Mystery Men (1999)

What can i say about this one? It’s been on my list of favourite films since i first held a copy on VHS. Before the MCU were re-energizing superhero in cinema, before the DCEU were pumping out poorly lit and badly scripted big budget efforts – there was Mystery Men! Join us for a spoiler-infused review…

“In order to generate more endorsement revenue, Champion City’s resident superhero Captain Amazing arranges for the release of super villain Casanova Frankenstein, only to be captured by him. The city’s fate rests in the hands of seven loser superhero wannabes: the fork-flinging Blue Rajah, the shovel-wielding Shoveler, the possessed bowling ball-hurling Bowler, the flatulent Spleen, the only-when-nobody’s-looking Invisible Boy, the mysterious Sphinx, and the perpetually-angry Mr. Furious.”

Mystery Men packs a pure 90’s punch despite swinging in at the back end of the decade. From a cinematic point of view a lot of the stylistic and comedic timing and framing choices have been in heavy circulation for years now, but in 1999 this film was the tip of the wave.

The film not only looks pure comic book, it also shows this in the editing. Much of the shots are quick cuts and fast-edited which produces split second frames as if flashes from the pages of a comic. The CGI in the cityscapes looks great even after 20 years. There’s inventive use of neons throughout the practical sets of film and it’s exciting to realize a number of the sets used in the film were also used in Batman Forever (1995).

It’s also worth noting that any film that features Tom Waits in an opening scene is always going to be a winner, but more importantly it sets a certain tone for the film you are about to watch.

Released the same year as Galaxy Quest, Mystery Men brings with it a similar style of comedy which not only parodies established genre tropes but sends them up in a respectful style. It’s a commentary that resonates years after. The meta-commentary of Captain Amazing and his alter ego specifically is a valuable send up.

For me, the team attacking Casanovas Frankenstein‘s limo is still one of the greatest scenes in modern cinema history. It’s up there with the copier scene from Office Space. It makes for a perfect distillation of the film :

Mystery Men has a cast full of great actors who aren’t necessarily huge Hollywood leads, or were not at the time of filming but form a strong ensemble nonetheless. The names attached are unreal:

Ben Stiller works his arse of in this film. Not that he doesn’t always put in a good turn but you can really see him work for this project. His portrayal of Mr Furious is delightful and seems like the role was written for him specifically.

William H Macy brightens up every project he’s in, thats just a fact surely? It’s great to see him on screen as the Shoveler (which interestingly at one point was set to be cast as Danny Devito!). Hank Azaria is fantastic as the Blue Rajah, utilising more than just his renowned voice talents (we even hear a quick Professor Frink!) but delivering his finest comedic performance.

Being the 90’s it’s great to see Claire Forlani (the lovely, lovely Claire Forlani) whose character is slightly two dimensional but she puts meat on the bones of the character nonetheless.

Eddie Izzard is beautiful on screen, stealing every scene and battling William H Macy for best performance. A fantastic character and a reminder why Izzard should act more. Kel Mitchell from Kenan and Kel (or Good Burger if that’s your pop culture reference point) as The Invisible Boy slots into the team effectively. What i love about his character (outside of Kel from Kenan and Kel, or the obvious use of The Hawthorne Effect) – it’s the connection to the observer effect in quantum physics. See? Superhero films can make you think!

Janeane Garofalo appears as The Bowler. Her performance here is what i imagine the comedian/actress to be like in real life. Crude, stand offish, devastatingly sarcastic. It has been reported that she hated the final version of the film, which is hardly surprising as the entire cast clashed over what the tone of the film should be. Regardless her performance is solid and makes for one of the best characters in the team.

Geoffrey Rush puts in his usual wonderful character performance this time as the evil scientist : Casanova Frankenstein. Michael Bay even appears briefly in this film – if that’s not a reason to watch it then i don’t know what is!

The soundtrack is theatrical and thematically 90’s. Was Smash Mouth on the soundtrack? YOU BET YOUR ASS IT WAS! And a full 2 years before it was used in Shrek! Check out the promo music video below:

Conclusions

It’s been said that Mystery Men is one of the most underrated films ever made. Who said it? Me. But i’m sure i’m not alone. The film is written to be self-aware and self referential without being self-congratulatory and the writers manage this mammoth task with gusto.

I’m fairly precious about this film but honestly if they did a sequel with the right script and cast today i think i’d be excited for it.

This one makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If you haven’t seen it do yourself a favour. It’s currently available on Prime. Check out trailer below:


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