Superhero Movie Month: "Mystery Men" Review

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: August 6, 1999
Directed by: Kinka Usher
Genre: action / comedy / fantasy

The movie "Mystery Men" is a spoof comedy on the standard super hero movie. It uses a series of second string superheroes with powers that are less than impressive in order to poke fun of comic book heroes in general.


The movie starts out with Captain Amazing, the iconic superhero of Champion City, deciding to release a supervillian named Casanova Frankenstein from prison. Captain Amazing does this to get more endorsement money. After all, he doesn't have much to do if there's no super villain around for him to fight. He actually has sponsor advertisements on his leather suit, but these sponsors are getting restless since he isn't generating very much interest anymore, which is why Captain Amazing decides on this course of action. The problem is that Casanova Frankenstein manages to capture Captain Amazing. As a result, second string superheroes have to save the day instead. They hold tryouts to expand their ranks a little since there are only a few of them in the beginning. Eventually, the list of heroes include the Blue Rajah, who fights with forks, the Shoveler who fights exclusively with a shovel, the Spleen who has flatulence-based powers, Invisible Boy who is only invisible when no one is looking at him, the Sphinx who is just mysterious, the Bowler who has a bowling ball possessed by her dead father and Mr. Furious who's power is really only that he's mad all the time.

None of these individuals are strong enough to be heroes by themselves. But together their powers are more of a threat. The powers for the Sphinx are eventually revealed showing that he can cut metal with his mind, making his power one of the only ones that is actually impressive in a straight forward way. The Invisible Boy believes that he can turn invisible but mostly just gets naked at inopportune times where everyone can still see him. He still has his moment towards the end of the film when he is able to bypass a security measure with his invisibility powers, but only when no one in the party looks in his direction. This is during the break-in scene towards the end of the movie where the team tries to gain access to Casanova's mansion where he is gathering multiple different city gangs. This is also where Casanova plans to unleash a doomsday device named the "Psycho-frakulator" which could kill everyone in the city. During the rescue attempt, the team accidentally kills Captain Amazing with the doomsday device. They then are able to defeat Casanova's henchmen, but not before he kidnaps Mr. Furious' girlfriend. Finally Casanova is defeated and thrown into the Psycho-frakulator. The Bowler then throws her ball into the middle of the machine, destroying it and killing the remaining villains.


The movie comes across as funnier than any movie with this premise, as it should be with such an all-star cast. It includes Eddie Izzard, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, William Macy and Hank Azaria, who's famous for his voice work on "The Simpson's." A lot of the big moments of comedy come from the famous actors in the movie using their talents in ways that they are known for, which is a real pleasure for the audience. Janeane's character has a constantly dry wit, for example. The movie focuses on trying to humanize the characters instead of stressing how amazing and inhuman they are like a lot of superhero comic book movies. The Bowler's character goes back to graduate school at the end of the film, for example. She also spends a lot of time casually talking about her relationship with her father. The comedy comes from the jarring juxtaposition between calm relationship speeches set up against the strangeness of having a character wield a bowling ball with her father's transparent skull inside fly around the screen. The movie focuses on a light-hearted approach to portraying superhero movies, encouraging the audience to laugh at all of the characters and how ridiculous they are both in the way they act and how non-powerful their superpowers are. Geoffrey Rush and his disco-dancing henchmen are also very funny in their over the top portrayals. The movie has quite a lot of humor related to the toilet. There are some funny off-beat lines all around as well, such as William Macy's line that says "We've got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she ordered the lobster."

Overall, "Mystery Men" is a surprisingly funny screwball comedy that owes much of its success to the combination of its various high-quality acting talents.