The promise of the premise means a lot to me. As a writer, a story teller, an audience member to this art form I’m ready to be transported. I’m ready to be transfixed. Transformed. I believe greatly in the power and importance of filmmaking and when it comes to the sci-fi genre I hold it to one of the highest regards. There so many liberties to be taken and an innate suspension of disbelief given to allow creators the opportunity in this genre to go and create. I know studios and folks with ulterior motives can muddle things up, but I as a critic give a lot of grace in those instances.
As a huge “Independence Day” fan, the prospect of a sequel even if more than 20 years later was amazing. Leash was fully given. To imagine Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum’s return to these iconic characters and to play in a sand box that has 2 decades of world building to work with and the technology to deliver on screen to match my imagination and expectations; I predicted “Independence Day: Resurgence” could do “Avatar” numbers. Then we got word that Will Smith wouldn’t be returning, and leaks of the script and then that 1st trailer. The 2nd, the 3rd, and then the actual movie. Admittedly it hurts more; it cuts deeper when these genre films don’t hit. That’s putting it nicely.
Sorry, just after watching Rupert Wyatt’s “Captive State” I’m still a little hurt right now.
Focus Features wants us to believe that set in a Chicago neighborhood nearly a decade after the occupation of an extra-terrestrial force, “Captive State” explores the lives on both sides of the conflict.
I don’t know what movie they thought they were producing. Either the rose-colored glasses on the studio was the best ever made and they kept them on the entirety of production pre and post, or Wyatt pulled the rug underneath so close to the premier they couldn’t do anything to stop the train wreck that is this movie. Both choices are unforgiveable.
If you check out “Captive State’s” official website, it dives deep into the political and propaganda themes that are trying to be expressed in this film. Much better unfortunately and display a different world than what is portrayed on screen.
So, we’ve got Gabriel (Ashton Sanders). A young man working a regular job, with a regular girlfriend and lives in a regular apartment. Pretty regular. Did, I mention he lives in Chicago where aliens are now occupying most of the major cities around the world and run our government?
So, there’s that.
One day at his job he’s passed a message. Now from Ashton’s performance, which was ok, I infer he doesn’t like the way things are or the fact that the aliens “Thanos-dusted” his parents while he was in the backseat of the family car when he was younger.
I will say, it was pretty bold to give us a look at the aliens so early in the film. Most movies in this genre build up tension and never reveal the aliens typically until the 3rd act. The look of these creatures is a big letdown. There hard on the eyes, and a weird “needley” gray and not very well lit or shot in the film.
Ok. So, one day at work he gets a message from a completely unnecessary cameo by the wonderful Kiki Layne (shout out Beale Street) who ratchets up some intrigue. It appears Gabriel runs info on the side for a little extra money but doesn’t know to who and what for. We learn at this point his brother, also in the back seat of his family’s car, now is the presumed dead face of a national insurgent group, Phoenix. He thinks his brother is dead.
In between our time spent with Gabriel we have a cop we tag along with, William Mulligan (John Goodman). He is the antagonist. At the beginning and throughout the movie we see him confront Gabriel multiple times, shaking him down, asking him about his brother and also trying to keep him out of trouble because; you know, he was his father’s partner before the aliens arrived.
So, there’s that.
Not long after that the message that Gabriel is transporting, it actually leads him to his brother who appears out the shadows and they embrace. He’s alive! We don’t get an idea exactly how long it’s been since Gabriel has seen his brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) but it’s a tender moment nonetheless. Majors does the best acting job amongst the cast and gives a performance that’s worthy of the promised premise. In the marketing, the promotions, the trailers I’m led to believe Gabriel’s the protagonist, he’s the Key. And that his brother would be the Dumbledore to his Harry potter.
So, the proposed leader of the group, Phoenix is not only alive but has a super plan in the works to not take down the alien threat, but just show the world to keep resisting and to be the spark that would ignite the war, like in “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Wait a minute… … … I’ll get there
So, Rafe tells Gabriel to get out of the city because something big is about to happen. He goes home to tell his girlfriend, you know the regular one and tries to convince her to come with him. She declines and honestly there’s not much reason to leave. A lot of Chicago isn’t living in squalor, isn’t hungry, or jobless. Things are not all that different than the way they are in real life except for the frequent alien drones flying around monitoring things and oh yeah, the transportation of criminals taken off planet to an outer-space prison.
Yeah you heard me.
So, she stays behind and that’s the last we hear from her. There’s honestly a lot of quick entrances and exits of a lot of characters in this movie, like Machine-gun Kelly as…who really cares, Gabriel’s best friend. I don’t know if his parents were “Thanos-dusted” too, but he is really upset about life right now. A lot of the supporting characters in this film carry little to no weight. I found myself not caring for almost anyone. Gabriel half way through the film gives you nothing too root for.
I move on.
