Everything You Wanted To Know About 'Mystery Men' But Were Too Afraid To Ask
The world was a very different place in 1999. The internet didn't ruin the opinions of the people, we were all confused by the fact Robbie Williams had released the single Millenium the previous year instead of now, and comic book superhero movies weren't heavily anticipated and given a billion dollars for existing. No, in fact, thanks to the release of Batman & Robin in 1997, the superhero genre had attained an unmistakable stench in the minds of the public. Many studios feared to tread in the same camp-filled boots of Joel Schumacher's caped-crusader sequel, lest it be met with similarly scathing reviews. It wasn't until Bryan Singer's (ew) X-Men in 2000 that the genre would become viable and popular again...
Cue Kinka Usher, a commercial Director wanting to venture out into the world of features. With the poor reception of Batman & Robin, the genre was left open for spoofs and parody in the vein of Airplane! and Scary Movie, but it needed to be done right. Luckily enough there existed a comic-book series (Flaming Carrot Comics) which parodied the genre itself, allowing a film production to merely adapt the source material. Based on a few character from the comics but largely existing as a standalone story, Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden and co-writer Neil Cuthbert decided to bring the 'Mystery Men' to the big screen - a group of lesser superheroes with little-to-no powers who are forced to save the day. With an ensemble cast including Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Waits, Greg Kinnear and Eddie Izzard, the film was expected to be an honest and popular dig at the happenings within superhero films.
But it wasn't to be. The film flopped and received mixed reviews, before washing away into obscurity outside of a small cult following. Reported on-set tensions between the visions of the Director and the cast are sometimes clear to see, and there's an element of hit-and-miss to the whole thing. But Mystery Men has always held a weird spot in my heart. I accidentally got it from Blockbuster (RIP) when I was younger and enjoyed the hell out of it, and what works really works well. So I'm gonna try something different. Search it out and join along if you wish (don't pirate, come on) whilst we explore the ins and outs of Champion City and explore all the little hidden details that Mystery Men has to offer. Because I'm fed up of so many people asking me to talk about this film, every single one of you is like "Hey George, when are you gonna talk about the cult smash 1999 hit Mystery Men?" "Hey email@example.com, any chance of a Mystery Men piece anytime soon?" well fine. You've got your wish...
*This list will make infinitely more sense once you've actually watched the film. But go on, I can wait*
50 Facts about Mystery Men that will make you say 'Hmmm, what's 'Mystery Men'?'
1. The first thing you'll notice is the obvious nods to Schumacher's Batman. From the flying block credits in the sky, Stephen Warbeck's triumphant score to the garish, cramped feel of Champion City which feels a lot like the neon-drenched Gotham City of the previous two Batman sequels.
2. Kinka Usher's directorial style and the entire art department obviously had been watching Schumacher too. The colour-coordinated clothing, HUGE reliance on art deco and exaggerated camera movements (anyone like dutch angles?) are all heavily present throughout the opening scuffle in the retirement home.
3. Comedian Artie Lange plays RedEye leader 'Big Red'. He continuously jokes within his standup about the poor reception to the film's he's appeared in, and apparently believes Mystery Men to be the worst one of all.
4. Ben Stiller's 'Mr. Furious' and William H. Macy's 'The Shoveler' are the only character's actually lifted from the Flaming Carrot comic books.
5. Greg Kinnear's 'Captain Amazing' was created as a counterpart to the actual 'Flaming Carrot' character, as Universal thought an anthropomorphic carrot man would be too bizarre for audiences.
6. I love Hank Azaria. Not really a fact but...wait you know what it is a fact. If you don't like Hank Azaria I don't know what's wrong with you.
7. Azaria's 'Blue Raja' combination of a British accent with the Indian costume calls back to his character's obsession with Indian history, including its period under British ruling. He thinks this is more clever and impactful than it actually is. His ability to projectile forks and spoons (never knives) is very impressive though.
8. "I will keep dreaming my friend. And when I wake up, you better hope you're asleep! Sweet dreams Lilac!" Although I'm not huge on Ben Stiller's 'Mr. Furious' portrayal, lines like this however show the intentions of the character rather than being lossed in the back-and-forth comedic tone of others on-screen.
