Mystery Men

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"We're not your classic heroes. We're the other guys."

The (very loose) film adaptation of an offshoot of the Flaming Carrot comics, Mystery Men tells the story of a bunch of loser superheroes, constantly overshadowed by the big-name, big-ego Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). While the Trio of Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) and The Shoveler (William H Macy) try desperately to get themselves taken seriously, Captain Amazing laments the lack of decent villains for him to fight.

But after Super Villain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) gets released from a mental institution -- thanks to the machinations of Captain Amazing himself, who is rapidly losing his corporate sponsors due to his crime-free city -- it's no time at all before he's gathered the local gang leaders (including Eddie Izzard), built himself a super weapon, the Psycho-Fraculator, and captured Amazing.

The not- exactly- kinda- eponymous characters are left needing to recruit Champion City's other underdog supers, including The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), The Spleen (Paul Reubens) and Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), train under the enigmatic tutelage of the Sphinx (Wes Studi), using weapons created by Mad Scientist/Gadgeteer Genius Dr. Heller (Tom Waits) in order to save the day.

Mystery Men is an Affectionate Parody of superheroes, with bizarre powers and an odd look at (and much Lampshade Hanging on) various conventions of the Superhero Genre, and how they would fit into normal life.

Tropes used in Mystery Men include:

Bowler: There isn't enough beer in the world, Spleen. I'm sorry.

  • Action Girl: The Bowler
  • Actor Allusion: Several.
    • Eddie Izzard makes a reference to "the god of haircare". In his Stand Up Comedy routine, he mentions that the Romans previously had crappy gods, like Simon, the God of Hairdos.
    • Captain Amazing's agent objects to Amazing's recent activities, complaining, "I'm not a magician!" The actor, Ricky Jay, is in fact a famous card magician.
    • And depending on your interpretation, there could be something significant about Michael Bay being cast as the leader of the Fratboys gang ("Can we bring the brewskies?")
  • Adapted Out: Despite being in the original comics, the Flaming Carrot does not appeared in film version.
  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Tony P. uses what appears to be a custom one of these in his final confrontation with the Bowler.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Captain Amazing, who has the best reputation of all heroes, actively bargains to be the villain's assistant upon capture.
  • Alas, Poor Yorick: Carol carries Carmine's skull around with her in a bowling ball.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Parodied/subverted - Roy (a.k.a Mr. Furious) would very much like to be a bad boy, and struts around making a fool of himself acting like one in the hope of impressing Monica, the waitress on whom he has a crush. Monica, for her part, is never anything less than dismissive of him... until the point when he finally just starts acting like the sweet Nice Guy he ultimately at heart is, at which point she begins to warm to him.
  • All-Star Cast: Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Reubens, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Kel Mitchell, Eddie Izzard, Tom Waits... maybe this is why the title of the song Smash Mouth made accompanying the film is "All Star".
  • Ambiguously Gay: The Blue Raja. Not only is his mother discovering his superhero identity played like a coming-out story, when the two Wonder Woman-esque women start catfighting, all of the other men are staring with interest and he just sort of looks vaguely annoyed and confused.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?: Used to subvert a Title Drop, as they try to think up a team name.

Becky Beaner: Well, whatever you call them, Champion City will forever owe a debt of gratitude to these mystery men.
The Sphinx: Wait! Wait, that's it! We are... the Super Squad! [awkward silence]
The Bowler: No, no, alliteration in these situations is corny.

  • Ascended Fanboy: Invisible Boy. At the start, he's part of a network of super wannabes that gravitates around a costume store catering to people like them.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Casanova Frankenstein. In fact, according to the DVD extras, he was chosen because he had a cool-sounding name.
    • Mr. Furious briefly attempts to convince his crush that his name is Phoenix Dark, before admitting that his name is actually Roy. Its part of his super hero 'image' as a Hot-Blooded brawler.
  • Badass Longcoat: Mister Furious wears a black overcoat, drives a black motorcycle and refers to himself as the "lone wolf".
  • Badass Normal: The original trio.

The Shoveller: God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.
Shoveller's Wife: You shovel better than any man I've ever known!

  • Bedlam House: The asylum that Casanova Frankenstein is locked up in.
  • Becoming the Boast: Mr. Furious supposedly has the superpower of rage-induced super-strength, but, when called on it near the end of the film, he reveals it's all an act. However, when rescuing the Love Interest from the clutches of the Big Bad, he becomes genuinely furious, genuinely gains rage-induced super-strength, and starts kicking ass.
  • Berserk Button: Most of the characters. Subverted with Mr. Furious, who acts like everything will set him off in a blind rage.

