Mystery Men Reviews
Coming from the late 1990's, Mystery Men comes from an era where superhero films were in a state of serious decline due to the failures of big-budget productions such as The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996). Even the Batman quadrilogy (1989-1997) was put to an end due to the abysmal critical response to Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin (1997). And though Blade (1998) had sparked returning interest in the genre at that point, the full extent of the film's success was yet to be fully capitalized on. The lack of interest in the superhero genre is a clear factor contributing to the poor box office performance of Mystery Men, but on top of that it's also a generally inconsistent film.
It's clear from the intro that Mystery Men's universe is inspired by the Batman quadrilogy. The feature begins with a tracking shot over Champion City which reveals a big spectacle of darkness and city lights, much like Tim Burton's vision for Gotham City in Batman (1989). This means that Mystery Men captures rather colourful production design with plenty of glowing lights, even if much of the feature plays out underneath a lot of shadow. The musical score on behalf of Stephen Warbeck helps to evoke a larger scale feeling which matches up to this feeling as well. However, none of this paves the way for any great action. There is a modicum of half-decent action-themed sketches in the climax of the film, but up until then there is really nothing which leaves the jokes to carry everything up until then. And if viewers can't appreciate the style of humour then Mystery Men ends up being essentially a long experience which just drags on. For me, that's very much what is was.
Being a big-budget production, Mystery Men clearly wishes to be a clever parody of superhero films with enough stylish flair to offer a modicum of the blockbuster value synonymous with the genre it parodies. Unfortunately, the story is ultimately taken too seriously while the gags are too silly to match up to things, creating a stiff tonal inconsistency. But nobody cares about the story as it is intentionally generic and the film is intended as a comedy, so the value lies in the extent of laughs it is capable of procuring.
One of the central problems is the pacing. Mystery Men progresses at a rate far too slow for its own good, and this is a particular problem for a film which is both a comedy and a superhero film. The film gets too distracted by its large number of main actors that it turns into a long period of sketchers surrounding multiple strange characters, making the narrative into a directionless series of absurdist gags with inconsistent comedic results. This repetitive structure plays out against the backdrop of a genertic story which lacks any character development or much original satire, leaving it to become obsolete. Clearly, there is not all that much genuine narrative strength in Mystery Men, and though this is ignored so that the film can stretch on for a two-hour period, the lack of genuine intelligence in the humour ends up stretching little source material on for far too long.
Mystery Men is less of a superhero satire and more of a big-budget vehicle for an ensemble cast of comedians and actors. Alas, the characters of Mystery Men don't end up maintaining any kind of iconography but rather end up one-dimensional jokes and archetypes which circulate in the same comic material, failing to emphasize the true extent of comic talents maintained by the ensemble cast.
Ben Stiller's performance shows him oscillating between monotony and intentionally pretentious imitations of anger. His superpower apparently appears to be throwing tantrums which replicate epileptic seizures more than anything else. This is intended to be a humourous fašade for Ben Stiller's neurotic archetype which he has played in countless films, but it's hardly enough to rise above the low standard set by his many preceding performances. The film doesn't even carry the appropriate lighthearted comic material to embrace the natural charms of the actor since it is too serious for his own good. Ben Stiller proves to be of no comic or dramatic foil in Mystery Men.
Hank Azaria's shtick in Mystery Men is composed of him dressed like someone from Arabian nights and talking with an over-the-top British accent used to deliver too many repetitive cutlery puns. The ridiculous extent of intentional cheesiness and stupidity in this gimmick may provide laughs in spots, but as a whole it grows tiresome very quickly and becomes simply a loud annoyance. It looks like he has fun with the part and his energy definitely offers some moments of flair, but it is too much of a one-dimensional joke without any depth of versatility to it. Hank Azaria is nothing special in Mystery Men.
William H. Macy is given too little screen time and a role which seems too serious to match the ridiculous humourous nature of the rest of the film, failing to utilize his charms. And Paul Reubens' lisp is a repetitive and annoying burden on the entire film. It's astounding that after this many years nobody has figured out that a lisp does not make a character any funnier but procures little more than annoyance, even when it comes from Pee-Wee.
Janeane Garafolo is given an oddball role which she takes seriously enough to bring some sporadic laughs in, but they can be inconsistent. There are few actors who have much lasting appeal, but Greg Kinnear is one of them. Greg Kinner's small supporting effort as Captain Amazing is a nice touch because he carries the appropriate handsome appeal and larger-than-life egotism for the role. And since Geoffrey Rush is a respected actor who recently won the Academy Award for Best Actor, the ridiculously unserious nature of his effort in Mystery Men carries a nice contrast.
Mystery Men carries strong ambition and some colourful set pieces, but too distracted by its large cast to actually do anything with them, it ultimately drags them through a slow and overly long feature with an inconsistent balance between thin humour and non-compelling drama.