Will Mulligan has been tracking Gabriel and attempts to thwart whatever plans Rafe has for the aliens which appears to be an attack at a; I guess we’ll call it a political rally at “Soldier Field”. There’s signs and billboards and tickets, and hotdogs, and cotton candy; honestly looks like a real good time. Everyone’s cheering, and yelling, and there’s going to be a special appearance by the aliens too. I guess they don’t make public appearances all that often in this world Wyatt has been building. There ships just float by and the drones do most of the policing and they communicate with local and federal governments through proxies.
I’ll get there. But wait, would you like to know what we call this alien threat? The Legislators. I’m serious. That’s the villainous name they would like us to call them. Not the Devastators, or Exterminators not any of the “nators” and not Dementors either, except that may fit, they kind of lurk and move like Dementors; must be a coincidence. Just, Legislators.
We see Rafe and the gang of the Phoenix activate sleeper cell agents throughout the city to pull off an attack on the Legislators sent to the ceremony. This part of the movie is actually the most well done. Every day folk, activated and stage an elaborate attack without no one noticing. This was the Rupert Wyatt from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The suspense is there, the stakes are high. And they succeed.
But wait, where’s Gabriel? Nowhere to be fucking found. Our protagonist spends a big chunk of the movie at its best point off screen. This, further roots my displeasure at how careless Wyatt and Erica Beeney are with the script. You can see a focus on the themes stated they forget to assign character arcs and thematic beats. Everything we see on screen is just a reaction without time to sit in the life of our protagonist to allow an opportunity for the audience to think.
Gabriel’s on the run from Will who has now diverted his attention to stopping the attack and Gabriel is locked in a closet in a warehouse on the other side of Chicago. While the attack was successful, the Legislators get pissed and bring in interstellar bounty hunters to find the perpetrators. They do so really quick and before they “Thanos-dust” Rafe and fellow Phoenix Members Will, steps in and apprehends them.
Will finds Gabriel who’s been looking for another piece of the Phoenix puzzle with info given by Rafe that leads him to a very popular brothel and to the bedroom of Jane Doe (Vera Farmiga). That’s her listed accredited name; Jane doe. Aside from the obvious missteps the film makes narratively, its criminal how under used Vera Farmiga is in this role. She couldn’t have been on screen in total for more than a few minutes and there’s just not much for her to do. And then you list her as Jane Doe?
So, there’s that.
We finally have Gabriel in a place of meaning, a place where a lot of the civil leaders of the city have been before even Will himself earlier in the film, lending you to believe something big is about to be uncovered and then… … … she’s shot in the head. Yeah, shot in the head and has less than a 10 second encounter with Gabriel which brings the biggest cinematic let down, not only of the movie but of any movie this decade. I’m being too unkind, no one gives a crap enough about this movie; nobody went to see it and I’ve given you more than enough reasons why.
Will reunites Gabriel with his brother one last time to say goodbye to do his dad a solid. Once again, they were partners. Rafe is pretty pissed about it and tells Gabriel to say nothing and to not trust nobody. Little does Rafe know, Will has something up his sleeve and its the big twist I guess we’ve all been waiting for. Except Will’s motives throughout the film have you setting everything up and your hoping this isn’t about to go where you think it’s about to go. But it does.
Gabriel goes back to his workday, he destroys data for a living off of electronic devices by request of the aliens for some unspecified reasons narratively. Rafe marches toward a space ship set to take off for space jail. Will, on the other hand after giving his account of the attack to the proxies used by the Legislators, and his investigative efforts into Gabriel and Rafe has exposed the League of the Phoenix and weaknesses in his own department he is promoted to the highest authority in Chicago. He can now descend into the subterranean levels built by citizens under Chicago known by the Legislators as “Closed zones’ freely.
But, why is this so important? Because that’s been the plan all along. Rafe takes orders from a wide network, who no one knows who is at the top. Except us. Rupert Wyatt fails to build drama coherently and cinematically to any pleasurable effect. There are moments in the film that are entertaining and there are more than capable actors enlisted, your holding out hope were going to get to something good; something earned. Our hopes are dashed.
We now see Will Mulligan was at the top all along, the #1 in command of the Phoenix playing the ultimate double agent and in cahoots with Jane doe. As he marches to the drop site to greet his new alien boss, we see fixed on his back the same device used to blow up the Legislators the night prior at “Soldier Field”. But why all the under handedness to Gabriel? I can see using Rafe as a ploy to earn the Legislators trust to get closer to them, but nothing is informed on screen to Rafe or any of the Phoenix that would know what was going on. Will, is our Severus Snape of the story. Gabriel at his job decodes a sim card given to him earlier by Will that has photos of how the group came to be. How interconnected everyone is and why Gabriel is at the center of it all.
After the alien occupation 10 years ago close friends of Gabriel and Rafe’s parents, neighbors, even their school teacher, turns out to be Jane Doe and the Pheonix. Well that would make Vera Farmiga the Professor McGonagall of this story. And in the picture, there’s Will the partner of their father with the other members of the Order, who are determined to fight this threat and find a way to ignite the spark to start a war.
This is “Captive State: and the Order of the Phoenix”
Fuck You, Rupert Wyatt!
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 5/10
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writers: Erica Beeney, Rupert Wyatt
Starring: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga
Run Time: 109 mins