I walked into the theater to see Mystery Men secure
in the knowledge that, owing to both mixed critic reviews and its admittedly low
opening weekend take, it was not a particularly good film. I admit, now and
forever, that, in my opinion, I was wrong.
Mystery Men, while not a laugh-out-loud comedy, is
nonetheless an amusing trip through superhero-land. Based on a comic book from
Dark Horse Comics, Mystery Men is a parody of superhero films as well
as the comics. Taking a lot from Batman and Superman, especially
in its depiction of the neo-retro Champion City, the film is fun and has heart.
The film begins with three superheroes attempting to make it in
the big city: the fork-hurling Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria), the shovel-wielding, er,
Shoveler (William H. Macy) and the oft-raging Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller). It’s
pretty clear that they’re small potatoes next to Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear),
who’s not only managed to jail nearly every supervillain in Champion City, but
also nab every endorsement known to man.
It’s that very lack of an arch-nemesis that’s causing Amazing to
lose some of his sponsors. This leads the superhero, in his alter-ego as "Lance", to free Casanova von Frankenstein
(Geoffrey Rush), one of his old foes. But the plan
backfires; within hours, Frankenstein captures Amazing and locks him away, with
the very clear intention of killing him at some later date.
Thus, it’s up to Mr. Furious, the Shoveler and Blue Rajah (who,
as his compatriots constantly remind him, has not a shred of blue clothing on
him) to stop Frankenstein. But they need more help; and they find it in the
Spleen (Paul Ruebens, of Pee-Wee Herman fame), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell, of Keenan
and Kel fame) and the
Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), not to mention the proverb-spouting Sphinx (Wes Studi).
The rest of the film centers around this super team attempting
to save Captain Amazing. Watching them deal with their admittedly weak or
situation-specific powers is amusing, especially whenever Mr. Furious gets mad,
thrusting out his fists in a Shatner-like expression of rage before nearly
breaking his arms trying to do any real damage. Of them all, the Bowler seems
the obvious choice for the most powerful; but even her powers are undermined by
the fact that her super-powered ball is controlled entirely by the ghost of her
dead father, whose skull is encased inside the ball.
The entire cast is strong, and give good performances. Stiller
does an excellent job with the average shmo trying to pass himself off as a
superhero, clearly trained entirely from comic books and movies; Macy is the
sensitive hero, with a wife and family, doing what he does from a sense of civic
duty; Azaria’s Blue Rajah has moments with his estranged mother that are also
wonderful; and Garofalo’s Bowler, who argues with her ball-trapped father even
while giving the Blue Rajah advice about his relationship with his mother,
rounds out the group perfectly.
Tom Waits’s crusty old gizmo genius is also worth mentioning;
and Ruebens’s Spleen is appropriately disgusting. Claire Forlani, as Stiller’s
love interest, doesn’t have much to do besides look good, but the character does
a good job playing off Mr. Furious’s blustering false machismo.
The plot is rather predictable, and has been played out in
dozens of comic book films and television shows, but the strength of the cast
overshadows it. The effects are top-notch, as is to be expected in this day and
age. All in all, Mystery Men is a great popcorn movie, and having so many
characters keeps you interested, whereas films like Austin Powers 2
dragged in places. Now, I have only one question: where’s my Mr. Furious action