9. Even though Captain Amazing rips off the pepsi sponsor from his costume in his limo, it stays there for the rest of the film.
10. Amazing's publicist Vic Weems tells him "I'm a publicist, not a magician". He is in fact played by the late magician Ricky Jay.
11. Casanova Frankenstein is one of the coolest super villain names in history. Another fact.
12. Part of the reason Mystery Men feels like an extension of the Schumacher Batman films is because that many of the sets are in fact the same ones used for 1995's Batman Forever. Another good film. Yes, another fact.
13. Dr. Leek, one of the psychiatrists on the board at Casanova's parole hearing states that Frankenstein is "no more a threat to Champion City than I am" - she is later revealed to be wooed by the super villain and joins his league of villainy and has no other lines of dialogue for the rest of the film.
14. The Lance Hunt alter-ego of Captain Amazing is the exact same as Superman/Clark Kent with the addition of glasses yet, somehow it seems even more ridiculous.
15. The date on the form that the jury stamps in order to allow Casanova his freedom reveals that the film actually takes place in July 2008, despite the fact that Lance Hunt mentions 'ushering in' the new millenium.
16. "I'm the Blue Raja I'm not 'Stab-Man' I'm not 'Knifey-Boy'". Again, Hank Azaria's great.
17. When the Shoveler/Eddy pulls his car outside his house it drives over a children's toy just like in The Terminator. UNLIKE Terminator however, it's in fact a plushie of the baby tyrannosaurus rex Chomper from The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure. I know because I had the same plushie as a child. Mine lost an eye when one of my dogs chewed it off but he's safe now in my loft for when the thunder storms come back...
18. When Jeff/Blue Raja sits on a fork at home he shouts 'Claven', this referencing The Simpsons character Professor Frink who Hank Azaria also portrays.
19. Eddie Izzard's Tony P loves disco so much that he executes the pivotal dance sequence from Saturday Night Fever with charming accuracy. He also looks amazing.
20. Casanova's castle is heavily inspired by Spaniard architect Antonio Gaudi. It also reminds me a little bit of the mansion in Casper.
21. This banter between Casanova and Captain Amazing is one of the highlights of the film for me. I could easily watch a whole film of quips like these.
22. The calendar in the junk yard office where Mr. Furious works says the date is June 31st - a date that doesn't exist.
23. The shot of the disco boys beating the crap out of our trio of heroes very clearly features none of their hits making contact. In fact, the three on the floor don't even bother to react to any of their injuries.
24. Kel Mitchell (from Kenan & Kel) as 'Invisible Boy' has no comic-book counterpart, whereas every other character has taken some form of inspiration from a previous hero. His character was also initially just a drunk joke from writer Bob Burden.
25. Captain Amazing's jetpack uses the same sound effect as the Batmobile from the 1966 Batman television show.
26. American 'comedian' Dane Cook cameos as 'The Waffler' - he's about as unfunny as you'd expect Dane Cook to be.
27. That's character/monster actor Doug Jones as 'Pencil Head' - despite him playing 'Pencil Man' and his costume displaying a 'P' and an 'M' to signify it.
28. The fight between the competing Wonder Woman heroes echoes a real comic serial, as one of them has dark hair and the other light. In the comics, Wonder Woman gives up her title to the red-haired Amazon Artemis.
29. Janeane Garofalo originally decline the role of 'The Bowler' but signed off after hearing William H. Macy and Geoffrey Rush had joined the project.
30. Casanova's elongated fingernail appliances are a lot like the ones worn by comic-book writer Alan Moore.
31. When Casanova corrects Mr. Furious' grammar he replies with 'please don't correct me - it sickens me' which is a sly nod to William Shatner who reportedly uttered the same thing whilst recording lines of dialogue for the video game Star Trek: Judgement Rites. This is an ongoing joke with Stiller's character with multiple Shatner references.
32. The Sphinx is actually a public domain superhero from the golden age of Hollywood. As the publishers of The Sphinx were shut down before the production of Mystery Men, they avoided a plagiarism case.