Tony P: Disco is NOT dead! Disco is LIFE!!

Mr. Furious: What? Guns? That's your power, you shoot guns?
The Blue Raja: There's no theme at all here.
Mr. Furious: Weak.
The Blue Raja: At best.
[a Disco Boy wields a pipe]
The Shoveller: And who are you supposed to be, the Disco Plumber?
[another Disco Boy wields a heavy chain]
Mr. Furious: See, you've got a chain, you could at least make it a gold chain. And that's just off the top of my head.
Tony P: Top of your head, huh?
Cue Curb Stomp Battle

    • To be fair, we see in later scenes that their guns do seem to be gold-colored.
  • Breakaway Pop Hit: "All Star" by Smash Mouth was one of the most popular songs of 1999 and appeared on the Mystery Men film and soundtrack months before the release of their album Astro Lounge. Its high-concept video features all the main cast members of Mystery Men...who were then later cut out after the song far eclipsed the movie in popularity. "All Star"'s subsequent appearance in dozens of movies in the next few years only muddied the waters of its original origin.
  • The Cameo: When Casanova Frankenstein gathers the various gangs of Champion City together in an attempt to unite them, the leader of "The Frat Boys" is played by Michael Bay.
    • "The Waffler" from the superhero tryout scene is played by a pre-fame Dane Cook.
    • Pencil Head is played by Doug Jones.
    • The gang "The Not-So-Goodie Mob" is played by the Goodie Mob.
    • Dana Gould as Squeegee-Man.
  • Capital City: Champion City.
  • Captain Ersatz: Captain Amazing has obvious Batman/Bruce Wayne elements with references to Superman. He's a billionaire lawyer who is secretly a vigilante crimefighter who uses glasses as a mainstay of his disguise.
  • Captain Ethnic: White Flight and the Black Menace. ("They work together.")
  • Card-Carrying Villain: All the bad guys.
  • Chain Pain: One of the disco gang has a chain for a weapon. Mr. Furious hangs a lampshade on this when he asks why it isn't at least a gold chain.
  • Chekhov's Gun / Deleted Scene: Dr. Heller's Tornado-in-a-Can was intended to be a Chekhov's Gun but ended up on the cutting room floor. Rather than throw The Bowler's bowling ball into Casanova Frankenstein's machine to destroy it, the alternate scene shows them throwing a Tornado-in-a-Can into it instead. The effect for this can still however be seen in the theatrical release; just after they toss the bowling ball in and it does its damage you can see the green swirling smoke coming out of the hole.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Just about everything The Sphinx teaches the heroes (that stayed through training) is useful at the end, including the group hug.
  • City of Adventure: Champion City, played completely straight.
  • Civvie Spandex: Most of the group wears their "costumes" all the time (The Shoveler even using his uniform from his job as a miner), especially Invisible Boy, who until the end doesn't even come close to having a costume.
  • The City: Champion City.
  • City Noir: Parodied.
  • Clark Kenting: Lampshaded with Lance Hunt as Captain Amazing.

The Shoveler:"Oh, don't start that again! Lance Hunt wears glasses. Captain Amazing doesn't wear glasses."
Mr. Furious:"He takes them off when he transforms."
The Shoveller:"That doesn't make any sense. He wouldn't be able to see!"

Mr. Furious: Well, here I thought I was with a couple of real superheroes, the Shoveller and the Blue Raja! But really, it's Lazy Boy and...
The Shoveler: Good night.
Mr. Furious: And... the recliner! Yeah, Lazy Boy and the Recliner!

  • The Comically Serious: The Shoveller, with a pitch-perfect straight-faced delivery from William H. Macy.
  • Companion Cube: Carmine's skull-in-a-ball. He argues with his daughter constantly.
  • Cool Car: The Herkimer Battle Jitney. The "most advanced non-lethal vehicle ever made!"
    • Also Casanova's limo.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Carmine The Bowler's death was officially ruled as an accident.

Mr. Furious: Seems there was a little controversy there regarding your father's death.
The Bowler: Yes, the police said he fell down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets.
The Blue Raja: You know, I've always suspected a bit of foul play.

    • Tony P refers to himself as "the guy who gave your Daddy the shaft" suggesting that the coroner's report was and correct and that Carmine's death was murder.
  • Corporate-Sponsored Superhero: Captain Amazing may well be the Trope Maker, and provides the page image.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: The Blue Raja only works with non-bladed cutlery.

I'm the Blue Raja! I'm not... Stab-man, I'm not Knifey Boy, I'm the Blue Raja.

