Superheroes in movies have invaded our living rooms for a very long time, and for the most part these comic book adaptations just don’t quite cut it. Whether they’re Spiderman, Spawn, Superman or Batman, most of their life action incarnations are disappointing to say the least - although many of these heroes have a good start until they’re completely washed up by their own serializations. To give their presence more weight Universal is now sending a whole gang of superheroes into our living rooms in one of their latest DVD releases, "Mystery Men".
But these "Mystery Men" have serious trouble finding their own identities. Actually they have trouble finding their own noses to be correct. These superheroes are the most unlikely of the whole crop, consisting of a bunch of geeks and nerds with good intentions but no real superpowers to begin with, and some wacky attitude problems. As you have certainly guessed already, "Mystery Man" is a comedy inside out, and a pretty good one at that. Boasting an incredible cast, we first get to meet Mr. Furious, who goes by the real name of Roy (Ben Stiller), the Shoveler (William H. Macy) and the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria in the best performance of the movie hands-down). Absolutely incapable, they nonetheless try to keep Champion City free of crime, inspired by the feats of the legendary and all-overshadowing Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). In their attempts to help they usually get knocked out and beat black and blue, but at least, they tried their best.
But Captain Amazing’s star of celebrityhood is fading. Over the years he has eradicated every serious madman and evil force in the world and nothing is left for him to do. His sponsorslose interest in him and so he devises an incredible - and dumb - idea. He helps to set Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) free from a mental institution where he had been incarcerated for 20 years, hoping the madman would forge some sinister plan he could then destroy and claim the fame. Quickly however the tables turn as Frankenstein and his disco-dancing henchmen capture the legendary superhero and render him powerless.
To save the world from Frankenstein’s destructive evil, our unlikely group of heroes have to step up on the plate, but first they need some reinforcement. Recruiting more "talent" the group grows, adding Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), Spleen (Paul Reubens), who has some very unique serous abilities, and the Sphinx (Wes Studi) to their ranks. They go through a "serious" training and finally square off against Casanova Frankenstein to rid the word of his evil - and to take the fame for a change.
From the fork-throwing mama’s boy Blue Raja to the cliché-spewing philosopher Sphinx, "Mystery Men" contains a truly outrageous mix of characters. Due to this eclectic mix, the writers were able to play off each character’s personality and skills at any one time, giving the movie a nicely dense and organic atmosphere. Despite the number of characters, the script never appears unfocused and the viewer never loses track of who is who or who is doing what. Every one of the characters is well outlined and presented, making "Mystery Men" an outrageously funny and multi-facetted experience. To top it all off, Geoffrey Rush makes a great antagonist with an accent that is thicker than the snow blanket in Ottawa.
Universal is presenting "Mystery Men" on this DVD in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in a transfer that is enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. The picture is free of any defects and without speckles or dust. The transfer is bold and colorful, with a high level of detail and great shadow delineation. From the deepest black to the brightest highlights, the presentation is always balanced and pleasant, nicely capturing the atmospheric visuals of the movie. Colors are strong and faithful, rendering fleshtones very naturally. Since the film uses a lot of settings with artificial lighting, it is great to see how well the DVD reproduces all the nuances and hues in these intricate lighting set-ups, and how the transfer maintains every bit of detail of the detailed production design.
"Mystery Men" contains a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack in English and a Dolby Surround track in French. Both are well produced, but the 5.1 track allows for a wider and more transparent sound field that makes good use of the directional channels. Especially towards the end of the movie, the surround usage is increased, creating an engulfing and very active experience. The track has a very good bass extension that gives the overall presentation a good kick here and there without being obtrusive. During the Asylum destruction scene about halfway through the film however, the bass extension is vastly exaggerated, resulting in an overly distorted explosion that puts too much emphasis on the LFE channel. Apart from that, the track is always balanced and adds to the images on screen.
Although it is a day and date release, "Mystery Men" contains a surprising number of extras. I have noted on various occasions that Universal is one of the few studios that is actually managing to create full blown special editions where other studios often struggle to release a bare-bones disc. It is a testimony to the studio’s foresight and planning and is certainly appreciated by the many fans of these films.
The release contains a 20-minute featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the movie’s production with a number of interviews. Cast and crew members talk about the movie and the characters, while also showing off some key scenes from the film. Ten deleted scenes can also be found on the disc, as well as a segment that is dedicated to explaining the origins of the "Mystery Men" in the Dark Horse comic books.
First time director Kinka Usher has also contributed a commentary track to this disc that gives audiences a good look at his approach of the project. Coming from commercials, it is impressive how this film turned out, at the same time showing some of the visual style he used in his TV commercials. The commentary track is very informative with a lot of technical information and anecdotes how things came together.
A section called "Music Highlights" allows you to jump directly to a certain song in the movie and is a feature that can be found on a number of Universal’s recent releases. It is a great addition that not only allows you to check out the scenes and songs, but also to get the information, who the artists are that performed the songs. The disc is rounded up with Production Notes, cast and crew biographies and the movie’s theatrical trailer.
"Mystery Men" is a great release and a lot of fun. Turing all the preconceived notions we have about superheroes upside down, it is not a simple spoof. It is a satire that shows us that there is a bit of a superhero in each one of us - or none, depending on your point of view. I had a great time with the movie and Universal Home Video’s presentation of the film on this DVD is also a first class act, making "Mystery Man" an outrageous experience that you should definitely give a try. Highly recommended and very funny!