Do you remember the days when superheroes were larger than life, blessed with extraordinary powers, and always saved the day? What if there was a movie that turned that trope on its head? A movie that showed that superheroes could be just like you and me, but with a dash of eccentricity? Enter Mystery Men, the superhero parody film that was ahead of its time.
A Unique Take on Superheroes
Released in 1999, long before the superhero movie craze, Mystery Men follows a group of wannabe superheroes who dream of joining the big leagues. Led by the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), and the Shoveler (William H. Macy), the eccentric group must save the city from the evil Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) and his henchwoman Fiona (Lena Olin).
While the plot may sound like a traditional superhero movie, the execution is anything but. Mystery Men trades in the polished, idealistic superheroes for a rag-tag group of misfits who find themselves in over their heads. Unlike traditional superheroes, who are confident in their abilities and never second-guess themselves, the Mystery Men are racked with self-doubt and constantly bicker amongst themselves. They have no powers to speak of, relying instead on gadgets and weapons that are often inadequate or malfunction. In a genre where perfection is the standard, Mystery Men shines a hilarious light on the ordinary.
Unconventional Characters Steal the Show
The real standout of Mystery Men is its ensemble cast. Each character is given ample time to shine and is so unique that they are almost caricatures of themselves. The standout character is the Blue Raja, who dresses like a British aristocrat and uses silverware as his weapon of choice. His commitment to his shtick is admirable, and his one-liners are some of the best in the movie. Mr. Furious is the perfect foil to the other characters, as his seething rage often leads to hilarious misunderstandings. The Shoveler’s earnestness is also a highlight, as he sees being a superhero as a moral obligation.
The supporting cast is just as impressive, with Geoffrey Rush chewing the scenery as the villainous Casanova Frankenstein. The always-reliable Janeane Garofalo provides a grounded performance as The Bowler, a hero whose weapon is a bowling ball with her deceased father’s skull embedded inside. The cast is rounded out by Kel Mitchell as Invisible Boy, who can only turn invisible when nobody is watching (which doesn’t make much sense, but it’s hilarious nonetheless), and Paul Reubens as the hilarious Spleen.
Ahead of Its Time
Unfortunately, Mystery Men was not a commercial success upon its release. It grossed only $33 million at the box office, failing to recover its $68 million budget. However, it has since gained a cult following thanks to its unique take on the superhero genre. Its themes of ordinary people becoming heroes have become commonplace in post-9/11 cinema, with movies like The Dark Knight and Captain America: The Winter Soldier tackling similar social commentary.
Even its humor, which was deemed too weird and outlandish back in 1999, has become a staple of modern comedy. Shows like The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine use surreal humor to great effect, and it’s not difficult to see the influence that Mystery Men had on those shows.
Mystery Men is a rare breed of movie – a comedy that is also a commentary on a genre. It’s a movie that rewards repeated viewings, as there are always new jokes to uncover. At its core, it’s a movie about embracing your quirks and using them to do good in the world – a message that is just as relevant today as it was in 1999. If you’re in the mood for a superhero movie that’s not like the others, give Mystery Men a chance. Who knows? It may just become your new favorite movie.
So why not gather your own group of misfits and screen Mystery Men today? Trust us; It’s super fun.