'Captive State' Review: A Thrilling Take on a Common Sci-Fi Trope

Cinemas are often packed with science-fiction tales that follow the plight of the human race in [...]

Cinemas are often packed with science-fiction tales that follow the plight of the human race in the wake of an alien invasion — a premise done time and time again, nearly to the point of exhaustion. In a genre where it is so easy to blend in, Captive State manages to stand out. Rather than focusing on an alien invasion, Captive State focuses on a world where the invasion has already taken place.

In this world, the United States government has agreed to terms with their invaders and subsequently bow down to their alien overlords. It's an intriguing premise, and the script delivered by Rupert Wyatt and Erica Beeney executes it well. It only takes a few moments to realize that this story is about a world where it's not humans versus aliens but instead those who want to return the world to how it previously was against those who are now content living deprived lives under their alien captors. It's a fundamental shift that makes for fresh storytelling.

(Photo: Focus Features)

Given that, the parallels between the themes of this film and everyday life are quite evident. Replace the aliens with any existing oppressor and you end up with scenarios that mirror the world today. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator, and that's a fact that this film dives into and something it exceeds in. While there's a certain sect of humanity that wants to upset the status quo and return to life as it was before the invasion, the vast majority of folks are either fine with the oppression or don't care enough about the police state to try changing it.

Instead of crafting an action-packed blockbuster that is chock-full of visual effects and explosions, Captive State is a thought-provoking film that is a bit harder to consume than your average science-fiction movie. As a result of the dense scripting, this movie carries slower pacing than other entries in the genre, almost too slow at some parts. In fact, the pacing is one of the most glaring issues when it comes to Captive State. Throughout the nearly two-hour film, this movie has trouble finding a rhythm to settle into, resulting in a finished product that often times feels disjointed.

When it comes to the film's performances, there's no denying that John Goodman is an absolute standout as Mulligan, a high-ranking official within the Chicago Police Department. Goodman's ability to play a no-holds-barred cutthroat antagonist has never been as evident as it is in this movie, and he executes his role flawlessly. A science-fiction story in name, Goodman's role adds a whole other thriller aspect to the film that's both horrifying and delightful.

(Photo: Focus Features)

Moonlight alum Ashton Sanders is another piece of the puzzle that manages to stand out. Serving as the protagonist, Sanders plays Gabriel Drummond, a native Chicagoan who can't seem to make up his mind whether to turn on the aliens oppressing his Chicago neighborhood. With appearances from a wide supporting cast featuring the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and Kevin Dunn, the movie doesn't dedicate enough time to develop the supporting characters enough for moviegoers to care about them once the proverbial crap hits the fan.

In this day and age, franchises and shared universes are all the rage and luckily, this movie seems to leave it open for future expansion on the world Wyatt and company built with this outing. While this film is self-contained, there are certainly ways in which it can branch off and beginning fill up a franchise of its own. That's another thing that the movie excels at; the team manages to offer an incredible amount of world-building without introducing many, if any, plot points that remain unresolved.

On the surface, Captive State is an exciting take on an otherwise crowded genre, providing for a worthwhile watch that will satisfy your sci-fi palette before the summer blockbuster season kicks off. As the film wears on, it morphs into a political thriller that will keep you on the end of your seat. With a convincing script, splendid direction, and standout leads, Captive State doesn't necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it's an exciting take on an otherwise dreary genre.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Captive State opens March 15th.