Review of Mystery Men
Superhero films are in vogue like never before. Spiderman is cleaning up at the box office right now, and sequels have already been green lighted. Similarly, a potential Superman/Batman crossover movie has hit the headlines in addition to solo films. Add to that the Hulk movie and the X Men sequel and it`s clear to see that with the quality of effects and the wealth of comic book material available, these films will continue to be made for some time to come. Naturally, spoofs are inevitable, and indeed have been made for many years. It`s difficult to spoof the superhero genre though, as any film where the hero wears his underwear outside his tights has to be walking the borders of incredulity at the best of times, it becomes difficult to distinguish the spoof from the serious film. Compare for example, Batman to the fourth film, Batman and Robin. It`s difficult to imagine they come from the same franchise. But it is possible, however rare to make a spoof work. Perhaps the best superhero spoof movie was 1999`s Mystery Men.
Champion City is a place where superheroes exist. Champion City`s particular guardian is one Captain Amazing, a photogenic golden boy, whose past exploits have rendered Champion City safe for the masses. So safe in fact that his best efforts now, such as rescuing an old people`s club from marauders is greeted with less than glowing accolades from the press. His agent is incapable of obtaining the same PR that he used to and he is losing lucrative advertising deals. When Captain Amazing finds that a leading cola no longer sponsors him, he decides to take desperate action and has his arch nemesis released from a lunatic asylum. Amazing believes that a few titanic battles with Casanova Frankenstein will restore his popularity. What he hasn`t gambled on is that Casanova Frankenstein has plans for Champion City, and twenty years behind bars has honed his abilities. It isn`t long before Frankenstein has Captain Amazing captured and helpless, and Champion City lies open for the taking, totally undefended. Well not totally, as where one superhero reigned supreme, there are several lesser-known heroes with varying talents ready and willing to fill the breach. These are the forgotten heroes, with nominal powers whose efforts are rarely successful and never appreciated. They try to make it into the big league, but are always ignored and belittled. Three superhero friends, The Blue Raja, The Shoveler and Mr Furious learn of Captain Amazing`s predicament and go up against Casanova Frankenstein`s henchmen, The Disco Boys in order to rescue him. However, The Blue Raja`s ability to fling cutlery, The Shoveler`s excavation abilities and Mr Furious` irate explosion of pure fury are unable to do the job. They decide to recruit, and soon wannabe superheroes of every ilk are at their doorstep. Joining their ranks soon after are, The Bowler, who seeks to avenge her fathers death with a magic bowling ball that contains her father`s skull, The Spleen, whose flatulence is silent but deadly, The Invisible Boy, who can become invisible at will, as long as no one is looking and finally the Sphinx, who is very mysterious indeed. Can this motley band rescue Captain Amazing and save Champion City?
Presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, Mystery Men boasts an impressive picture. The image is clear and sharp with strong vibrant colours throughout. There is a rare speck of dirt, but this is hardly worth mentioning. The film is a beautiful creation with a comic book world brought to life. From the opening shots as we swoop down on Champion City, you can see the thought that has gone into the design. It`s a melange of design from all periods that brings the city to life, whether it is the gothic buildings to the 40`s diner. The costumes have had the same lavish attention paid to them and the characters bring all that to life. The Disco Boys are a particular case in point. The sets are carefully lit to enhance the style of the picture and Kinka Usher`s direction makes the most of the world that he is bringing to the screen.
The sound is presented in DD 5.1 English and it is as good as you would expect. The surround is well used with the action represented vividly. The dialogue is always clear despite Geoffrey Rush`s eclectic accent. The film is notable for its soundtrack, with some great tunes. I`m particularly a fan of Smashmouth`s AllStar and Moloko`s Indigo, but with a group of bad guy`s called the Disco Boys, every opportunity is taken to bring back the most memorable of 70`s dance floor classics. Stephen Warbeck`s music is suitably heroic and is perfect for the genre.
