Originating in Flaming Carrot
, a comic that parodied the superhero genre in a Church of the Subgenius
style, Mystery Men was not the box office smash I expected it to be. This doesn’t mean it was a bad film, or even a bad comic book film. While unable to stand up to the likes of X-Men
, Mystery Men is an extremely intelligent piece of cinema, filled with commentary on what it means to be a superhero and the problems associated with having superpowers and leading a double life. It shows conflicts within the group to be serious matters. It shows insecurities and personal struggles. Mystery Men is, in short, a story about what would happen if you and I woke up with superpowers and the inclination to use them, but didn’t have Professor Xavier
or even an instruction manual to help us out.
1. Doing good is its own reward.
Surprisingly moralizing for a film of its type, Mystery Men packs quite the ethical punch. The Mystery Men start out an underappreciated group of wannabe heroes who look up to the successful and commercially endorsed Captain Amazing. When the Captain’s publicity stunt backfires on him, the Mystery Men’s rescue attempt follows suit. They kill him by accident in what is perhaps the most startling moment of the film. In the short view, without Captain Amazing’s death, the Mystery Men wouldn’t have had to go up against Casanova Frankenstein and there wouldn’t have been a movie. This is not the reason for Amazing’s death, however. The
elimination of Captain Amazing is symbolic of the distaste a real hero would show for anyone who is in the business of self-promoting as a superhero rather than the business of being a superhero. This moment is therefore about how heroism sees and defines itself. Through the rest of the film, the Mystery Men try to reconcile their attempts to do good with their total lack of public acknowledgment, but at the end, after defeating Casanova Frankenstein and company, when they are finally mobbed by camera crews, they defer their victory to everyone else with a tough job who receives no recognition.
2. The themes of heroism.
The trappings of heroism throughout the film are wonderful to watch. Many superheroes leave implicit that superpowers have to be thematic; Mystery Men makes this explicit in the scene where they fight the Disco Boys, who use guns. Our heroes laugh at the use of guns, not in derision at their ineffectiveness, but at the villains’ presumed inability to put together a cohesive motif.
3. Interpersonal dynamics.
Much more realistic than I expected, I was really impressed by the romantic content. The romance is truly painful to watch, which is in my opinion a sign that it’s done well. Thankfully, they avoid playing up the obvious possibilities between the Bowler and Mr. Furious. Instead, we see Mr. Furious struggle to be himself long enough to ask a waitress out. We watch the Shoveler, who is obviously whipped, having trouble with his wife. We see the Bowler reject Spleen. In the larger picture of human relations, we see the Bowler and the Blue Rajah try to resolve issues with their parents, with varying degrees of success.
I cannot even tell you how much most chase scenes bore me. The car chase in this film is one of my two all-time favorites, along with one from a Kids in the Hall sketch. The Mystery Men chase Casanova Frankenstein’s batmobile in their crappy station wagon. When they catch up to him, they clearly don’t know what to do, so they key the car and do some minor external damage. This is utterly brilliant commentary on how lame and pointless most chase scenes are.