Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Essentials- "Mystery Men" (1999)

The Essentials- #9

Mystery Men (1999)

Who remembers a song by Smashmouth called "All-Star?" It was hugely popular back in the late 90's and early 00's. It was featured in football commercials, "Shrek," and "Rat Race."  But did anyone know that the band actually wrote the song for a little movie called "Mystery Men?" Hop on Youtube and check out the music video, a complete "Mystery Men" theme and the song appears in the movie and on the soundtrack. The song is just one of the many joys to come from this great movie.

If I had one wish, it would be to go back in time to 1999 and experience that year in full. At the age I am now. The year 1999 was a golden age for film, the best movie year of my life. I have top ten lists for every year possible and 1999 was a year that was listless. I could never break down the year into a top ten list. "Fight Club," "Magnolia," "American Beauty," "The Matrix," "Toy Story 2," "The Iron Giant," "The Insider," "Being John Malkovich," "The Mummy," "The Sixth Sense," "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," "Audition," "The Straight Story," "Dogma," "The Green Mile," "Go," "Mystery Alaska," "Office Space," "Three Kings," "Eyes Wide Shut"... these are all movies I find amazing. Not just good, not just great, but amazing. And I would add several other titles from 1999 to that list as well, it was a phenomenal year. Yes, even "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" would go on that list. Yes, Jar Jar is a horrible, annoying character and the prequels never equaled the originals. But I am a Star Wars freak, deal with it!

Another movie that 1999 so great was "Mystery Men." A delightful little superhero movie. There are so many things that I love about this movie, that I hope I can remember them all for this review.

The film stars Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Ruebens, Janeane Garofalo, Wes Studi, and Tom Waites. Just to name a few. With a cast like that, at least you know your in the right place. Stiller, Macy and Azaria are three misfit superheroes that try to prove that they can defend their home just as well as Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) the city's beloved superhero.

The film is set in the fictional Champion City. Right away, the city is very memorable. It looks futuristic, with an Asian influence. But people dress like its the 1950's and 1970's. Blimps showing advertisements shower the skylines. This is a city that could only exist in a comic book. I like that a lot about the movie, this is a world that you can't stamp a year or even a era on. Its one of the many cool things about this movie.

Captain Amazing has many sponsors as a superhero, and at the beginning of the movie, he is starting to lose them. Champion City is nearly crime-free thanks to Amazing. But what will Captain Amazing do with no crime? So he sets lose one of his greatest evil-doers, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush). Frankenstein captures Captain Amazing, and it is up for Stiller, Macy and Azaria to create a huge team of superheroes to rescue Captain Amazing.

The cast is solid. Ben Stiller plays Mr. Furious, who gets strength from becoming angry. William H. Macy is The Shoveler, who uses a shovel as a weapon. Hank Azaria plays The Blue Raja, who throws forks like darts. These guys get all the quirky, misfit details of their characters perfect. Kinnear as Captain Amazing is great, and he puts together a great smug asshole. Watching Rush portray Frankenstein will make you wonder why he hasn't played a supervillain since. Some of the recruits the trio gets include The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) who possesses a magic bowling ball, Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) who can turn invisible just as long as nobody looks at him, and The Spleen (Paul Ruebens) who has magically bad farts. The teams mentor is The Pheonix (Wes Studi) who has telekinesis and acts as the teams own personal Yoda. Again, its great work by everybody. I like that in the final battle to save the day, that each team member has a time to shine. Each member is useful toward the plot. Be sure to watch for cameos by Dane Cook, Michael Bay and Cee-Lo Green. Yes, Cee-Lo is in the movie and it makes me smile.

The movie has a soundtrack that is blissfully awesome. Not just "All-Star" but there is music from Dub Pistols, Violent Femmes, The Beegee's, and more. This is a soundtrack that perfectly matches mood, character and theme of the movie perfectly. I love that each song matches its scenes at wondrous length.

Another thing I like about this movie has to do with comic book conventions. "Mystery Men" triumphs where I feel 2008's "Hancock" failed. The movie successfully deconstructs the traditional conventions of superhero stories, which is gleefully appetizing. The late 1980's and 1990's was a time when things began to change in comic books. Where stories like "Watchmen," "Spawn," and "The Dark Knight Returns" were getting written and they changed the entire outlook of superhero conventions. This movie represents that change in a very big way, so well that I wanted to applaud.

There are so many other assets which make "Mystery Men" one to remember. The only bad things about "Mystery Men" is I felt the end battle was too short, I wanted to spend more time with these characters. I also wished this movie did better at the box office, because I would happily watch an entire series featuring these characters. I'd definitely buy a ticket to watch them defend Champion City against any threat imaginable. I truly believe that "Mystery Men" is one of the most underrated films of all time, and is one of the best superheroes movies of all time as well.

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