Mystery Men (1999)


I do enjoy this film, but there is definitely a feeling of what might have been. I love this concept so much, and to just get a good, and not great, movie out of it does seem like a wasted opportunity.

Mystery Men is the story of lame superheroes who have to step up and fight the bad guys when their city’s legit hero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), gets taken down by the villainous Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush. Also how cool is that name?). It’s up to the amateur trio of the perpetually angry Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), The Shoveler (William H Macy), and the spoon flinging Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) to save their city. They quickly find they are well out of their depth, so go about recruiting a few more wannabe heroes to help them save the day.

A lot of the fun in this film is found in the inane dialogue from the cast. I love the moments when they argue with each other about seemingly insignificant things. Like Stiller complaining that the Blue Raja has no blue in his costume, or that he only throws spoons while claiming to be the ‘master of cutlery.’ Shouldn’t he also be throwing knives? There are several moments like this that hint at what could have been something really special. I like how Captain Amazing has all these endorsement deals. His uniform looks like a NASCAR driver, and I feel like that is exactly what would happen if a real life superhero suddenly turned up to fight crime. I like that the movie pokes fun at the superhero genre. Watching it now is really funny because back when this was made, there wasn’t much of a superhero genre to talk about. Even though it was made years before they became mainstream, it really does satirise the genre very well.

The best part of this film is Geoffrey Rush. He is clearly having fun as the evil Casanova Frankenstein. His chemistry with Greg Kinnear is great. I also really liked Kinnear as Captain Amazing. He is able to be a jerk, but remain somewhat likable at the same time. It is a perfect balance for someone who would be loved by the city he protects, but kind of a jerk away from the cameras. Also, keep your eye out for Eddie Izzard as one of Casanova’s disco loving henchmen. I love seeing him in movies, and he is a treat here too.

As entertaining as this film is, it does feel like a wasted opportunity. I just love the concept of lame superheroes inadvertently saving the day so much. I’d like to see the idea revisited now, especially with superheroes being the flavour of the month in Hollywood. Mystery Men is a solid film, but wastes a great concept by only being good, not great.

Rating: B-

Mystery Men was better than I thought it would be. I vaguely remember it’s release in 1999, and thought it looked just plain weird. Which it is. I just have a higher tolerance for this sort of silliness now.

I feel like Mystery Men failed at the box office because it was released after a string of terrible superhero movies. Batman & Robin (1997) is the first that comes to mind, but this was also brought to theaters on the heels of films like Judge Dredd (1995) and The Phantom (1996). The crux of this movie is that it pokes fun at the superhero genre, deliberately playing up the tropes for comic effect. That joke is lost if the ‘real’ superheros are unintentionally doing the job for you. Maybe if it had been released later, after Marvel brought some legitimacy to the genre, Mystery Men might have been better received.

As it stands, this is a fun movie, though not one I would watch that often. This is probably due to the fact that it now serves as a B-list 1990s time capsule. The cast includes the likes of Ben Stiller, Janine Garofalo, Greg Kinnear, Eddie Izzard, Paul Reubens, William H. Macy, Kel Mitchell, and Hank Azaria, among many others. Their often bumbling antics are set against a soundtrack featuring Smash Mouth, Violent Femmes, and some other 90s artists who’s names sound vaguely familiar. There’s also a string of disco tunes mixed in, which was popular during the later part of the decade when 1970s nostalgia hit hard.

Mystery Men‘s strength lies in its dialogue. There’s a lot of witty banter befitting any superhero film, but there’s just as much inane conversation and in-fighting. This is where the movie lampoons the genre best. I love when the heroes make fun of each others powers, which are usually lame or not well controlled. It reminds me of Captain America angrily calling out Iron Man for needing a high-tech suit to fight crime. Again, this movie might have landed better if it were made about a decade later.

Mystery Men is a fun, silly look at superhero and comic book movies. It’s started to look and feel a bit dated, but the dialogue is smart enough to hold some relevance in the post-Marvel move era.

Rating. C+

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