In recent years superhero movies have become big box office gold, but superhero movies weren’t just a product of Hollywood running out of ideas so turning to other media to make money. Back in the 90s there were a bunch of superhero movies that included The Shadow, The Phantom and Steel, but they were not taken as seriously as they are now, and as a result a lot of these movies were pretty shit, however, some decent ones were made. I’ll get to whether Mystery Men is one of the good or shit ones in a bit but first let me say that the film was released in 1999 and starred (amongst others obviously) Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy with Geoffrey Rush and Greg Kinnear.
Taking characters from the pages of comic books and turning them into world saving heroes has become hugely popular nowadays, and naturally whenever something is popular it gets a parody or spoof. Mystery Men is a film about wannabe superheroes that basically have rubbish superpowers…that is kind of it…now ask yourself is this going to be another gem like Spaceballs or another shit heap Epic Movie???
Let’s head to Champion City to find out…
Captain Amazing (Kinnear) is the city’s mightiest hero that has battled and defeated so many criminals that he has effectively made himself obsolete. The diabolical masterminds of the past are either dead, in jail or in exile as a result Amazing’s corporate sponsors are starting to pull their funding. At the same time a group of wannabe heroes, Mr Furious (Stiller), the Shoveler (Macy) and the Blue Raja (Azaria) are trying to get a name for themselves but are constantly upstaged by Amazing, and the fact that their powers are basically useless. The Shoveler uses a shovel as his weapon, Blue Raja throws cutlery (except knives) with great accuracy, and Furious gets stronger when he gets…well…furious
Fearing for his sponsorship Amazing uses his alter-ego Lance Hunt, to convince the authorities to release the insane Casanova Frankenstein (Rush), believing that a battle with his former arch-enemy will please his sponsors and remind the people of the city why he is still needed.
Sadly the plan backfires when Amazing is captured by Frankenstein who has a doomsday machine capable of destroying the city. During the attempted rescue by Furious, Shoveler and Raja, the doomsday weapon is activated and Amazing is killed. With the city’s hero dead the three realise that they must stop Frankenstein themselves, but to do that they need to recruit other wannabe heroes who include a man that can only be invisible when no one (including himself) is looking at him, the Bowler, and the Spleen.
There are two kinds of spoofs or parodies, the first sticks close to its source material but may tip its hat to other sources during the film. Spaceballs is an excellent example of this point, it spoofs Star Wars but has the odd reference to Star Trek and Planet of the Apes (the original films obviously) to name but a couple. By sticking to the original source material the film works brilliantly, however, the other kind film is one in which the film simply puts in as many references as possible linking it to whatever is popular at the time. Thus dating the film and making sure that it will make very little to no sense later on plus ensuring it has no lasting appeal. Spaceballs is still popular despite being released 1987, ask yourself, would you want to see Epic Movie or the Scary Movie films now??…No, of course you wouldn’t, because they shamelessly cashed in on what was popular at the time but have been forgotten as quickly and as lazily as they were made.
Whilst Mystery Men isn’t exactly a spoof because it is loosely based on Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot Comics, but it has all the hallmarks of potentially being a great spoof. The very nature of someone getting powers that prove to be useless has comedy written all over it, why does someone always get something cool that either turns them into a superhero or a villain during an accidental lab explosion, alien encounter or whatever…unfortunately Mystery Men really fails to live up to its own potential.
Okay, so superheroes with rubbish powers…fine…that should be comic gold, the possibilities are really limitless, and personally I like the Blue Raja. Hank Azaria is pretty entertaining as the man who can throw kitchen utensils with great accuracy, but for some reason he refuses to throw knives (which would be useful) instead favouring to use forks and spoons. However, the rest of the “heroes” are pretty dull and that is quite an achievement considering the comic potential onscreen. To be fair, Stiller and Macy don’t do too bad a job but where Mystery Men really fails for me is with the character of the Spleen, a man who’s flatulence can be used to render people unconscious at will.
…dear oh dear…
I have been to the United States on more than a couple of times over the last few years and I really don’t understand why they find people flatulence so funny, a fart joke when done with perfect comic timing can be funny even I can admit that, but when used constantly it is not only painfully unfunny but also really, really, really irritating. I think I might, just might have liked Mystery Men but every moment the Spleen is on screen I just wanted something very heavy to land on him, but sadly it doesn’t.
The guy who can only be invisible when no one is looking at him, should be funny, but it just isn’t…seriously how do you take that idea and make it unfunny???
That is a nutshell is what is wrong with this film, it has some good ideas but it is just an unfocussed mess. It should have been able to take a concept that, by its very nature is funny and make it funny but it just doesn’t. All of the jokes fall flat, the cast just aren’t used to their full potential, and in the end the film just lacks anything that makes it stand out.
Mystery Men was a box office bomb and I can easily see why, it takes a talented cast and completely wastes them. The Spleen is just painful to watch, yes there is the odd moment that made me smile but they were way too few and far between. Ultimately Mystery Men gets a Thumbs Down, it is a painful waste of a good concept and if there was ever a film that could do with a reboot it would be this…although if you do reboot it Hollywood, for the love of god, leave out the Spleen.
3/10 – This is a terribly unfunny film that takes people who should be funny in their sleep and completely wastes them. If a comedy doesn’t make someone laugh then it has completely failed and trust me when I say that this completely and utterly fails to do anything other than bore.