Mystery Men (1999)
December 3, 2021 9:20 PM - Subscribe

When Champion City's hero Captain Amazing is kidnapped by the recently paroled supervillain Casanova Frankenstein, a trio of average, everyday superheroes -- Mr. Furious, the Shoveler and the Blue Raja -- assemble a new super team to save him.

Mystery Men arrived in theaters at one of the oddest times imaginable for a big-budget superhero parody movie to show up: just before what you might call the modern age of superhero movies (exemplified by the X-Men franchise, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, and eventually the MCU) showed up.* The Mystery Men have appeared (in vastly different forms) in Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics and their own title, although FC himself has not appeared in any other media. According to a USA Today article cited in the Wikipedia entry, "The film was announced in mid-1997 along with a raft of comic book adaptations including Blade, Virus, Superman Lives, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Captain America, The Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Daredevil and Silver Surfer, Hellboy, Concrete, Green Hornet and 26 other titles." (Some of those movies were indeed made, others not, others not until much later.) The movie was the first and so far only feature-length film made by Kinka Usher, better known for a number of commercials, especially for Nissan (example).

The film also has a stellar cast, including Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Kel Mitchell, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Wes Studi, Greg Kinnear, and Geoffrey Rush, among many others, including Michael Bay as a gang leader, Louise Lasser (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) as the Blue Raja's mother, and Doug Jones (Star Trek: Discovery's Saru, many other roles involving a lot of makeup) as Pencilhead.

The film bombed at the box office and is at 61% on Rotten Tomatoes.

*If you're going to ask, well, what about Blade?, I'd say that the character was presented as the star of a horror/action film. The comics character has been part of the Marvel Universe either from his first appearance or close to it, but the "Blade Cinematic Universe" has been its own thing AFAIK. (I didn't watch the second movie and only part of the third.)
posted by Halloween Jack (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"We have a blind date with destiny - and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!" is a frequent quote in my house.
posted by nubs at 9:36 PM on December 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

I have not seen this in a very long time, but it sticks with me.

William H. Macy as Shoveler taking it seriously sells the rest of it.

Marginal supes having standards while screening potential teammates killed me.

I think that the actors cast for the parts were more than fine, but iirc the movie was a commercial flop. Hank Azaria, Wes Studi (in a tongue in cheek role he cheek tongued), Paul Reubens trying to come back (in a super retro 80s way, which failed). Eddie Izzard always shows up when he promises to.

As I remember, the movie was very kind.
posted by porpoise at 10:56 PM on December 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I watched Kinka Usher's commentary track for this movie years ago and found it a delightful mix of him gushing about the stars (just about everyone was "super nice") and him delivering pretty frank explanations of why the movie seemed uneven in tone and plot (multiple scripts and rewrites based on focus group feedback).

As a child of an interracial marriage, I really loved that Bill Macy's character was in an interracial marriage that wasn't really angsty. Like his wife's major problem was a (reasonable) concern about him spending so much time in a not-particularly-impressive superhero group. There are more interracial relationships like that in movies nowadays, but at the time it felt pretty rare and valuable to me.
posted by creepygirl at 12:38 AM on December 4, 2021 [11 favorites]

I haven't seen this movie in ages, but it somehow had the effect of making me really viscerally dislike Greg Kinnear. Even today when I see him I feel uneasy. It's so strange because I as far as I know there is nothing wrong with him, and he has had plenty of other good roles, but just yech.
posted by Literaryhero at 1:18 AM on December 4, 2021

I rewatched this recently and it holds up. Casanova Frankenstein and all the gangs are so much fun that I'd love to see more movies in this universe.

Greg Kinnear was a highlight on this watch. He's such a smarmy scumbag.

Everyone seems to be having such a good time and no scenery is left unchewed in the best possible way.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:24 AM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I wonder if this movie suffered from a timing issue; would a film about a bunch of bumbling, 5th rate superheros do better now than before the MCU?
posted by nubs at 4:58 AM on December 4, 2021

If you're going to ask, well, what about Blade?, I'd say that the character was presented as the star of a horror/action film.

This is accurate to my recollection of the zeitgeist when it came out. I didn't learn it had anything to do with comic books until years later.