  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Captain Amazing's death is both gross and horrifying.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: The final fight between Casanova Frankenstein and Mr. Furious starts out with Casanova completely beating the crap out of him. Once he makes the mistake of triggering Furious' Unstoppable Rage, the tide completely turns in Furious' favor.
    • When the Disco gang beats up the trio, they literally throw them on the ground and stomp them.
  • Cursed with Awesome: A mixed blessing with Spleen, who cut the cheese and blamed it on an old gypsy woman who was walking by. She cursed him with farts of amazing potency and accuracy.
  • Dark Age of Supernames: Parodied when Roy tries to pretend his name is Phoenix Dark (neé Dirk Steel), only to give in and say his real name.
  • Dark Mistress: Dr. Anabel Leek, Cassanova's psychiatrist and then lover.
  • Death by Cameo: Michael Bay portrays the leader of the Frat Boys. Casanova kills them later to show how evil he can be.
  • Deconstructive Parody
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "I guess tonight, the lone wolf... hunts... alone."
  • Dieselpunk: Among other things, such as the whole setting, there's the Herkimer Battle Jitney.
  • Disco Dan: The Disco boys are an entire Gang of Hats of them.
  • Disney Villain Death: Casanova is sent plummeting into his doomsday device by Mr. Furious. Though the machine itself kills him instead of the fall.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Notable in one scene where the supers mock gun-wielding Mooks for being completely uncreative in theming their weapons to match with their Gang of Hats.
    • The Blue Raja refuses to use guns or knives.

The Blue Raja: I won't use guns. I've been crystal clear about that.
The Shoveler: Won't even use a knife...

  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Mr. Furious throughout the film.
  • Emergency Weapon: The shoveler, sans shovel, deflects an attack with a trowel.
  • Empathic Weapon: Carmine, though The Bowler ends up arguing with him more often than not.
  • Enforced Method Acting: When The Bowler examines the charred, mutilated and partially inside-out corpse of Captain Amazing the actress didn't know that his arm would break off as she tried to take its pulse.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: The Sphynx. He can cut guns in half with his mind because he's a 'terribly mysterious' mystic.
  • Everything's Funkier With Disco: Casanova Frankenstein's mansion and main gang all revolve around disco.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Captain Amazing only wants a better villain to fight, but Casanova Frankenstein quickly gets the upper hand.
  • Exotic Weapon Supremacy: Pretty much everyone, though for added flavor there's a weapon designer (Tom Waits!) who specializes in these.
  • Fake Nationality / Fake Brit: The Blue Raja, but it's part of his schtick.
  • False Reassurance: When the Blue Raja asks if the Bowler really put her father's skull in her ball, she assures him she didn't -- the guy at the pro shop did.
  • Fartillery: "The Spleen," forevermore he who dealt it.
  • Five-Man Band
    • The Hero -- The Shoveler, who is by far the most heroic.
    • The Lancer -- Mr. Furious who contrasts The Shoveler's levelheadedness and fights with his bare hands.
    • The Smart Guy-- The Blue Raja with his vast array of specialized forks and well-researched back story.
      • The 'Big Three' also form a classic Power Trio - Shoveller as Ego, Blue Rajah as Superego and Mr. Furious as Id.
    • The Big Guy -- The Spleen. The most powerful of the group and most willing to use it.
    • The Face, three varieties:
      • The Heart Invisible Boy. The most idealistic of the group and can network with other wannabes.
      • The Mentor -- The Sphinx
      • The Chick-- The Bowler as the lone female.
    • Sixth Ranger -- Dr. Heller, also The Smart Guy.
  • Fork Fencing: The Blue Raja.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Heller. He makes cutting edge nonlethal weapons in his trailer.

The Shoveler: Doctor, you really are a genius.
Dr. Heller: That's what the card says.

  • Gang of Hats: The Disco Boys are most obvious, but all the gangs in Champion City appear to have some quirk.
  • Gasshole: The Spleen (see Fartillery above).
  • Happily Married: The Shoveler and his wife may feud over his heroing, but they worry because they love each other.
  • Heroic BSOD: After his romantic interest tries to convince him to be himself rather than conform to his 'angry' theme, Mr. Furious takes this to mean that he has no powers. He eventually snaps out of it when he gets angry for real.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: It seemed that Carmine was going to do this at the climax of the movie. Subverted in that A.) He was already dead (a fact that was lampshaded) and B.) It turns out at the end that he 'survived', somewhat to the annoyance of the hero wielding him.
  • Huddle Shot: Group hug!
  • I Call It Vera: Justified in the case of The Bowler, who calls her bowling ball Carmine - because it's possessed by the spirit of her father Carmine (and contains his skull). It talks back, although only she can hear it.
  • Ice Cream Koan: Most of The Sphinx's teachings.

