Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mystery Men (1999, Movie Review)


     Super hero movies are all the craze now, aren’t they? I would actually go so far as to call this the great Golden Age of comic book adapted movies. Well, back in the 90’s, I was very limited on good super hero movies. I had the Warner Brother “Batman” movies, even the first two “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” movies and there was one other comic book movie I owned that still stands as a personal favorite of mine to this day. As if you haven’t guised by the title of this blog, I’m referring to the 1999 motion picture titled “Mystery Men”. It’s loosely based on the Dark Horse Comics series called “Flaming Carrot”, which was written by Bob Burden, who also assisted in writing this motion picture. Unlike other comic book adapted movies, this film is also a satire on the superhero genre. There have been hero satires in the past, like the 90’s TV show “The Tick”, but I’ve never watched that show, so this was a completely original concept for me at the time, and I found it hilarious.     



       The Plot goes like this......in a massive metropolis called Champion City, Captain Amazing is everyone’s favorite super hero. He always gets the job done and defeats the bad guys, but he’s also a jerk that only wants the attention and sponsors that being a super hero can give him. On the opposite side of that coin is a small team of would-be hero’s that will do whatever it takes to protect the innocent from the forces of evil. Unfortunately, they really suck at their job, they can never work as a team, the villains always kick their butts and the people of the city shun them for it. However, a powerful mastermind threatens the city and has taken the mighty Captain Amazing captive. Now it’s up to the rookie team of hero’s to improve themselves and become the cities new champions. Before I get to ahead of myself, I’d better talk about the individual team members. There’s seven team members total, all completely absurd, but so likable in their own unique ways. 



      

Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller)

Our main character is Mr. Furious, whose power comes from his boundless rage. Basically, he’s like the Hulk, just without transforming into a monster. He’s played by Ben Stiller and this is the performance that personally introduced me to him. For all the great things that Ben Stiller has done in other movies, I always find myself remembering him the most as Mr. Furious. It’s interesting to note that despite being the main character of the movie, most of the cast gets top billing over him. I never understood that, it’s not like Ben Stiller was an unknown actor at the time, he stared in some big hits like “There’s Something About Marry”, he directed a number of comedies during the 90’s and he even had “The Ben Stiller Show” that started in 1992, so why was he credited below most of the cast?  


The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo)

There’s only one female member of the group called The Bowler, who has a magical connection with a bowling ball that she can levitate and send flying through the air at her enemies. She gets her powers from her diseased father, who was murdered and now his skull is in the center of her bowling ball. She comes late into the movie, but surprisingly she’s given more back story and a bigger story arch than any of the other characters. This is a girl hell bent on finding her father’s killer and getting revenge. Then during the climax, she’s ultimately the hero who saves the day. You could actually make the argument that if Mr. Furious is the main character, The Bowler is the second lead character.     


The Shoveler (William H. Macy)

Next is the Shoveler, who’s only method of crime fighting is smacking bad guys with a shovel. That may not sound too impressive or that funny but he serves as the teams moral compos. Whenever the odds are against our hero’s, you can always count the Shoveler to raise everyone’s hopes with a motivational speech. Even though his speeches contain a lot of funny lines, he’s also very honest and humble as he acknowledges every team member and their talents. There’s one speech made at the end of the movie before the big climax that personally stands as one of my favorite motivational speeches ever spoken in a motion picture.  


The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria)

Then there’s the Blue Raja, a British hero who has an arsenal of silverware that he hurls at his enemies. While Hank Azaria is very charismatic in the role, and the concept of a crime fighter flinging forks at villains is very amusing, I never really like the character that much, he just wasn’t all that interesting, but he has his moments.   


The Spleen (Paul Reubens)

The team member who pretty much steals the show is the Spleen played by Paul Reubens. Most people recognize Reubens for playing Pee Wee Herman, but personally, I’ll always remember him as this ridiculous superhero who takes out villains with the power of pure flatulence. Seriously, he unleashes toxic, paralyzing farts on his enemies, which he triggers by having people pull his finger. This could have been a lame excuse for lots of fart jokes in the movie, but Paul Reubens completely redeems the character with lots of personality and one of the funniest voices he’s ever made in his whole career.   


Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell)

The youngest member of the group is Invisible Boy, who has the power to disappear. The problem is that he’s only invisible when no one is watching him, which is hilarious irony. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the movie, but at least he stands as a good metaphor of believing in ones gifts that are invisible to others.
 

The Sphinx (Wes Studi)

At last we have the Sphinx, a cliché-spewing Philosopher who leads the team. Basically, he’s the guide to the Mystery Men, like what Professor X is to the X-Men or what Splinter is to the Ninja Turtles. One thing I never understood about this character is that he has the power to cut guns in half with his mind, however, he only dose this once in the whole movie, and mostly stays out of the action. So why on earth does he have an awesome power like this if he never uses it, in-fact there’s a moment during a battle that the team needs to use a super magnet to take out all the bad guys guns and they never once consider using the Sphinxes power of mind breaking weapons.   


       This cast is what makes the movie so much fun to watch, the characters are all so perfectly distinct from each other, their personalities are very fun and the performances are great. Obviously, none of them will be winning Oscars for this but with the dialog and wardrobe given to the actors, it could have been far too easy for them not to care about the project at all, or just be embarrassed in their parts. Thankfully, the cast completely submerses themselves in these characters, they have so much energy, there clearly having fun and I love the way these characters play off of each other. I honestly believe that this is a group of close friends that have known each other for years, nothing comes off as staged. It’s just a terrific ensemble cast, and a rather enjoyable collection of characters to boot. 




