Let’s face it: Even the most somber superhero franchises have a certain degree of ridiculousness to them. Here we have adults, often in costumes involving capes and tights, invisible jets, superpowers, and pretty useless law enforcement agencies. It’s only natural of course that somewhere along the way the potential to laugh at itself was not only realized but exploited. And, when done properly, these spoofs don’t insult superhero fans so much as they give cause to celebrate the weird and wonderfulness that make the niche so appealing and enduring.
The list of successful superhero spoofs is long and ever growing with entries like “The Greatest American Hero”, “The Tick”, “Sky High”, “The Incredibles”, “My Superhero Ex Girlfriend” and most recently, “Kick Ass”.
However, 1999’s film adaptation of Bob Burden’s legendary superhero squad Mystery Men from the Dark Horse comic books certainly ranks up there as one of the most solid and comedic examples of the genre has to offer.
Taking place in Capital City, Mystery Men tells the tale of a genuine crime-fighter named Captain Amazing who, in effort to stir up a little endorsement revenue, arranges for the release of super villain Casanova Frankenstein. The logic there being it’s difficult for a superhero to earn media attention chasing after petty thieves and j-walkers. Unfortunately for the Cap, it turns out Casanova Frankenstein hasn’t been simply busying himself with crossword puzzles while locked up and quickly enacts a plan of vengeance which results in Captain Amazing’s capture.
Like most metropolises that have become dependent upon the aid of a superhero for protection, tranquility, and just peace of mind, Capital City suddenly finds itself in a world of hurt without Captain Amazing’s services. Fortunately for the ragtag group of amateur heroes that will become known as the Mystery Men, the opportunity to unite and make their presence known arrives in the process.
Calling these guys second-string would be doing backup quarterbacks all over the country a disservice! Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), the Shoveler (William H. Macy), Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) and the Spleen (played flawlessly by one Pee Wee Herman, Paul Reubens) make up the group of good guys under the tutelage of the hilariously generic-advice dispensing sage Sphinx (Wes Studi).
If the names alone don’t clue you in to the sheer zaniness of this Justice League-wannabe, perhaps some of the powers will. Blue Raja has mastered the art of throwing silverware, Spleen, due to a spell placed upon him some years earlier by a gypsy, has an incurable case of flatulence, and Mr. Furious- well let’s just say that sometimes life makes him grumpy. Perhaps most amusing of all would be the Shoveler’s origin story which just so happens to be that he has always been good at shoveling.
On that note, one of the all-time classic scenes of the film belongs to Mr. Furious, who, thanks to a fantastically dry portrayal by Ben Stiller, hopes to prove his true furiousness in a scuffle with the villains and ends up doing little more than pounding the hood of Casanova Frankenstein’s stretch Corvette Stingray limo (especially funny when he tries unsuccessfully to remove the hood ornament).
Coming in at a runtime of 122 minutes, the 2004 DVD release of the film contains some surprisingly solid extra features. Among these: Spotlight on Location, Deleted Scenes, Origin of the original Mystery Men comic book characters, Universal Soundtrack Presentation & Music Highlights & Universal Showcase, & a host of DVD-ROM Features.
I couldn’t go as far as to say this is a universally appealing film, in fact it appears that most view it as a love it or hate it affair. I personally lean toward the former, especially thanks to Stiller’s character, but can also understand why some could lean toward the latter. The humor is by no means consistent throughout and some moments of the film aren’t quite discernable between stabs at humor or attempts at seriousness. The end of the film in particular starts to shake the parody feel altogether in favor of a bit of a cliché Hollywood-inspired finale.
However, the sublime elements of the characters especially, make it a worthy time-investment. Fans of superhero entertainment in any capacity should definitely consider giving it a go, even if only as a rental, for the few easily appreciated moments along the way. 3.5 stars but I’ll round that up to 4 as everything about Mystery Men is slightly larger than life.
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Blessed with a wondrously gifted comic cast and full of droll details, Mystery Men struggles in fits and spurts towards its climax. Transcendently witty in parts, it's also woefully sophomoric in others. Literally, this is the kind of movie in which someone gets off a brilliant line and then sits on a fork. Still, when this movie is ...