So we continue Devil’s Advocate Month with a different kind of movie. We started out with The Longest Yard. A good movie that was held in the shadow by the far superior movie that it remade. Tonight, we will look at a movie that was made ‘before its time’. These are the tragic movies that the only reasons that they were held down is due to the fact that they were made before an audience was built around the sub genre. There are several movies that were made several years before the audience was created that if they were made during the height of its popularity, they would have killed at the box office and with critics. Movies like this tend to garner a cult following over time, while others… Well others just kind of fade into obscurity. Today we are going to look at one of these movies, Mystery Men. I will say it right now! Mystery Men is the precursor to all modern-day superhero movies and it is finally time it got its due! If you are at all confused, please allow me to explain below after a little synopsis.
The story of Mystery Men takes place in the fictional town of Champion City. In the opening scene, we instantly see the style of comedy this movie is going as it straight up spoofs the opening scene from Batman and Robin. After a villainous group called the Red Eyes tries to rob a senior citizen party, a ragtag group of ‘superheroes’ known as The Shoveler (William H Macy), The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), and Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) attempt to thwart them. It goes horribly wrong and the ‘real hero’ of the people Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) arrives to save the day. After the day is saved and our plucky heroes return to their favorite diner to wallow in defeat, Captain Amazing grows agitated at the fact that he is losing sponsors and needs to have a big superhero battle to make up for it. He uses his pull at the insane asylum to get his arch nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) released so that he can do battle once again.
This goes about as well as you would expect and Captain Amazing is captured. It is than up to our plucky heroes, with the assistance of The Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), The Spleen (Paul Reubens), and The Bowler (Janeane Garofolo) to save Champion City and defeat Casanova Frankenstein.
For those of you who are spoiled on the superhero movies of today, consider yourselves lucky. The 1990’s was a desolate wasteland of absolute shit superhero movies. When your best examples of superhero flicks included Batman Forever and at your worst you had Batman and Robin… Let’s just say the pool was very shallow. Joel Schumacher had almost killed superhero movies with the absolute camp fest and neon lights spectacle that was the latter half of the first Batman franchise. Plus after the Batman and Robin fallout… Well the genre was ripe for parody.
Than comes along Mystery Men who proceed to tear these movies an entirely new asshole. They attacked the brooding hero, the colorful villain, the stupid overly large gothic neon city straight out of Shadowrun, and made one of the first superhero ensemble casts. It was excellent, funny, and overall jovial.
Was Ahead of Its Time
Imagine, if you will, if Mystery Men had been made in the mid 2000’s instead of the late 1990’s. People would have eaten this shit up! A ragtag group of losers and nobodies that come together to make a fighting force? This shit would kill today! Movies like Shrek, Big Hero 6, The Incredibles, and so forth. This movie breaks all the classic tropes of superhero movies that we take for granted today.
Keep in mind, this was not The Avengers superhero movies. This was Joel Schumacher superhero movies. This was the time when superheroes couldn’t have a comedic side. The scene where the Avengers are all drunkenly trying to pick up Thor’s Hammer in Age of Ultron… That shit wouldn’t have flown during this time. Thor, Captain America, and so forth would have to be hidden underneath a MASSIVE amount Batman level brooding. Mystery Men was one of the first movies to show superheroes in a light-hearted and campy manner. In a way… It is kind of trail blazer for movies like The Avengers.
Mystery Men was one of the first movies to tackle superhero tropes like the large extravagant neon city that the Batman franchise had become, the extravagant costumes, and a superhero movie that you could both laugh at AND take seriously. It may be a little more ‘campy’ than the superhero movies we see today, but it certainly had its influences on today’s culture.
I give props to Hank Azaria, Ben Stiller, William H Macy, Janeane Garofolo, Greg Kinnear, AND Paul Reubens. These are all talented actors AND big names to boot. This is one hell of an all-star cast… However… The problem is that these are all actors and actresses that have a very… loud presence. These actors’ faces command your attention which makes the chemistry and comradery between the actors hard to accomplish.
Let’s take a look at The Avengers today. All of them are amazing actors in their own right, but out of all of them, Robert Downey Jr. is the loud personality that commands attention. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johanson, and so forth are amazing! But they don’t compare to the presence Downey has created.
When you have a cast of people with larger than life personalities… You start to have problems. Each of them are stars in their own right, but none of them are the true front man. It leaves the audience confused and perplexed. You need people to play second fiddle to the big man. Stiller was meant to be the big man in the group, but his attention was taken away by all of the other characters that he feels the least interesting out of the group.
Smash Mouth Dates This Movie Horribly
So the main song in this movie is Smash Mouth’s All Star, a fun little number that is so set in the 1990’s that it has its up in the front hair and is drinking a Crystal Pepsi while watching Rugrats and Hey Arnold! To include a song like this into your movie, during this time dates it so badly. It is understandable why you add it. It is an upbeat little number telling people to go out and be an all-star… Which is basically what this ragtag group of losers do. However, when this movie is being played in a non ironic/retroactive style… It comes across as ‘well this movie was certainly from the 90’s’ and not in cult classic way, but in the Space Jam people from the decade will enjoy it and that is about it kind of way.
With the exceptions of its dating and questionable casting, Mystery Men is an amazing movie. It is a precursor to modern superhero movies, is one of the first ensemble superhero groups, and parodies superhero tropes that have existed since the creation of comic books. It is an enjoyable watch to be sure.
Final Score 3.5/5
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