“Strike a Match, Burn Your House Down”

Captive State (2019), dir. Rupert Wyatt

By Taylor Thornburg

In 2019’s Captive State, rebels lead an insurgency on Earth after an alien species invades the planet and wrests control of the human race from the world’s governments.  Captive State stars the ubiquitous John Goodman playing against the protagonist Ashton Sanders, principally known for his role in 2016’s Moonlight.  Rupert Wyatt directs following 2014’s The Gambler and 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Captive State has problems; big problems that are both technical and political.  

The action is murky and poorly rendered.  The characters are unremarkable.  Worst of all, over the course of its entire two-hour run time, it relentlessly swings between moments of true suspense and impossibly dull exposition that presupposes an equally impossible and equally dull audience.  No one expects films like Captive State to innovate cinema or explode the limits of ideology, but its grim estimation of its audience is an insult to the vibrant and intelligent communities of B-movie and genre enthusiasts that want to support movies like it.

Captive State’s political problems include its depictions of authority and rebellion. Specifically, the film fails to establish the political motivation for its protagonists and antagonists.  Neither the protagonists nor the antagonists in this production are identifiably right or left. Captive State’s fictive rebellion could be an inspirational rebellion for revolutionaries as much as it could be for reactionaries.  In Captive State’s universe, the politics of the antagonists are relative to the ideology of rebellion practiced by the protagonists that lacks reason or direction.      

The lack of reason for rebellion in Captive State explains and excuses the totally inadequate ideology of rebellion that it promotes.  The circular reasoning for this ideology is that rebellion is right simply because it is rebellion.  The source of this reasoning is the broader capitalist ideology out of which this ideology of rebellion and its film developed.  The circular reasoning of the ideology of rebellion mirrors the capitalist reasoning that innovation and disruption are good because order and stability suggest stagnation, which is bad, and the stagnation of order and stability is bad because it suggests lack of innovation and lack of disruption. 

This circular reasoning is the foundation for the ideology of rebellion that hinders rather than helps actual revolutionary programs, programs that require stable mass support and orderly mass movements.  When the characters in Captive State utter the motto of the revolution, “Strike a match; ignite a war,” like a war is a simple and pleasant personal adventure along the way to personal gain and glory, a match is certainly struck, but this match would burn down the rebel’s house and all the revolutionaries inside before it ignited a war.

Fans of science fiction and budding revolutionaries alike would be better off reading State and Revolution than indulging this picture and its fantasies of matches.

For more reviews like this one, listen and subscribe to the Hammer & Camera podcast available on all platforms for podcasts where Taylor and co-host Phil discuss films from a Left point of view.

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