While the menus may be static and boring to look at, this film is laden with extras. The obligatory trailer appears of course, but in addition to that we get an 18-minute spotlight on location. This making of documentary is a nice and concise look behind the scenes, with interviews with the stars and the crew. There is a director`s commentary that from first time director, Kinka Usher is well accomplished. He makes good relevant comments about the scenes and the cast and speaks candidly about what worked and what didn`t. There are some 19 minutes of deleted scenes presented in 4:3 letterbox, and while they are interesting expansions on the characters, it`s plain to see why they were cut. There is also an alternative ending.
There are music highlights, which play the relevant section of the film. There are the Production Notes and the Cast and Filmmaker notes as well as The Origin Of The Mystery Men Characters, which are all pages of text that describe the relevant subjects. Just when I was lamenting the lack of imagery to go with the text, I stuck the disc into my PC, and lo and behold I found a wealth of information about the film. The disc mistakenly states that the DVD-ROM content is merely a weblink. On the contrary, as well as the aforementioned link, there is a screensaver and a jigsaw puzzle. There are pages from the Mystery Men comic book to look at and postcards that you can e-mail. Then there is the script extracts, the script to screen, the cast and filmmaker notes are expanded upon with more information, there are production designs and costume designs, a more detailed look behind the scenes and much more. It`s just a shame that all this information is restricted to those of us with PCs.
Mystery Men is an absolutely hilarious send up of the superhero genre that had me in fits of laughter throughout. The cast is top notch and really bring the characters to life. Ben Stiller is the best thing in this film and his Mr Furious is a wonderfully inept creation. All the heroes have powers which are mundane and ineffectual, but their belief in themselves and the cast`s verisimilitude make them fascinating to watch, and Stiller`s display of impotent rage and elaborate verbal warnings, take Bruce Banner`s "Don`t make me angry, you wouldn`t like me when I`m angry" to a new degree. Hank Azaria as the Blue Raja is initially annoying, with an effete English accent that Dick Van Dyke would be proud of, but this is merely a build up to a great punchline. Although the fork and spoon puns did begin to grate, ahem. William H. Macy has a well-travelled face, and his appearance as The Shoveler is inspired. He has such a mild manner to him, that his performances always have an implicit honesty about them. That ability in a spoof is priceless, and the earnest Shoveler is cinematic gold. Janeane Garofalo is the Bowler and she is another well-written character. The Spleen and The Invisible Boy are one trick ponies. Kel Mitchell plays the Invisible Boy, who can turn invisible when no one is looking, but his honesty and heart felt performance make up for the minimal role. Paul Reubens plays The Spleen, and his battle cry of "Pull my finger" is one to be feared. Again another minimal role, but then again, fart jokes are always funny. (Comedy Rule No.1) Wes Studi plays the Sphinx who just has the most ridiculous dialogue. The film concentrates on Ben Stiller`s character, so the shortcomings of the other characters aren`t so obvious. Pras Michel and comedy genius Eddie Izzard play the leaders of the disco boys, Tony C and Tony P and it`s nice to see the return of the afro and glitterballs in movies. Greg Kinnear is Captain Amazing, and he plays the role brilliantly, as more of a rock star than a superhero, his vanity is brilliant and his stupidity inspired. Geoffrey Rush plays the principal bad guy, Casanova Frankenstein and while his performance is sufficiently ridiculous and evil, I find that he somewhat understates the role, and a more flamboyant characterisation was called for.
Mystery Men is a brilliant pastiche of comic book movies. It takes the established conventions and gives them a twist that results in a fresh and entertaining concept. The best thing is that the film got the budget it deserved and while some of the effects seem ridiculous in keeping with the film, the scope of the film is sufficiently vast to make it look as good as any of the `serious` comic book conversions. The concept of hero as corporate entity is a brilliant extrapolation and somehow makes the world of the Mystery Men more tangible. The Mystery Men themselves are great creations, with ridiculous abilities; the fact that they take themselves so seriously makes the film even funnier. Kinka Usher has created a world that is as beautifully designed and as coherent as any that Tim Burton has created, the opening shot over Champion City is stupendous, and the costumes and set pieces are just as intricate. The DVD is very well put together with a plethora of extras. The fact that you can find it on sale and in bargain buckets throughout the land makes this a very attractive purchase. You won`t be disappointed.