Full disclosure, I was a huge fan of the USA TV series “Colony,” so you’ll likely hear some comparative analysis between that recently cancelled TV series and a new alien invasion movie that just dropped, “Captive State.”
Set in Chicago, “Captive State” drops in 10 years after an alien presence stopped by Earth with promises of help and better living. Yes, it’s the classic alien calling card, but it’s one that gets this movie rolling. In the 10 years since these aliens arrived, earthlings have essentially fallen into three categories — collaborators, resistors, and those just trying to keep their heads down and make it through.
But all is not well, or as it appears, with Earth’s new overlords. They’ve established a governing body called The Legislature, created “brute squads” to deal with special problems, and use the loyal police force to impose its will on the citizenry. Along the way, the aliens are stripping earth of its resources and people are disappearing like crazy.
The aliens, it would seem, have more on their mind than helping earth better itself. And if that sounds an awful lot like “Colony,” you are right. As “Captive State” unfolded, just about everything, from the alien overlords, collaborators and burgeoning resistance reminded me of that TV show. It’s a bit like running down the alien invasion playbook, but in this case it still worked.
As the story unfolds, we’re introduced to William Mulligan (Played superbly by John Goodman) who is a big-wig in the detective side of things for the police agency running one of Chicago’s neighborhoods — Pilson. Mulligan appears to have drunk heavily from the aliens-are-good Kool-aid and when he’s not working to uncover subversive plots against The Legislature and the aliens (and they are out there), he’s keeping tabs on the son of his dead partner (who was killed in the invasion), Gabriel Drummond.
Drummond is young, angry and thinks he’d lost his older brother in an insurrection in Wicker Park that was quickly and violently put down by the police and aliens. But one of the fun parts of “Captive State” is that there’s a recurring reference to the “Trojan Horse” and “Greeks bearing gifts.” As the movie plays out, things are often much different than they appear.
While “Captive State” covers much of the ground you’d expect in an alien invasion offering — aliens, collaborators, resistance, etc. — it does it in some interesting ways. Most notably to my mind, was that this movie is not heavy on dialogue. While there’s enough to give you an idea of where the characters are coming from based on their past and hoped-for future, there are large swaths of the movie that are simply us watching them working through things. Quick cut-aways deliver plenty of action and reaction, but often not much dialogue.
What we get is a glimpse into what it takes to get a bomb planted and all the layers of planning and skullduggery that entails. There’s a tenseness in the silence and incredible focus of the resistance members, and a wonderful musical score helps heighten tensions even more.
In the end, the resistance succeeds somewhat in its mission, but ultimately fails at lighting the match to a full-on rebellion it had hoped to create. Resistance members are dead or scattered and it appears that “Phoenix,” the name of the resistance, is finished. But the feeling was that it was finished after Wicker Park. And as time demonstrates, the desire to light that match again doesn’t necessarily disappear when one or two attempts fail.
“Captive State” is another in a long line of alien invasion movies/TV (Just like Colony) that not only explores the feeling of being under the yoke of an alien force, but explores how humans might react to a world that has been completely revamped. Some will fall in line, some will hide and others will look to show the oppressor that humankind won’t go quietly into the night. While the aliens are the primer, the relationships between the humans under varying degrees of alien pressure, is the real story.
And as we see by the end of “Captive State,” all is truly not as it seems. Mulligan, who wins promotion within the police agency, maybe isn’t as addicted to the Kool-aid as we first thought, while Drummond, saved several times by Mulligan’s devotion, may be the next human who wants to strike that match.
“Captive State” is a solid, if not spectacular alien invasion movie, but has enough interesting twists, turns and vibe to keep you interested throughout. Even though you can see what’s coming, the surprises that do pop are good ones and give the movie a little zip. The ending isn’t a happy one and the humans are still in the throes of bondage, but the hope of humankind simply will not be squelched. It’s the human spirit’s will to be free.
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