the brilliant cinematography of Claudio Miranda.

Tasty Trivia: most of this film was shot in Iceland!