MYSTERY MEN - HD DVD review

If you've ever found yourself wondering why nobody can see that Clark Kent is clearly Superman, then Mystery Men is a film for you.

DeanWink

Maybe I am truly a mental case and should find myself locked up in a padded room and hand in my union card for the Movie Reviewer's Union. But for some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed "Mystery Men" when it was in theaters. I continued to love the film when it was released onto DVD and my affections have not swayed much now that the film is available on HD-DVD. I find the film to be refreshing, interesting and completely hilarious. Public and critical reception was chilly and the poor theatrical showing nailed shut the franchise coffin. This is disappointing because I would love to see the further adventures of the "Mystery Men."

This mockery of comic book superheroes is well done. A top-notch cast has been brought together and director Kinka Usher brought these comic book misfits to life for his first directorial effort. The film succeeds wonderfully and achieves its goals. I find myself having great troubles trying to find the failure in this picture. I have never been a fan of comic book superheroes and only "Batman" sparks my interest. I feel "Superman" is silly and "X-Men" complete overkill. Perhaps my general dislike of comic book superheroes is why I bonded with this film. I still laugh at just the thought of the scene where two characters discuss that a wealthy citizen cannot be the superhero because he wears glasses.

Incredible actors William H. Macy and Geoffrey Rush join notables Hank Azaria, Claire Forlani, Jeanne Garofalo, Greg Kinnear, Paul "Pee Wee" Reubens, Ben Stiller, Wes Studi and Tom Waits in this well acted ensemble picture. Each actor brings their character a set of flawed traits that adds to the films direct hit of mocking the popular comic books and the heroes contained on their printed pages. Macy is incredible as usual and how many people ever thought that Pee Wee Herman would commit flatulence in the face of Academy Award winning actor Geoffrey Rush? I have seen knocks on Ben Stiller for his role, but he was just fine as a man with no powers but an inflated ego and bad temper. Wes Studi is simply marvelous as an advice given superhero, but perhaps the only flaw in the film is that he fails to use any of his powers in the climax.

"Mystery Men" is about a band of misfits who believe they have powers. They band together to save the heavily promoted and only true superhero of Champion City, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear). The original three heroes consist of The Shoveller (Macy), the fork throwing Blue Raja (Azaria) and their leader, Mr. Furious (Stiller). Without any direction, the three fail to stop any crimes, but their failures do now sway their attempts at trying to be the Superheroes they see themselves to be. When they have their collective arses handed to them by a band of thugs, a decision is made to recruit more members. This finds the Bowler (Garofalo) and the Spleen (Reubens) joining the team, as well as an invisible boy who can only be invisible when nobody is looking. When they find themselves defeated again, they come under the tutelage of the Sphinx (Studi). Finally, after they make some new outfits they are ready to confront Captain Amazing's nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Rush) and save Amazing.

I tell you again, the film succeeds. It is completely hilarious. The cinematography and set design work perfectly for the picture and Usher shines at the helm of his first major motion picture. Everything comes together well in the film. It looks and sounds great and is full of laughs. I want to blame marketing on this picture and critical backlash from too many critics who need a broom pulled from their rectal area. Don't listen to anybody but me on this one and go see the picture. It's a wild ride that far from disappoints. It is just a shame that these characters will never be revisited for a second battle against crime.

Video:
One of the strengths of "Mystery Men" is in its visuals. A definite comic book look has been achieved with this picture. Bright colors and foreboding dark scenes both make up the look of "Mystery Men." This film takes the visual approach of "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" and puts them where they belong. The two Batman films that tried to achieve a comic book look failed partly because of the visuals, but in "Mystery Men," the look strengthens an already solid film. There is still plenty of neon and the various uniforms are colorful and each frame of "Mystery Men" brings the film's comic book origins to live-action existence.

