3.5 stars
Don’t be confused.
This Captain Fantastic is as far from the world of Marvel superheroes as you can possibly get. It’s an unfortunate title because the film is most likely to be seen by very confused teenagers expecting digital mayhem, which they won’t get, while it’s target audience, intending to avoid said digital mayhem will be elsewhere. And that’s a shame because this cross-examination of a hippie utopia in the wilds of America has a lot to offer.

Captain Fantastic is flawed, fatally, but even when it jumps the shark and fails to take audiences with it, the film has earned enough good will to stay the distance. Ben (Viggo Mortensen - Far From Men) has dropped off the grid and is home-schooling his six kids in a forest compound he built with his wife. He’s training them hard – abseiling 100m cliffs is an everyday activity – and teaching them harder – The Brother’s Karamazov is bed time reading. He’s adamant that they won’t be ordinary American kids, and they’re not. Everything about their lives is extraordinary.

From the somewhat shocking first scene, it’s clear that Captain Fantastic is nothing ordinary either. Writer / director Matt Ross has crafted a provocative work that seeks to challenge the fat, stupid America Ben has run away from. When he asks his teenage nephew to explain the constitution, the boy fails miserably. Ben then asks his six year old daughter who cheerfully responds, and is then asked to explore the concept rather than regurgitate its purpose. It’s one of the film’s more telling scenes that probes the value placed on education and, later, when parenting becomes child abuse.

The problems arise in not sufficiently humanising these moments and dragging them beyond the constructs they are. It’s a big ask, and Ross goes a long way to achieving it. We’d go all the way with him, weaknesses not withstanding, if not for that giant leap which leaves us stranded while he races on to an awkwardly cheery ending.

Which is not to say Captain Fantastic is not a good film. It is good, very good. If only more films sought to be half as provocative as this cinema would be staring at the dawn of a new golden age. Its ideas are bold and challenging, its construct robust and credible. Ross has pulled together a strong cast led by the effortlessly watchable Mortensen who each serve the story well. But for a bridge or two to explain the incredible, Captain Fantastic would be, well, fantastic.


Previewed at Sony Theatre, Sydney, on 30 August 2016.

Viggo Mortensen
Frank Langella
George MacKay
Steve Zahn

Matt Ross

Matt Ross




120 minutes

September 8, 2016
Captain Fantastic (2016) on IMDb
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Stacks Image 21556