I’ll be up front about it: I love Mystery Men. From the first time I saw it, I thought it was an awesome movie. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate it more and more. Now that I’m supposedly an adult, I’ve looked back on it in recent years and gained increasing appreciation for it. I’ll try to remain spoiler-free as much as possible, but past a certain point, I’m just going to go ahead and give you a nice spoiler warning and go into full on hysterics. Deal?So let’s get some of the background stuff out of the way. Mystery Men was a very loose adaptation of the Flaming Carrot comics. Released in 1999, it wasn’t about the Flaming Carrot, but rather the blue-collar superhero group he founded. You have probably heard of Mystery Men in that it bombed. It bombed pretty badly, making back something like half its budget in the theaters. Not such a good sign right?
Well, by the time I’m done with this, hopefully you’ll go out and have a watch of it.
Mystery Men is set in the comic-book looking Champion City. It’s big, sprawling and the sun never shines on the city proper. The whole movie has this weird 70s and 90s mash up look going for it. The suburbs are these sort of happy looking ideal little neighborhoods, while the inner city looks like something out of the 90s Batman cartoons. The soundtrack is loaded with tons of weird sounding music and buckets of disco. It really goes with the vibe that this is something like the Future! as according to the 70s and portrayed by Dark Age comics.
But what’s the story about?
These guys, mostly.
From left to right we have The Blue Raja, The Shoveler and Mr. Furious. They’re wanna-be super heroes. Not even the B-Listers who can at least shake down some common crooks, these guys are pretty pathetic. Ten minutes into the movie they’ve already been shown up by a little group of thugs that are promptly taken out by a real superhero, Captain Amazing. Captain Amazing is a real superhero (complete with sponsorships!) who pretty much has crime on lock down in the city. When he goes missing though, the heroes above decide they need to recruit some extra heroes before they tackle the big villain Casanova Frankenstein. After that, the movie is about them going up against Frankenstein and his hired muscle: The Disco Boys.
So why do I love this movie so much? It oozes atmosphere. Despite largely being a parody of 90s comics, and comics in general, it builds a very distinct look and feel. From the darkened city, disco music and weird mish-mash of styles, it’s very much a comic book movie. For as many weird things that don’t really go together are put into this movie, it has a way of making them seem to fit. Even if they fit in that they don’t fit, if that makes sense.
On top of that, I love the cast. They’re exactly what I think of when I think what it’d be like if you had average people being super heroes. No gadgets, few super powers (some of which are pretty pathetic) and they have some pretty base motivations. They really embody the average person turned super hero. On top of it, Captain Amazing is a great send-up of super heroes. Instead of soaring off into the sky, avoiding anyone after doing good, he walks to his limo, chatting it up with reporters while meeting with his publicist. Not to mention things that happen as the movie goes on.
It’s just a fun damn movie. The characters are hilarious, the villains are campy and perfect for a send up of all those silly villains with all their “MY EVERYTHING IS A DEATH RAY WUA HAH HAH HAH.” They’re even presented as credibly dangerous, at least in comparison to our heroes.
Beyond here will be the height of spoilers because, I just love Mystery Men and want to go on about it for awhileHow great is it that the only three people with super powers are the people they add to the group? And at great contention? No one in their group, save for The Sphinx, has even an ounce of the common super hero. Mr. Furious works a terrible job in a junk yard, the Shoveler does some kind of construction work and The Blue Raja apparently still lives at home as a 30 something man-child.
A scene I wish that made it into the movie was when they try to contact the Sphinx. In the final cut, they are randomly saved by him (and his ability to cut guns in half with his mind!) during a confrontation with the Disco Boys. Originally, they had to order a very specific combination of meals from a taco stand. So the three main guys stand there constantly ordering random things from the menu and forcing themselves to wolf the stuff down so they don’t waste their money.
The Sphinx I could talk about for days on end just about how much I love him as a character. He’s the most cliched Yoda-styled wisdom peddler you can think of, and when he’s called out on it, he just doles out even more Yoda-styled wisdom. He makes a great contrast for the villains, especially the head of the Disco Boys, who just wants to revel in disco and really seems to be completely unaware of how ridiculous he is at all times.
I really wanted an excuse to squeal about Mystery Men for awhile, and there it is. Rambling and largely incoherent, but if you stuck it out this far and you think the movie might be kind of funny, I definitely recommend it. Every time I rewatch it, I giggle just a bit harder than the last time. Maybe I’ll watch that and Bowfinger.
Also, be on the look out for me talking about Bowfinger.