“We’ve got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she’s ordered the lobster!”
I’ve wanted to see this again for quite a while, so I finally dug out my box of DVDs and found it.
These days we are awash with superhero films. Marvel and DC battle it out (not that it’s much of a contest) from summer to summer with all kinds of other little projects popping up along the way. It wasn’t always the case, though. 1999’s Mystery Men came at a time when Superman had come and long gone and the Batman franchise that Tim Burton had started was going downhill fast. We had things like Blade and Spawn and a few retro callbacks like The Rocketeer (which I love) and The Phantom but not much else.
So, when Mystery Men came along, it felt very fresh (even though it’s kind of just the superhero version of The Magnificent Seven). I haven’t read anything that backs this up but I’m sure that the first Guardians of the Galaxy owes quite a bit to Kinka Usher’s only directorial outing. The job of making a feature film proved to be too painful for Usher who went back to commercials. That’s a real shame as Mystery Men is a joy to watch. Writer Neil Cuthbert also did nothing much after this, which is a shame as the script is excellent, zinging away with great lines.
It treads the line between action and comedy with remarkable prowess, never getting the balance wrong, which makes it hugely entertaining. This is helped greatly by the wonderful cast who play it straight enough to make the laugh feel so much more authentic. Ben Stiller, William H Macy (who shares my birthday by the way) and Hank Azaria make an endearing trio at the centre but it’s the ensemble that really makes this film shine.
Greg Kinnear is wonderfully smug as Captain Amazing, Geoffrey Rush makes a brilliant villain with such a great voice and that’s just the beginning. Wes Studi’s Sphynx is very funny (and far less scary than he was in Last of the Mohicans), Tom Waits reading his lines off his hands as Heller the weapons designer and Eddie Izzard as Tony P, one of the Disco Boys. Paul Reubens’ Spleen is a character that would usually annoy me greatly in a film, but he’s written and played so well that I just can’t be irritated. Janeane Garofalo as the Bowler is brilliantly deadpan. There are so many. There’s even a cameo from Michael Bay.
Mystery Men makes me laugh out loud every time and tonight was no different. The plot is simple but that allows the great cast to shine in their roles. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a look, especially to see how it holds up next to the modern superhero craze. Captain Amazing and his endorsements and commercials could well have been an influence on the Captain America videos we see in the MCU’s Spiderman: Homecoming, or maybe it’s the other way around and those endorsements are based on the original Captain America comic books. I don’t know; I’ve never read any Captain America comics.
There are so many standout scenes but one of my favourites is this one where the group attempt to rescue Captain Amazing with disastrous consequences. Usher never told Janeane Garofalo what was going to happen with the crispy hand so her reaction is real.
Thanks a lot for reading. If you’ve seen this and want to comment on it, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I might group together these posts, so here’s the other one if you fancy it.