      The Villain of the movie is played by Geoffrey Rush, who’s fantastic, he just livens up this performance with so much juicy wickedness. Before I knew him as the lead villain from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, I always associated Geoffrey Rush as the sinister Casanova Frankenstein. He doesn’t have any super powers or signature fighting moves, he’s just an evil madman with a dooms day machine in basement, it’s as classic as it gets. In a more serious film, this guy would be a lame cliché, but here, Casanova Frankenstein just fits with the tone and goofy charm of the movie. His dooms day machine is perhaps the most imaginative I’ve ever seen, basically it’s a death ray that distorts reality and bends people inside-out, the effects for this are pretty awesome. He also has the craziest variety of evil henchmen I’ve ever seen in a movie. While some villains use ninjas, robots or soldiers, this guy has woman dressed up like the Spice Girls, men in pin-striped suits that look like gangsters from the 1920’s, a team a young hokey plays that always dress in uniform but never actually play the game, rap singers that cant rap, assassins dressed up like people for a masquerade ball and a small army of disco dancing boys that’s lead by Eddie Izzard, it’s crazy.    




       Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more characters, there’s actually quite a big supporting cast. As I said before, Captain Amazing is the other hero who gets all the fame and attention, which he really doesn’t disserve. He’s such a despicable character, in fact his need for attention is what starts all the problems in the movie. His costume further emphasizes what a celebrity he is because it’s cluttered with product logos from other companies that he sponsors. There’s also an inventor character who supplies the Mystery Men with weapons and gadgets, including a shrinking gun and a canned tornado. No joke, he actually throws a can in the air which produces a tornado, it’s ridiculous but very amusing. Mr. Furious also has a typical girl friend, who’s basically just there to get kidnapped and rescued. Then there’s a number of family members who contribute just enough without over complicating the film.




    One of my favorite scenes is when the Mystery Men try to recruit heroes to their cause, this leads into a hilarious montage of wannabe super hero’s featured one after another. This includes rejected wonder woman, a big muscle bound man in a mask that wears ballerina attire and my favorite is a character called The Waffle Man, literally it’s a guy that uses a waffle grill as a weapon. He’s completely over the top and he has his own theme song to boot, honestly, someone needs to make a movie about this guy because he’s funnier than any character in the film.    


 


     I always regarded this movie to be the end of the 90’s and the begging of the 2000’s. The music selection was definitely a product of the time, most especially the song “All Star” performed by Smash Mouth, which plays during a training montage and during the closing credits. There are lots of impressive special effects on display but they never go overboard with them, in fact it’s mostly hand built sets which look really cool. The battle scenes are also very fun, there’s no over the top stunt work or fighting choreography, it’s all kept simplistic and it just fits with the tone of the film. The setting of Champion city is just like any classic comic book city location, kind of like Gotham City from Batman or Metropolis from Superman. From a distance, this city looks very advanced and futuristic, but once you actually look at the city from ground level and go to all the locations, it actually feels very out of date compared to now days. Dinners look like regular dinners, homes look like regular homes and the TV’s on display are ancient.    




     Even though it’s a super hero satire, this film still takes full advantage of being a comic book movie and it’s given a look and tone that really isn’t that different from other superhero movies from the 90’s or even the early 2000’s. Most of the comedy comes from the characters and how they interact with each other, but there are some very clever gags that are aimed at popular super hero trademarks. My favorite is when the characters argue about the plausibility of regular glasses hiding a superhero’s real identity. This is obviously a satire of superman, but it’s executed brilliantly. The movie never directly mentions what their spoofing, unlike other comedy’s today like “Superhero Movie”, which directly addresses what movie and what scene’s are being spoofed, I hate that. There are times when this movie tries a little too hard to get a big belly laugh, and that don’t always pay off. The most obvious is a scene in which one of the characters is wearing watermelon on his feet for no apparent reason. The best jokes are the more subtle ones, for example, the Shoveler has to borrow his son’s sports vest in order to complete his costume. Also, the Invisible Boy still lives with his parents, so when he invites the team over to his house its hilarious how the parents are completely passive to this crazy group of people.




       The movie utilizes every possible cliché you can think of, right down to that annoying comedic phase that’s featured in every comedy trailer today. The brilliance of this movie is that for every cliché it satirizes, it also embraces them and even celebrates them. My favorite scene in the whole movie, and personally one of my favorite scenes ever featured in a super hero film is when the team gets ready for the final battle. We get a quick montage of them suiting up in their costumes followed by the most epic shot of a team walking in a straight line. Its so firkin cool, even with the silly costumes, this moment makes popular super hero teams like the Justice League look amateurish by comparison. I especially love that this is an underdog story, it’s all about the people that aren’t given enough credit for doing the best they can at their jobs and don’t get enough respect for it. Having said that, this really isn’t a movie for all viewers. It’s extremely loud and over the top at times which can be mind numbing and chaotic, so you really have to be in the proper mind set to enjoy this. Personally, I still think it’s really fun, but a lot of that comes from seeing this at a young age. 


                     

      There were plans for sequels, but the movie was considered a bomb at the box office, so it stands alone with no sequels at all. However, it’s grown something of a small fan base, and is often regarded as a cult classic. It’s actually kind of refreshing to have a standalone superhero movie for once without a never-ending string of sequels. To sum things up, “Mystery Men” isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but I still enjoy it a lot. Even to this day, it has a distinct charm that no other comic book movie seems to match. I watched this film all the time when I was a kid, and while I don’t like it as much as I did back then, it still holds up for me over the years. It’s certainly not one of the greatest super hero movies or anything that special, but it’s a great satire of the comic book genera, celebrates some of the best superhero clichés, it has a memorable cast of fun characters, plenty of funny moments and it’s actually a refreshing offset to all the current super hero movies we get today. 



                                               I give “Mystery Men” 3 ½ stars out of 5.   


  End 


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