I want a sequel/spinoff that focuses on the Waffler.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:25 AM on December 4, 2021

...Nevermind, I don't. I just now realized who played him. (I too haven't seen this in forever.) Well, recast the character, and THEN I'll greenlight it.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was just recently reminiscing about Garofalo's line - "guy at the pro shop did it" - and what she says to her ball right after their final onscreen triumph...
posted by brainwane at 7:29 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

And "or fear will be your master?!?!" is a pretty common allusion around my household.
posted by brainwane at 7:29 AM on December 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

This would 100% be a perfect James Gunn movie today, if he hadn't already done the "ragtag group of not quite heroes" thing twice.
posted by schoolgirl report at 8:06 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've seen this film a couple times and enjoy it a lot. A friend and I quote it to eachother often.

I wonder how well it holds up today. Probably not too badly. Flaming Carrot, on the other hand, has some... issues.
posted by entity447b at 8:48 AM on December 4, 2021

Never forget that All Star by Smash Mouth was the Mystery Men song first, before it was the Shrek Song.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:58 AM on December 4, 2021 [10 favorites]

"When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you can head off your foes with a balanced attack." --- The Sphinx.

OMG Bill Macy is so great here: "I am very good at shoveling."
posted by SPrintF at 10:17 AM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I totally get that sentiment against Greg Kinnear after this role. Very Jack Gleeson after his Joffrey Baratheon role.

Ah, that's the connection with 'The Boys.' Homelander (and Superion from 'The Tick' - the live action one with Serafinowicz is very very good) had already been pretty much done in Kinnear's Captain Amazing.

The sponsor patches were very cheeky at the time.

Also, totally yeah, re: The Shoveler's wife being genuinely concerned and their disparate ancestry was simply matter of fact. Along similar lines, the Raja's mother understanding and support when he "comes out of the closet."

I think the only thing holding me back from a rewatch might be Ben Stiller. Yuck. But I'll probably do it anyways this weekend.

As an aside, there was discussion about bowling ball cores earlier this year on the blue.
posted by porpoise at 10:46 AM on December 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I wonder how well it holds up today.

Pretty good, with a few exceptions. (One thing that stuck out during the recruitment scene was two Wonder Woman types who basically have the same costume, and the MM ogle them when they get into a catfight. We really didn't need that.) There are some things that had been done in comics before; even the whole concept of a team of loser superheroes had had more than one iteration, with DC Comics' Inferior Five and the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and Marvel's Great Lakes Avengers. I'm pretty sure that Booster Gold had done the whole corporate sponsorship of superheroes thing back in the eighties, and even the supervillain's prison shrink ending up as his girlfriend was of course done by Harley Quinn. (I also vaguely seem to remember the plot of the superhero, not having enough supervillains to fight, encouraging someone to take up supervillainy and doing a little too good of a job with it, but I can't remember who or if it was before or after this movie; I may be thinking of a plot from Kurt Busiek's Astro City that was published around the same time as this movie.) There have been more along the same lines since; The Boys have done both superheroes-as-assholes and corporate sponsorship of same.

But this movie has a whole lived-in vibe to it that really makes it work; for every shot of Champion City that makes it look like a cross between the LA of Blade Runner and the Gotham City of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher's Batman films, there's also a scene where they're hanging out in a diner bemoaning how they don't have any A-list superheroes in their group, or that it's unfair to evenly split the check when one of them orders steak and the other a salad. (I'm also reminded of this old thread about quote-endquote "real life superheroes" and their diner behavior, specifically the experience of one MeFite who had to wait on them in a diner. At least the MM weren't that bad.) Even the Suicide Squad had a well-funded government agency behind them, albeit one that was ready to explode their heads the second they went off-target; one thing that stuck out to me on this rewatch was Invisible Boy's observation that the wannabes were almost certain to go to a recruitment event that offered free food and beer. They're generally, to quote Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen when he meets the non powered heroes that preceded him, friendly middle-aged men who like to dress up. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you're nice to your waitress.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:13 AM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I missed this in theaters, but I enjoyed it immensly on DVD and I always stop to watch it if I stumble upon it playing on cable.

Yeah, Kinnear is a bit too believable as the smarmy self-absorbed asshole Captain Amazing but it doesn't niggle at me anymore.

