Either Rupert Wyatt has zero faith in humanity, or he’s a prisoner of his own imagination. Or both. Eight years after his Rise of the Planet of the Apes rebooted the decades-old simian overlord franchise, he’s once again depicting the demise of the rule of humans, only this time it’s courtesy of aliens.
At the start of Captive State, we’re nine years into the occupation, after the people of the world capitulated to an alien invasion. The downtown areas of the world’s major cities have been walled in and are known as closed zones, and while the vast majority of people seem content to just go about their daily lives, some are actively on the side of the aliens, including brutish government official William Mulligan (John Goodman). A former police officer, Mulligan spends his days trying to quelch a scrappy underground resistance effort in Chicago that includes Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders). Drummond’s dead older brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) has become the poster boy for the resistance, which is in the process of planning an attack on an upcoming unity rally.
Despite what sounds like a rather simple premise, Wyatt (who also wrote the screenplay) does everything he can to make Captive State a muddled, esoteric mess. It’s not only literally muddled—set in a gray, rainy, colorless world and often at night—it seems to go out of its way to make everything as confusing as possible. After taking a good half-hour to sort out who’s who (a struggle not made any easier by having Goodman be pretty much the only famous, recognizable face among the lead players), we’re still not any closer to discerning what exactly is going on, or why we should care. We hardly ever see an alien, so we know little about their race—strengths, vulnerabilities, etc.—and we’re also told very little about why there’s even a resistance effort in the first place. Life, in fact, doesn’t seem too terrible under alien rule. It’s no picnic in a meadow, certainly, but it also seems to be a far cry from, say, 1984.
The screenplay doesn’t do us any favors either. Wyatt is deliberately vague in a lot of his dialogue and plot points (including the woefully executed ending), apparently hoping the audience cares enough about what’s going on to decide to stick with it for the long haul. But that’s a tough sell when you instead just find yourself reminiscing about far better alien invasion movies (Arrival, Annihilation, Edge of Tomorrow) as Captive State unfolds.