When Champion City’s greatest hero isn’t available, you call in The Mystery Men… and hope like hell you live to see the next day. The best of the worst heroes delivers a delightful satire of superhero films long before DC and Marvel took a vice-grip hold on theater screens. A little overlong, the film is still a riot with great performances from a colorful cast. Now Kino Lorber Studio Classics delivers fans a terrific 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray to celebrate with an excellent A/V presentation and plenty of interesting bonus features. Recommended.
“God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.”
Crime is rampant throughout Champion City; it takes real heroes to save the day. But when the real heroes like Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) are too busy posing for photos and schmoozing corporate sponsors, there are guys like the master of cutlery Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), master of the spaded-arts The Shoveler (William H. Macy), and the ticking timebomb of fury Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller). But when the diabolical Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) takes Captain Amazing out of action and threatens the entire city, these wannabe heroes will have to come together to save the day… God help us all.
If there was ever a case of the right movie at the wrong time, it’d be 1999’s Mystery Men directed by Kinka Usher. Loosely based on the Dark Horse Flaming Carrot comics by Bob Burden, the film is a hilarious sendup of superhero cinema before superhero cinema had actually taken off. It flopped. People didn’t get the joke then, but today they might. Pre-dating the launch of the modern superhero super-genre with films like 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man, Mystery Men only had the brash over-the-top hyper-silly exploits of Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and maybe Steel (if anyone actually saw that) to lampoon. Of course, there were other comic book films of the 90s like Spawn and The Crow, but those were either not worth joking with or too iconic to poke fun at and Blade was just plain too awesome.
But today… after the 20+ run of MCU films, Morbius, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and the extraordinarily confusing happenings with Justice League, the Synderverse characters, Black Adam, and the DCEU in general, it’s a great time to revisit Mystery Men. When the film first hit theaters I felt like I was one of a handful of people to actually be in on the joke. I survived collecting the ridiculous comic books of the 90s and dutifully went to the theater for each film I could, regardless of how terrible. Mystery Men felt like it was poking that era of comics and films in the eye. Today, the jokes and gags are just as funny - if not even funnier. I feel like audiences today could actually appreciate what this movie is doing because there’s now an extensive cinematic language of superhero movies with common folk and not just the Wednesday Comic Shop nerds like myself.
As much as I loved this film in 1999 and still think it’s a riot today, it’s got some notable pacing issues. With so many comedic personalities all trying to edge in their jokes; at just over two hours the film is too long by about twenty minutes. Did we need to see a skunk make love to Paul Rubin’s leg for three minutes? Probably not. While it’s funny to see Dane Cook as Waffler, Doug Jones as Pencilman, and Dana Gould as Squeegeeman, the “recruitment” scene goes far too long overrunning the joke by about a mile. Overplaying the joke happens a lot and with a little tighter edit, it might’ve helped the humor stick.
It also suffers from what I call “there and back again” syndrome where the heroes keep going to, leaving, then coming back to, and leaving again only to go right back to the same location. By my count, the heroes invade Casanova Frankenstein’s mansion/evil lair no less than five times only to run away and then come back. The Batman had this same problem with The Iceberg Lounge. Prometheus had it with the Engineer's temple; going to, coming back, leaving, going to again, running away again, only to go right back. It’s kinda numbing. There’s a whole city to explore - go over there, show us that!
So comedy pacing and location quibbles aside, I still dig Mystery Men. With a great cast of colorful characters and their superhero personas, there’s a lot to love. Wes Studi is a hoot, Eddie Izzard’s got the moves, Geoffrey Rush was a terrific over-the-top villain, and Tom Waits is awesome as the non-lethal weapons creator. For our main heroes Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rubins, and Kel Mitchell are all terrific as the best worst superhero team of all time. It'd been several years since I popped this one on and I was glad to see most of the jokes still made me laugh.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Mystery Men suits up for a new two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The 4K is pressed on a BD-100 disc with the 1080p scoring a Region A BD-50. The discs are housed in a standard two-disc case without being stacked and identical slipcover artwork. Each disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Making its 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray debut, Mystery Men takes UHD by storm with an impressive Dolby Vision 1.85:1 2160p transfer. Details are terrific allowing you to fully appreciate every stitch of Blue Raja’s outfit and every grizzled hair on Tom Waits’ face. Casanova Frankenstein and the Disco Boys are worth the price of admission. Some softness creeps in with the late 90s CGI effects but that’s par for the course for films of this vintage. That said, even the big CGI cityscapes maintain an appealing amount of detail and image depth. Film grain is intact with a fresh cinematic appearance. Depending on how many effects shots that grain structure can thicken or ease off, but nothing too distracting.
For a bright colorful film with such stylized photography, the Dolby Vision HDR pass offers up plenty of appealing enhancements. Contrast and black levels are in peak form with bold bright lights and deep inky shadows. There are plenty of spectral highlights with all of the costumes and lighting effects. Primaries are in great shape as well, the pool-side recruitment scene alone is ripe with bright bold reds, blues, yellows, and every shade in-between. The film elements are in great shape, I only spotted some slight, blink and you’ll miss it, speckling around some of the heavy effects shots. All around this is a pretty damned impressive transfer for a notorious flop that deserves some reappraisal.
This edition of Mystery Men scores a pair of audio options, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Both are solid options, but won’t exactly blow your hair back. The 5.1 is the stronger of the two. While there’s plenty of surround activity, a healthy chunk of the film keeps to the front/center channels with only occasional excursions into the surrounds. Sequences like the opening fight or the bigger action scenes open things up and those channels see some action. It’s not the most dynamic track ever but it still works.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics offers up a fine collection of new and archival bonus features to dig into. The Kinka Usher audio commentary is informative, but it’s also kinda funny to hear him talk about various actors and comedians like Artie Lange or Greg Kinnear like they were newcomers.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc
Ahead of its time lampooning the superhero genre before it was the impossible-to-sink box office juggernaut, Mystery Men flopped harder than Mr. Furious jumping into a pile of Red Eyes. But, time has done this action comedy many favors with the jokes and gags about a troup of wannabe heroes trying to save their city. Thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Mystery Men scores a welcome 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray upgrade with a strong Dolby Vision transfer, solid audio, and a nice collection of new and archival bonus features to pick through. Recommended