Viking Night: Mystery Men
By Bruce Hall
September 10, 2013
I'd like to say that the premise of Mystery Men is about what would happen if Superman was a cynical, materialistic jerk who became bored with his job and resentful of the community he'd sworn to protect. I'd also like to say it's about a group of wannabe misfits who are inspired by the Big Guy to make a difference on their own. And that when they're unexpectedly forced to take to the front lines of crime fighting, they learn the valuable lesson that friendship and loyalty are the most important members of any team. Yeah, well, that does kind of happen, and it’s definitely as awful as it sounds, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking.
The problem is that it’s damn near impossible to tell where this movie is coming from. Mystery Men evokes a campy, self-referential vibe where wisecracking, brightly-costumed vigilantes and villains really do exist and are an accepted part of society. The initial tone is a heavy nod toward the simplistic, cornball stuff you might have found in a 1930s pulp comic, and the movie's visual design leans that way as well. Champion City, as it's called, is a visual mash-up of depression era New York and Blade Runner's near future, dystopian hell. And the sworn protector of this bustling metropolis is not Superman, but a relatively fit, middle aged white guy who walks around in a superbike suit and calls himself "Captain Amazing" (Greg Kinnear).
But the Captain isn't the guy in town who likes to dress up in a ridiculous rubber suit and get into fights with people in equally ridiculous rubber suits. Inspired by His Amazingness, a team of enterprising lunatics has taken to the streets to fork out a little justice of their own. Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) literally fights with forks, The Shoveler (William H Macy) is basically A Guy With a Shovel, and Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) is an ADHD afflicted nitwit with massive impulse control problems. As the movie opens, they've taken on a gang of thieves who call themselves the Red Eyes, because they wear red steampunk goggles and, presumably, always travel economically. The fight goes poorly until Captain Amazing shows up with his PR manager and punches everyone in the face before posing for pictures. The man is a smug media whore who's more interested in corporate endorsements than he is in helping people, and he's none too impressed with the new competition.
Unfortunately, the Captain has done too good a job cleaning up Champion City. There's not much left for him to do, which means fewer commercials and interviews. And while you'd think a superhero's greatest dream would be to work himself out of a job, you'd be wrong. The city's savior concocts a not very well thought out plan to release his greatest nemesis from prison, so they can duke it out for the cameras once again. Of course, the very awesomely named Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) has other ideas, and doesn't exactly hold up his end of the bargain. Suddenly, with Captain Amazing MIA, evil is again on the rise. And the police are defenseless, because this is the kind of universe where the cops can't arrest anyone until some dork in red underpants tells them to. Champion City's last line of defense is gone...or is it?