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SECOND LOOK: Mystery Men (1999)

2014 was a good year for obscure superhero teams. Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6 both brought said teams to the centre of the stage. So, this inspired me to look back on a forgotten 1999 superhero film: Mystery Men. Very loosely based on Flaming Carrots Comics from Dark Horse, the film features the Mystery Men team, a group of fairly silly, z-list superheroes, but minus Flaming Carrot, who led them in the comics. Made in the same silly style that Batman & Robin unintentionally created, Mystery Men is a funny parody of a movie that involves taking the mickey of various conventions of the superhero genre and just having some plain old fun.

In the metropolis Champion City, crime and supervillains are on the fall thanks to the efforts of Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), who has been a famous superhero for years but now public interest in him is starting to wane (kind of like how audiences felt in the 90s towards the genre) and he is losing his corporate sponsors despite his costume being labelled in them. Desperate to stay in the limelight and get more money, Amazing uses his alter ego to get his arch nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) from the nuthouse to catch him doing evil again and lock him up. Casanova is one step ahead and kidnaps Captain Amazing and intends on using a doomsday weapon to destroy the city. So who is going to save the city and its hero?

Enter the city’s z-list superheroes, if you can even call them that – Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), who claims he gains superpowers when enraged but has never actually demonstrated it, the Shoveler (William H. Macy) who is pretty good with a shovel, and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), who speaks in a fake British accent, dresses like a fortune teller, and uses cutlery as projectiles. Unfortunately, they aren’t very good as superheroes and more focused on the themes and motifs of their outfits and personas as heroes rather than homing their talents, and have troubled home lives – Furious hates his mundane life as a car mechanic and his powers are fake, Shoveler has a family but is depressed by how useless he feels, and Blue Raja still lives with his mother and is afraid to reveal he is a superhero. So when Furious witnesses Captain Amazing’s capture, he convinces his comrades that they must save him by forming a team of likeminded superheroes.

They recruit several superheroes – Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) who turns invisible when no one is looking at him, The Spleen (Paul Reubens) who has farting powers, and The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), who is the daughter of a renowned hero with the same name, but he died in an “accident” and she now carries his skull around in a bowling ball looking to avenge him, while having one-sided arguments with his head. The group are later joined by Sphinx (Wes Studi), whose power is that he is simply mysterious but he is also wise and can somehow cut guns in half with his mind. Sphinx helps the others to master their powers and make their own costumes, though Furious’ attitude isolates him from the others and he has to face his insecurities and deal with how ordinary he is. The group learn the power of teamwork and plot to take on Casanova and his gang of card carrying villains, all the while trying to be superheroes and come up with a catchy team name.

Despite the film being a corny, cheesy parody, it does have plenty of heart to it. The characters are very funny and there is plenty of ad-libbing, but go more beyond being one-note joke characters. The superheroes are all ordinary people wishing to do something better in life, though we never see The Spleen’s backstory or know anything personal about Sphinx. Invisible Boy wants to prove he is not insignificant, Bowler wants to avenger her father quickly so she can get on with her life, Shoveler was to be something better in life despite his wife telling him that he is a good husband and father, everything about Blue Raja is exaggerated to cover his fears of rejection, and Mr. Furious acts tough and wild but is insecure. Furious is built up as the leader of the group, but the Shoveler comes out more as the leader, and gives a pretty awesome speech to encourage the group after Captain Amazing is accidentally zapped dead when they mess around with the doomsday weapon.

If I had one complaint, it is that the villains are a bit boring. Geoffrey Rush does his best, but Casanova is not very funny and his accent is terrible. However, his character is smart and kind of savvy with the decision making of the superheroes, but falls unknowingly into clichés himself when he has his doomsday weapon ready to fire at midnight for no reason, he has Captain Amazing has a prisoner but doesn’t kill him, and then kidnaps Furious’ girlfriend just to get a kick out of the protagonists’ moral barriers. Eddie Izzard also pops up as a mob boss with a disco motif, and he killed Bowler’s father, but nothing really comes from him as a character. The film also makes fun of badguys with motifs/themes, and there are bad rappers, terrible fashionistas, the Suits who are 1920s mobsters, and the frat boys who are led by Michael Bay of all people in a cameo.

I do enjoy Mystery Men overall. It has good, likeable characters, offers plenty of laughs, and the scene where the team march out of the mist in their costumes and then crash their way into Casanova’s mansion in their awesome military vehicle. Although it not the greatest or most memorable of superhero films, Mystery Men is a fun little movie and worth a watch.

Have you watched the movie before? What are your thoughts on it? Sound off in the comment section below or on Twitter.

About the author

Mark Russell