Sadly, "Mystery Men" doesn't improve much over the original standard definition offering. The 1.85:1 picture appears to have been minted from the same master as the old release and simply encoded at a higher resolution for the next generation offering. I have been looking forward to seeing how this great looking film would look on HD-DVD for quite some time, but must admit that I am quite underwhelmed by this release. The plentiful and brilliant colors that make up the picture are slightly improved over the DVD release and are still vivid and well saturated. The film contains many scenes that take place in the shadows and night. The black level of these scenes is very good. Shadow detail is a decent, but not as rich as it could have been on HD-DVD. The source materials are clean and not many flaws can be seen during the film's length.

Sound:
"Mystery Men" is a film that can be quite lively. There are a few action scenes that push every channel of the English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack and a heavy rock and roll soundtrack adds to the sonic mayhem. The climax has sound emanating from every direction and the soundtrack holds up nicely to bring this final aural orgy to life. The new Plus mix is an improvement over the previous DVD title. The .1 LFE channel bellows some truly deep bass that that nicely matches the heavily used rear surrounds in liveliness. This is most apparent in the climax where the soundtrack places you in the middle of the action as the Mystery Men try to save the day and keep their beloved city from being destroyed. The previously mentioned soundtrack sounds very good and Smash Mouth's "All Star" still sounds pretty good when the credits begin to roll. About the only complaint I had against the soundtrack was the volume level during the opening moments. The vocals seemed to blur into the background noise and I had to adjust my volume to compensate. Otherwise, at least the film's sound has been upgraded over the previous offering.

Extras:
This disc is not a special edition, but it contains a wealth of supplements that have been plucked from the original DVD release. A quick and mildly informative feature, Spotlight on Location is provided that shows some nice behind-the-scenes footage and is a slightly better than average talking heads EPK documentary that we've come to know and love. Many of what was discussed in this feature is talked about in the Feature Commentary with Director Kinka Usher. Usher offers many tidbits on the making of the film and why certain decisions were made. You get a feeling through this commentary that everyone involved had lots of fun making the picture and I had a stronger sense of confusion after listening to the commentary on why the film did not succeed.

After the making-of features, there are ten Deleted Scenes. Some of the scenes are alternate takes or longer versions of scenes already existing in the film. A few other scenes should have remained in the film but were cut because of the length of the picture. These scenes helped flesh out the three original Mystery Men and explained more of what was going on. The most notable scene that was trimmed for the theatrical release was from the beginning of the film and involved Tom Waits and his attempts at picking up senior citizen women. Some of these scenes are easily skipped while others would have been wonderful additions.

The "Music Highlights" feature from the original DVD is absent, but the Soundtrack Presentation remains. It is essentially a music video that rap fans may or may not enjoy. A very nice The Origin of the "Mystery Men" Comic Book Characters supplement exists giving the background of the characters in the film. Also absent from the original release are the extensive "Production Notes", and "Web-Links." The film's Theatrical Trailer makes the cut for the HD-DVD release. This is a slight step back from what the DVD had to offer, as the former menu-driven value added content has been pruned, but this is still not a bad set of extras for the overlooked film.

Closing Comments:
I'll say it again… I love this film. I think everyone should love this film. It's just a lovable film. The story is funny and the action is funny too. The cast is about as good a cast as you can find and it includes William H. Macy. The look and feel of the picture work perfectly with the content and the plot is simple, but great. I really do not understand why this picture did not succeed theatrically. I will be puzzled with this fact until the day I die. Even if you are not a comic book fan and do not particularly like superheroes, you can enjoy this picture. Actually, in this case, you might love this picture. It's just a comedy that is well done and hits its mark.

The HD-DVD release of "Mystery Men" is a mixed bag. The film's visual transfer appears to be a ported and higher resolution version of what was offered on the older DVD. There is an improvement, but not much. The soundtrack enjoys its added bandwidth and bitrate to provide a fuller and even deeper than the already impressive DVD transfer. The extras are mostly intact from the first outing on video disc, but a few of the extras that were menu driven are now absent. If you've ever found yourself wondering why nobody can see that Clark Kent is clearly Superman, then "Mystery Men" is a film for you.

Ratings

Video
6
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
8