Sphinx: To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn.

    • The pinnacle:

Furious: (trying to balance a hammer on his head) What's the point of this?
Sphinx: When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.

      • Furious eventually gets Genre Savvy enough to call the Sphinx on one of these.

Sphinx: Until you learn to master your rage-
Furious: My rage will become my master?
Spinx: ...
Furious: That's what you were gonna say, right?
Spinx: Not... necessarily.

Capt. Amazing: I knew you couldn't change.
Casanova Frankenstein: I knew you'd know that.
Capt. Amazing: Oh, I know that. And I knew you'd know I'd know you knew.
Casanova Frankenstein: But I didn't. I only knew that you'd know that I knew. Did you know that?
Capt. Amazing: . . . of course.

The Shoveler: Doctor, you really are a genius.
Dr. Heller: That's what the card says.

    • Captain Amazing says this word for word when asked why he saved the nursing home.
  • Jerkass: Captain Amazing.
  • Jive Turkey: Dropped by, of course, the disco gang.
  • Karmic Death: Casanova is ultimately killed when he is thrown into his own doomsday device previously used to kill Captain Amazing.
  • Legacy Character: The Bowler; her father was a very well-respected superhero before her. Bad guys derisively call her "Baby Bowler" because of this.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Effectively summarizes the premise of this movie.
    • Given a lampshade in the final battle sequence:

Mr. Furious: Rage... taking... over...
Casanova Frankenstein: [Dismissive] Ya ya ya... we've heard it all before.
Mr. Furious: No no no... Rage... really taking over...

Mr. Furious: I don't need a compass to tell me which way the wind shines.

  • Negate Your Own Sacrifice: The Bowler throwing her ball (containing the spirit of Carmine the Bowler) into the Psycho-Frakulator.

The Bowler: Now, the good news is you're not going to die, because you're already dead.

  • Never Trust a Trailer: In one HBO trailer, as the narrator starts with saying something evil is brewing, we get to see a creepy closeup of a man screaming or laughing in the midst of some vortex. It must be important! Nah, it's just the Spleen caught in the demonstration of Heller's tornado in a can, which has never been used after that.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Captain Amazing. Which is to say that the "real" Captain Amazing is kinda a jerk, despite his heroic reputation.
  • Nice Hat: The Shoveler
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When they kill Captain Amazing during a rescue attempt. Of course, Amazing gets the blame for giving such poor instructions.

The Blue Raja: Oh! My God. Oh, my God. We killed him.
The Shoveler: What do you mean we? I was standing right here.

  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Casanova threatening Furious' girlfriend ultimately snaps him out of his Heroic BSOD and allows him to finally awaken his Unstoppable Rage for real.
  • Nineties Anti-Hero: Parodied -- Roy wants to be one of these so very, very much.
  • Non-Indicative Name: A lot of people wonder why the Blue Raja doesn't wear blue.
  • The Nudifier: One of Heller's weapons causes fabric to shrink. When used on a gang of scantily-clad women, it incapacitates them... and makes Mr Furious feel like his trousers are a little tight, too.
  • Only Sane Man: Mr. Furious is the only one who thinks that Lance Hunt is Captain Amazing. He's also the only one who sees that the Sphinx just makes up his "mysterious" sayings by rearranging the words.
  • Our Founder: A gigantic neon-lit statue of Captain Amazing.
  • Performance Anxiety: Invisible Boy can only turn invisible when no one is looking at him.
  • Perplexing Plurals: Captain Amazing comments to Casanova Frankenstein that they have always been each other's greatest "nemisises..nemisi..." (It's "nemeses".)
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: The assault on Chez Casa Casanova. From Invisbility to magic bowling balls to fork throwing etc, everyone's powers are used to solve some problem or obstacle.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Literally, when Captain Amazing gives confusing instructions on how to deactivate the deathtrap he's in, causing the group to slowly devolve into Seinfeldian Conversation and eventually activate it by accident.
  • Power Walk: Played straight, then parodied as Mr. Furious doesn't feel powerful enough to continue, and turns around. The two nearest just hook him under the arms and keep walking, dragging him along without even turning their heads.
  • Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Parodied constantly. The Blue Raja even rehearses them in his room.
    • Mr. Furious is constantly trying to come up with these, but as the Bowler accurately points out 'your wit is a hindrance, so nothing is provocative -- it's all mixed metaphors." He does, however, manage to come up with a pretty good one when he finally gets dangerous:

Mr. Furious: Someone must have ripped the "Q" section out of my dictionary, 'cause I don't know the meaning of the word "quit"!

