In this era of so many movies being based on comic books, it would be easy to think “Captain Fantastic” falls into that genre. Actually, the film couldn’t be any more different from one of those big-budget blockbusters.
There are no capes, super powers or flying sequences. It does feature a super performance by Viggo Mortensen and a championship script by Matt Ross. In the end, the film is able to bend steel opinion and leap tall close-minded thinking.
“Captain Fantastic” relies more on brain than brawn to tell the story of a family living way off the grid. Under the guidance of Ross, the story offers alternative opinions, smart arguments and real conversations about the health and development of children when they don’t have to deal with the distractions of the world.
Ben (Mortensen) is a recently widowed father of six children. Years ago, Ben and his wife moved the family to a cabin in the woods where they have generally lived off the land.
This is not just an escape from the frivolities of life, but a way to better focus their children on what’s important. Without cell phones, video games or dates, the children read great literature, debate political issues and speak multiple languages.
When the decision is made to leave the sanctity of the forest life to travel across the country for their mother’s funeral, it becomes clear that some life lessons don’t come from books. This becomes painfully apparent when the youngsters try to deal with awkward moments from a first kiss to peer pressure.
This is where Ross shines both as a director and writer. It would have been easy for “Captain Fantastic” to advocate the kind of lifestyle where children are encouraged to absorb as much knowledge as possible. It’s also a way of life that advocates healthy living.
During a stop at a bank, one of the children asks if they are in a hospital because he thinks everyone looks so sick because they’re obese. Stating the observation out loud is part of the social skills the children have not mastered.
Ross provides balance. He tells the story by showing the positives that come from being isolated and the negatives of not being able to deal with real world situations. The verbal battles between Ben and his father-in-law (Frank Langella) are written to give both sides time to make their points.
It’s the actions of the family that tell the deepest and most endearing stories.
Oldest son, Bo (George McKay), is so flustered when he gets a kiss from a stranger that he immediately offers a marriage proposal. It’s painfully sweet. His look at life is so innocent, but it’s also refreshing to show he’s a teen who is possessed by sexual urges.
The pure strength comes from Mortensen. He plays a man who is passionate about his convictions but struggles with his decisions after the passing of his wife. The question isn’t whether he’s a good man or not. It’s whether good intentions always result in the best outcome.
“Captain Fantastic” is everything that comic book-inspired movies aren’t. Instead of trying to visually overpower the viewer with crashes, explosions and huge fight scenes, “Captain Fantastic” is a deep examination of parenting, family, excess, isolationism, hope and the challenge of making the right decisions.
Most importantly, this is a movie that asks the viewer to think. Superhero movies have their own strengths, but challenging viewers to join in a debate about life is not one of them.