*. The aliens, who at least in their most common form are giant bipeds covered in spiky quills, have taken over. And it seems as though we have welcomed our new porcupine overlords. They keep the lights on and in return we apparently do some physical labour for them.
*. At least I think that’s the arrangement. To be honest, I wasn’t sure why they were keeping us around. They need us to dig up our natural resources for them? They don’t have machines to do that? Because we have machines to do that. In any event, I guess things are working out, at least for some people. Employment is high, crime is low, the trains and buses are running on time. They’ve taken away our Wi-Fi but that might be a net plus. There is also an increasing gap between rich and poor, but again I’m not sure why. Since the aliens are the government and the army, why do they need a human class system?
*. Obviously the aliens are just stripping Earth of mineral assets, and even though we’re not told what they’re endgame is it’s hard to feel optimistic about our eventual fate. The majority of people, however, are happy to go along with things. Meanwhile, a handful of rebels plot an uprising.
*. This may sound kind of vague, but Captive State seems to want to make a political point and I can’t figure out what it is. The set-up is very similar to a TV series that was just winding up at the same time called Colony. In the case of that show the alien government was meant to represent the Nazi occupation of France, and on the commentary track here writer-director Rupert Wyatt mentions this as well. But what’s the connection? Who are our Nazis? Who are our collaborators? The Deep State?
*. Then there’s this: If the aliens are Nazis why aren’t they more evil? Are people being worked to death in slave pits? Are humans being raised for food? What happens to prisoners sent “off planet”? We don’t know any of this. It’s possible — unlikely, but possible — that the “roaches” are wholly benevolent. So how can we get on board with heroes who are suicide-bombing terrorists? Whose motto (repeated in the movie) is “light a match, ignite a war”? If you want audiences to relate to these freedom fighters some idea has to be given as to what’s at stake, of why we should be on their side.
*. Put another way, an ostensibly political movie like this needs to be angrier. But I never got a sense of anger from Captive State. Perhaps because we don’t get to meet any true believers either. There’s the crowd of sheeple at Soldier Field singing a bastardized version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but we don’t know these people. Are they all suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Do they just prefer order to chaos? Or here’s another question: Are elections still being held? The only real political authority belongs to the alien Legislators. The human leadership makes the claim that they stand for democracy vs. anarchy, but how is this a democracy?
*. Even when the Legislators call in Predator-like Hunters to take out the terrorist cell it’s only in response to a flagrant attack, and we don’t see any massive reprisals. Instead it’s the Stasi human police force who are the villains: brutal thugs wearing ski-masks and wielding batons on the ground and operating a vast surveillance state behind the scenes. Shouldn’t these be the guys Phoenix is targeting?
*. I can’t praise much about the film except its look. The burnt-out Chicago has a 1984ish rawness to it that works well with its low-budget vision of a low-tech future. Without digital communication people have apparently gone back to reading books and newspapers! (You see what I mean about a net plus?) The use of carrier pigeons is admittedly a bit extreme, but what really tipped me off the most about how changed a world this is (aside from the wall of bookshelves in Vera Farminga’s apartment) were all of the wristwatches. Remember them? I still wear one.
*. The confusion as to what is at stake, however, makes the movie feel slack. A. A. Dowd: “it’s not unreasonable to expect something like excitement out of a story about freedom fighters plotting to take back the planet. Captive State does not clear that fairly low bar.” In other words, it’s dull.
*. Dull and depressing. Again, we don’t know what Rafe’s fate will be when we see him along with a long line of others being sent off-planet but I figure it must be terrible. Perhaps worse than death. And while some scattered shots of an Earth Spring uprising playing over the end credits may be meant to give us some hope that a match has been lit, how can we believe humanity has a chance against a powerful force that is now so firmly entrenched? Nothing we’ve seen in the course of the movie gives us any grounds for feeling hopeful. I’m not making an appeal for a happy ending here, but again just wondering what the point of all this was.