Mystery Men (1999)
Written by Neil Cuthbert
Directed by Kinka Usher
Runtime 121 min.
4 out of 5
Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) is the hero of Champion City, but when he’s kidnapped by the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), a ragtag team of wannabe superheroes must rise to the occasion and thwart Casanova’s plan before it’s too late. That is, if they don’t screw things up first.
If there ever was a Seinfeld of superhero movies, this would be it. What I mean is, it’s a blend of everyday people doing super stuff while still dealing with the mundane of everyday life. The humor is overt in some places ala Kramer, and utterly-subtle-yet-brilliant in others (i.e. When the Shoveler hosts a superhero recruitment party in his backyard, his wife tells him she’ll divorce him if one person vomits in their pool and he replies deadpan: “That’s fair.”).
This movie was a strange hybrid of wannabe-superheroes-from-our-world living in a comic book world. Normally, those two “realities” don’t collide in superhero stories, but they did here and thus became the crux of the story: guys and girls who want to be heroes but don’t have the chops to cut it in a reality where you need to be super to survive.
At the same time, Mystery Men was meant to be a comedy as the rogues gallery were very ’60s Batman: the Frat Boys, the Disco Boys, the Suits, and others. Strangely, they were led by a leader who was much more competent and had the smarts to devise a plausible plan to take over the city.
As a comic book and superhero fan, I appreciated the nods to comicdom and its characters, namely when they discuss how Lance Hunt couldn’t be Captain Amazing because: “Lance Hunt wears glasses, Captain Amazing doesn’t wear glasses.” Nice commentary on the how-does-anyone-not-know-Clark-Kent-is-Superman debate.
The casting is perfect. Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious, William H. Macy as the Shoveler, Paul Reubens as the Spleen, Janeane Garofalo as the Bowler, Hank Azaria as the Blue Raja, Kel Mitchell as Invisible Boy and Wes Studi as the Sphinx. They all played it straight, which was what sold it given that they’re really ridiculous characters—farting as a superpower?—and made you feel for these guys and cheer them on as they bumbled their way through their adventure.
I’ve said it before that I like lighthearted superhero movies, and what makes this one work is that while it’s a comedy, it’s not a parody like Superhero Movie, for example. It’s just simply fun.
And fun is good.