Release Date(s)1999 (November 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Golar Productions/Dark Horse Entertainment/Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Welcome to Champion City, where scores of B and C-list superheroes toil away in obscurity defending their fellow citizens from evil, unable to escape the long shadow of local favorite son, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). But unlike those who would follow in his footsteps, Amazing is bored with his work, having long since defeated all the best bad guys. So in danger of losing his endorsement deals (for products he advertises on his uniform), Amazing arranges the prison release of his old nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), on the advice of his publicist (Rickey Jay). But when this dubious scheme goes awry, a team of those very same get-no-love B and C-listers is all that stands between Casanova and his nefarious goals.
So who are these Average Joe Defenders of Justice? Well, there’s Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), whose power comes from his boundless rage. The Shoveler (William H. Macy) shovels very well indeed. The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) is the mystical master of cutlery. The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo) can really roll, and the magic in her ball flows from her late father’s skull. As for Spleen (Paul Reubens), let’s just say that if you pull his finger, you’ll get a whiff of his wrath. The Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) can indeed become invisible… but only when no one is looking. And Sphinx (Wes Studi) is the spiritual leader of the team, not to mention a veritable fountain of obscure circular wisdom.
Directed by Kinka Usher (an ex-Roger Corman cameraman who became a prolific TV commercial director), Mystery Men falls somewhat short of greatness, but would surely be a cult classic if only more people knew that it existed. Based on Flaming Carrot Comics characters created by Bob Burden, it’s in roughly the same wheelhouse as Ben Edlund’s The Tick, and could certainly be considered a precursor to Garth Ennis’ The Boys, filtered through a visual style that parodies Joel Schumacher’s Batman sequels (with a touch of Blade Runner thrown in for good measure). While the film’s editorial pacing is a bit languid, and the rival chemistry between Rush and Kinnear is never quite there, Mystery Men is packed with amusing moments—Furious staving off his rage by frantically squeezing a stress ball, Shoveler defending Amazing’s secret identity (“Lance Hunt wears glasses… Captain Amazing doesn’t!”), Blue Raja forking Casanova’s car. The team’s superhero tryout scene is a classic. And be sure to watch for appearances by Michael Bay, Tom Waits, Eddie Izzard, Doug Jones, Dane Cook, and Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh.
Mystery Men was shot on 35 mm film by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (Carlito’s Way, Mission: Impossible) using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, and it was finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has taken advantage of a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, complete with High Dynamic Range grading (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available on the disc). The resulting image quality is phenomenal, offering a significant boost in resolution over Universal’s 2012 Blu-ray release. Detail is clean and well refined (check out the gold fabric texture of Blue Raja’s cloak), with only digitally-produced effects shots exhibiting a softer look as was typical of this period. Contrast is impressive, with deep shadows and strong highlights that really benefit the characters’ gleaming costumes. Colors are stylized, but richly vibrant and well saturated. (This is particularly evident in Casanova’s lair during the final battle.) A light wash of photochemical grain is visible at all times, with no sign of untoward noise reduction. Unexpected though it is, this is near to a reference-quality 4K image and a major upgrade.
The film’s original English audio is included in both lossless 5.1 and 2.0 in DTS-HD Master Audio format. It’s not a particularly aggressive mix, but it is full-sounding and nicely atmospheric. The soundstage is medium-wide across the front, with subtle directional cues and music filtering in from the rear channels. Panning is modest but smooth, with highlights including the swish-tang of Raja’s cutlery flying through the air and Bowler’s father-ball zooming around the room. Bass is solid when it kicks in, though that’s not particularly often. (There are really only a couple of fight scenes that make use of it.) Optional English SDH subtitles are included for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. No foreign language options are available—this one is English only.
Kino’s Ultra HD release is a two-disc set that includes the film in 4K on UHD and a 4K-remastered 1080p HD version on Blu-ray as well. Both discs contain one special feature originally produced for the film’s 1999 DVD release:
- Audio Commentary with Kinka Usher
The commentary is decent, offering a few interesting tidbits of information. To this, the Blu-ray adds the following new and legacy content:
- We’re the Other Guys!: The Making of Mystery Men (HD – 23:39)
- I’m a Superhero, Mother!: The Costumes of Mystery Men (HD – 12:01)
- Inside Champion City!: The Effects of Mystery Men (HD – 9:27)
- Disco Is Life!: The Score(s) of Mystery Men (HD – 8:33)
- Spotlight on Location: The Making of Mystery Men (SD – 17:40)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 11 scenes – 19:40 in all)
- Mystery Men Trailer (SD – 2:24)
- Tropic Thunder Trailer (HD – 2:29)
- Hudson Hawk Trailer (HD – 2:05)
- Half Baked Trailer (SD – 1:54)
The HD featurettes are all good, created for the recent 88 Films release by Daniel Griffith’s Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (so it’s good to see them included here too). They offer new interviews with the director, costume designer Marilyn Vance, VFX supervisor Todd Tucker, and film music historian Daniel Schweiger (on the film’s unusual score). Also carried over from the original DVD release are a great bunch of deleted scenes, including one in which the Shoveler’s kids make fun of him when he gets home after a hard day’s work (“Stronger than deodorant! Unable to leap over anything!”). You also get the original “making of” featurette from the DVD, along with trailers for this film and three others (that are also available or coming on disc from KLSC). The only thing missing from the DVD are Kel Mitchell’s Who Are Those Mystery Men music video and a few pages of production notes and character bios.
Mystery Men is a film that really deserves to be seen by more people, so a big tip of the hat to the folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics for championing this remaster in 4K Ultra HD. In fact, if any studio executives at Universal are looking for an an interesting reboot or franchise opportunity, here it is. Just remember the Shoveler’s advice: “We’re not your classic heroes… we’re the other guys.” Recommended.
- Bill Hunt