The Shoveler: This is egg salad. It's loaded with cholesterol. The wife won't even let me touch it. Hardly seems to matter now, 'cause chances are, we're already dead. Amazing is gone. There's no use waiting for the cavalry, because as of this moment, the cavalry is us. This is our fight, whether we like it or not. Just we few. We're not your classic superheroes. We're not the favorites. We're the other guys. We're the guys nobody ever bets on. But I'll tell you what I think. ... We're all in over our heads, and we know it. But if we take on this fight, those of us who survive it will forever after show our scars with pride, and say, 'That's right! I was there! I fought the good fight!' So whatdaya say? Do we all gather together, and go kick some Casanova butt? Or do I eat this sandwich?

  • Rummage Sale Rejects
  • Running Gag: "Why don't you tell me?" "Why don't you tell me?"
    • Also the heroes completely failing to agree on a name for their gang, leading to a subverted Title Drop at the end.
  • Sassy Black Woman: The Shoveler's wife.
  • Scenery Porn: If you liked Blade Runner's futuristic Los Angeles, you'll love this.
  • Shoe Phone: Played with in the scene where Captain Amazing initially confronts Casanova Frankenstein and tells him to deactivate a variety of weapons hidden in normally benign objects, only to be snared by a portable enticement snare that looks like a remote detonator.
  • Shout-Out: The scene where Casanova Frankenstein gathers the various gimmicked gangs of Champion City together at his mansion in an effort to unite them all under his rule, culminating with the rousing cry, "Can you dig it?" is a shout out to The Warriors.
  • Shovel Strike: The Shoveller.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Sphinx's main power. Literally. (Mind you, his other power is chopping guns in half with his mind.)
  • Storming the Castle: The attack on Casanova's mansion.
  • Skyward Scream: Mr. Furious does this when he's trying (and failing) to invoke Unstoppable Rage.
  • Spandex, Latex, or Leather: Mostly spandex.
  • Superhero
  • Supervillain Packing Heat: The Disco Boys, to our heroes' great amusement.
  • Super Strength: Mr. Furious, but only when his Unstoppable Rage really has kicked in. It's stated he once pushed a bus all on his own (despite him making excuses due to presently suffering a Heroic BSOD at the time). Proven when triggered at the end, which allows him to manhandle Casanova.
  • Super Zeroes: Of the "zero to hero" kind.
  • That Poor Cat: Happens while The Blue Raja is using a dartboard for target practice.
  • Technical Pacifist: Doctor Heller, who designs nonlethal weapons, such as the "Shrinker" (which causes the target's clothing to contract painfully tight) and the "Blame-thrower" (which starts arguments).
  • This Looks Like a Job For Aquaman: Played with for Invisible Boy. He can only turn invisible when no one is looking at him, which seems useless until they encounter an automated defense system. Which is not exactly uncommon, really.
  • Throw It In: A workman on the set threw a disposable lighter into a trash can, not realizing it was a prop that would later be set on fire. The lighter exploded during a take in a sudden burst of flame behind Paul Rubens (The Spleen) who improvised the famous "Excuse me" line. This was deemed to be hilarious so they kept it in the movie.
  • Title Drop: See Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?, above.
  • Tom Waits: Plays Dr. Heller, in case you missed it.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Everyone, after meeting The Sphinx.
  • Trick Bomb: A tornado in a can.
  • TV Never Lies: Parodied during a conversation between Mr. Furious and Monica the waitress:

Mr. Furious: I'll have a steak, please, very rare. That means pink, not bloody. And can I get some ice? I had a little mishap defending justice over at the nursing home.
Monica: I thought I heard on TV that that was Captain Amazing.
Mr. Furious: Ooh! Let's all be good automaton droids and believe everything we see on TV!
Monica: I'll just go place your order now...

Mr. Furious: That little sucker just saved your life.

  • Victory Is Boring: After putting away every supervillain in the city, Captain Amazing is left with only incompetent gangs of thugs, which prompts him to get Casanova Frankenstein released.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Parodied when the Sphinx trains the eponymous squad with a series of bizarre physical feats justified by odd wordplay, as seen in this exchange:

Mr. Furious: Why am I balancing a hammer on my head?
The Sphinx: When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you can head off your foes with a balanced attack!
Mr. Furious: And why do I have these watermelons on my feet?
The Sphinx: [Beat] I don't remember asking you to do that.