Captive State provides a fresh outlook on the 'aliens take over the Earth' genre. In this go-around, the aliens are well-established on the planet, and the oppressed Earthlings are divided as they try to figure out whether they're comfortable living under alien rule or want to fight back to regain the version of their world that they remember.
Rather than go the spectacular route, writer/director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Gambler) breathes dramatic life into the tired trope. The protagonists seem to struggle amongst themselves just as much as they do against their oppressors as Wyatt and co-writer Erica Beeney spin a yarn of alien colonization that takes place for many years in downtown Chicago, putting things in perspective for an audience that has not experienced a literal takeover of their world. Regardless, the message communicated is that fighting for your beliefs and against oppression is always a necessary and noble stand to take.
Special effects can potentially ruin a picture like this, but rather than aim for grandiose, Captive State goes minimalistic, and yet it impresses. The hostile and prickly aliens are known as "legislators" and rule the Earth. They are physically frightening with technological capabilities light years beyond those of humans. The sparse but well-executed special effects add to an already rich plot and showcase plausible, everyday difficulties of cohabitating with aliens.
The disjointed pacing adds to the terse action scenes when Captive State breaks out of its densely written backstory. Action fans may be kept waiting a little too long, but eventually the audience takes a deep dive into what it would really be like for humans to relate to each other during a very dividing time. This provides the backbone that holds the story together.
William Mulligan (John Goodman) channels some darkness from way back in the Barton Fink days. A Chicago Police Department official on the side of the collaborators, he wants to recruit people to help the aliens suppress any rebellion, and he is rewarded for it. Trying to fully comprehend his motivations could take the entire movie, which is worth watching if only to see what he'll do next.
Gabriel Drummond (Ashton Sanders) delivers an equally outstanding performance as a conflicted human trying to live in peace and avoid the fighting. But as the younger brother of legendary insurgent Rafe (Jonathan Majors), he is a prime target for joining the insurgents or being pumped for inside intelligence about the movement.
A stand-alone story, there is plenty of dystopian world takeover to be explored should Captive State choose to branch out into sequels. Meanwhile, all the important plot loops are closed tightly enough to satisfy most spectators. The film will resonate with people who are more interested in plot development than special effects.