While the movie has many great moments, my favorite high point is the deaths of the jocks/frat boys. OK, just one in particular. (That man makes unwatchable movies and by all accounts is a shitty guy in real life. I hate him so much.)
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 12:29 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

> "The film bombed at the box office and is at 61% on Rotten Tomatoes."

People are wrong and should feel bad about their wrongness.
posted by kyrademon at 3:32 PM on December 4, 2021 [13 favorites]

You're a very furious man, do you understand that?


No? Well you've got a lot to be furious about, and I'll tell you why:

And then she does. In detail. I love this movie.
posted by Naberius at 6:45 PM on December 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Claire Forlani is wasted on Ben Stiller.
posted by porpoise at 7:43 PM on December 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I loved this movie and quote it often.

"Mother, I'm a superhero. An effete British superhero."

"When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubts."

It had a lot of great ideas even if the execution wasn't perfect. (Example: the Invisible Boy, who has the power to be invisible, but only if nobody is looking at him...)
posted by mmoncur at 5:31 AM on December 5, 2021

People are wrong and should feel bad about their wrongness.

Agreed. I saw this in theaters when it came out and thought it was great.

“He fell down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets.”
posted by janepanic at 7:55 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I mentioned a couple of years back on the blue that I had watched it for the second time in twenty years. My general positive impression from 1999 was reinforced but there was much I had either forgotten or had not spotted. If you had asked me in, say, 2015, "Have you ever seen a movie scene where Michael Bay and Cee-Lo Green get into a squabble?" I would have said, "Oh, I am certain I'd remember that," but here we are.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:55 PM on December 5, 2021

(Example: the Invisible Boy, who has the power to be invisible, but only if nobody is looking at him...)

He also has to be naked, which fact inspires the line that I probably say weekly to my children: “maybe you should put your clothes on, if you’d like to continue fighting evil today.”
posted by gauche at 10:43 AM on December 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

It’s not a good movie, but I do love it.
posted by gauche at 10:44 AM on December 6, 2021

This is on my short list of Watch Again and Again. It gets better each time; I love rewatching films so I can look at background details, catch the side glances, appreciate the pace. I also find it easier to ignore/get up and get a snack/fast forward through the clunky romance scenes.
One quibble is that Lena Olin is criminally underused after the prison scenes. They just give her a wacky hat and, oh, that's her supervillain thing?
Now that I can pause it I can read Dr Heller's business card. "Chicken rentals"...
Janeane Garofolo has so many good lines and delivers them all spot on. "There's not enough beer in the world," among others.
The many LA locations: Chinatown, MacArthur Park Hotel. Looming your own costume on the island in Echo Park lake.
And, I'm so fortunate, apparently-- this is, like, the only time I've ever heard "All Star" so I get up and dance at the credits.
posted by winesong at 4:07 PM on December 6, 2021

I really want to like this movie, and it's got a lot going for it, but the script is so weak. They establish that Captain Amazing will be killed at the end of the next day and then multiple days pass, several of the gangs are "hey remember the Warriors? What if they were all just dumb stereotypes?", and a lot of the jokes feel like first drafts that they just never got around to punching up into something funnier, to the point that even the supernova of comedic talent on the screen can't save them. Beautiful sets and production design, amazing (I would even say... All-Star?!?!) cast, wonderfully shot, surprisingly good CGI for its era, all squandered on a script that should've got probably several more drafts.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:06 PM on December 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Sweet merciful Zeus, I watched this in the theater and continue to quote it regularly. For a window of time "There's not enough beer in the world, Spleen." became my regular comment at my local bar for any dude who even thought about hitting on me.
I only stopped using it when I had to start explaining it.

It does hold up really well and should be more widely loved.
posted by teleri025 at 12:04 PM on December 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

DC Comics' Inferior Five

Phil Foglio, of whom I am fond, wrote a great mashup of the I-Five. Sure Dumb Bunny was Princess Diana's lesser sister, who was adopted by Angel O'Day, her over-achieving human sister (hello, Supergirl!) And yes, her friend Sam Simian was revealed as Grodd's nephew.

But the thing that sticks with me is moment when Athena ("Dumb Bunny") realizes that she can hug her best friend ("Merryman") without fear. It was a beautiful moment. "I will never hurt you," she says.
posted by SPrintF at 6:24 PM on December 8, 2021

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