Sometimes, it takes a pale imitation to appreciate anew the immense artistry required to pull off proper cinema of spectacle.
This time around, Captive State‘s the pale imitation, and the immense artistry it’s unsuccessfully mooching belongs to masters — yes: masters — of onscreen mayhem such as Tony Scott and…(ready for it?)…Michael Bay!
The facile accessibility of their aggressively-slick, in-your-face entertainment belies the difficulties of creating such a polished aura, the exact hurdles over which Captive State stumbles.
It seems to be going for an amalgamation of Scott’s latter-day, ruggedly-handheld camerawork combined with Bay’s Seven Seconds or Less shot-style, including distractingly-jarring, jarringly-distracting ripoffs/homages (take your pick) of his jump-cuts, preventing the movie (and us) from settling into any sort of flow (the sole exception: the stadium centerpiece). For the likes of Bay and Scott, “shaky” describes their aesthetic. For Captive State, it describes the execution. The movie’s edited — and ADR’d — within an inch of its life, lacking the duo’s touch for kinetic pace and coherent rhythm (there’s as much cinematic choreography to how they film conversations as in their more-signature, explosive sequences). Bay and Scott gone wrong can make for an aurally, visually, and mentally nauseating viewing experience liable to induce motion sickness.
It also makes trying to figure out what the fuck’s going on in the plot that much more impossible. Whenever the overdone cinematics — as in, they’re both done too often, and overdone here — calm down for fitful stretches, the screenplay’s structural problems come into view. The characters — sorry, I should say “actors”, because none of their parts are developed enough on the page to deserve that most basic of literary designations — feel like they randomly drift in and out of the picture (figuratively and literally), maybe a deliberate patchwork-tapestry in theory, but a confoundingly-lopsided, unfocused slog in practice. There’s no overarching framework — be it narrative, thematic, emotional (lol), etc. — binding everything and everyone together. Can a movie lose the plot if it never establishes one in the first place?
Besides the usual pleasures of figuring out how the different particularities of a science-fiction world comment on our own — which, here, mostly lead to rote platitudes about #ResistingCorruptPower — the only saving grace is the cast: John Goodman! Vera Farmiga! Ashton Sanders! Kiki Layne (the most ambitious Barry Jenkins-shared-movie universe crossover event in history? It would be, if she wasn’t treated like a glorified extra here)! Kevin Dunn (a classic case of an actor from a popular political TV series — in his case: Veep — always being typecast as a politician on the big screen)! Alan Ruck! Madeline Brewer! Ben Daniels! Machine Gun Kelly!
Machine Gun Kelly?
Believe it, baby!
Or, better yet, just shrug and walk away.