33. The Sphinx's power to cut guns in half with his mind is possibly the best actual power in the whole film, and yet he doesn't help out during the climax (which involves a lot of guns).
34. According to an interview with Hank Azaria, the entire cast continuously argued about the comedic tone of the film. This is sometimes very obvious amidst the quip-filled sections of the film. There are many different styles of comedy forced together like a Frankenstein-like creation.
35. The segment where Mr. Furious is wearing watermelon on his feet is actually a reference to an old slapstick comedy routine of 'The watermelon and the sledge-0-matic'.
36. I know we all like to believe that Shrek was the first film to utilise the powers of Smash Mouth's masterpiece All Star but the fact is, the song was MADE for Mystery Men's soundtrack. That's why clips from the film are present in the song's music video. I know it hurts Shrek fans but it's the truth...apologies to the Rat Race fans out there too. The song features briefly during the team's training montage and again during the end credits.
37. The eerie noises and theremin-like instruments that Dr. Heller (Tom Waits) is playing when the team find him are very similar to the ones featured in Tom Wait's music/poetry.
38. Heller's 'tornado in a can' is incredibly effective yet isn't used during the final assault on Casanova. However, there's evidence that it was used in a deleted scene, as the explosion of Castle Frankenstein features the same visual effects as the green tornado.
39. Claire Forlani's 'Monica' - the waitress that acts as Mr. Furious' love interest was originally supposed to have a larger role in the film. This makes sense as the blossoming relationship is a key redeeming factor for Stiller's character.
40. There's a couple of hidden faces at Casanova's party amidst his hired goons. The gangsters in his mob - 'The Not So Goodie Mob' is actually the hip-hop group 'The Goodie Mob' which includes musician CeeLo Green.
41. American hero and explosion extraordinaire Michael Bay makes an appearance as a member of 'The Frat Boys' at Casanova's party. I like to think he wasn't dressed up and that's how he always is. He's the one who asks "dude, can we bring the brewskies?"
42. Captain Amazing's grotesque death scared the shit out of me, and when Janeane Garofalo went to check for a pulse she wasn't told that a piece of him would fall off so that reaction is genuine.
43. Tom Waits had some trouble memorising his monologue so actually wrote pieces of dialogue across his hands, which explains his odd and very characteristic hand movements.
44. William H. Macy's triumphant hero speech steals a lot from Shakespeare's Henry V. It's a good summary of his character too, as Eddie/Shoveler is a positive role model and leader for the group.
45. When asked about his name, Mr. Furious tries to pass off that his name is Phoenix Dark to Monica, which may or may not be a reference to the Dark Phoenix saga of X-Men comics.
46. The little explosion that goes off behind The Spleen at the funhouse was actually the result of a crew member tossing a plastic lighter in a barrel, though the effect was played off as an extension of The Spleen's flatulent powers by actor Paul Reubens and kept in the film.
47. The force needed to embed silverware into concrete walls would be monumental, which means not only is Hank Azaria funny but he's also extraordinarily strong.
48. If you're ever doubting how much fun Geoffrey Rush is having as Casanova Frankenstein, just look at his face as he hisses whilst fighting with his elongated fingernails.
49. As Casanova's machine starts to warp and destroy Champion City, is warps a billboard of Captain Amazing into the same grotesque creature he was transformed into during his demise.
50. When The Bowler throws Carmine down into the machine, the plates holding it together signify bowling pins as a nice nod to her achieving a winning strike.
And that's the 50. There's more for sure but I thought a nice rounded number would keep things simple.
Of course Mystery Men isn't the best film in the world. It's lopsided and captures a sense of oddity it's hard to find outside of late 90s cinema, but the majority of the cast are having a blast with their zany characters and there's a surprising amount of fun to be had within the labyrinthian mess of Champion City. So if this hasn't at least peaked your interest then maybe it's not for you, but if you are interested...then I think it's time for you to learn the beginnings of Smash Mouth's All Star (sorry Shrek, I still love you).
For my fellow Hank Azaria lovers, here's one of my favourite clips (even if it's from Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian, trust me).
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