Titanic Teams/Saturday At The Movies: The Mystery Men

Sometimes a team only works because they’re a team.

Take any of the Mystery Men on their own – Mister Furious, say, or The Shoveller, or Invisible Boy. Not a one of them would be anything other than a punchline to a weird non-joke. The Spleen. The Blue Raja. The Bowler. (Okay, maybe The Bowler.)

Originating as supporting characters in the bizarre, absurdist Flaming Carrot comic, the Myster Men were adapted into a bizarre, garish late-’90s action comedy with an aesthetic that was one part Lorne Michaels, one part Batman and Robin. Bright metallic colours, moulded plastic, sarcastic sketch-comedy one-liners.

But they were amazing.

Well, at first Captain Amazing, played by Greg Kinnear, was amazing. But he wasn’t bad enough to take on charasmatic mad scientist Casanova Frankenstein. Because he was kind of an idiot.

Not that the Mystery Men (“The Super Squad”) themselves are a braintrust of the highest order. But the eclectically-endowed Mister Furious (Ben Stiller), Shoveller (William H. Macy), Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), later joined by the Bowler (Jeneane Garofalo), Spleen (Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Rubens), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) and mentor Sphinx (Wes Studi) – not just a dispenser of chiasmic koans but also a weirdly-specific telekinetic – are possessed of the most magnificent, situationally-appropriate synergy of any super team since Wolverine and Colossus dreamed up the Fastball Special (and to see that in the movies, you have to subject yourself to X3: The Last Stand).

Each member of the team could do one or two very strange things on their own. The shoveller could fight with… shovels, but only shovels. Invisible Boy could go invisible… when nobody is looking. The Blue Raja could throw forks – but not knives. Were they real superheroes at all? Certainly their combat effectiveness is borne out by the Bowler’s demonically (well, parentally) possessed customized 10-pin ball, and the Spleen’s remarkable… well, let’s just say accuracy and potency. And the Sphinx had that trick. But on their own, they weren’t much more than the weird, absurdist punchlines.

No, it was only as a team that the Mystery Men could rise to the occasion and use their powers to beat the odds, overcome the Disco Boys, and save Champion City. Of course, their other super power was to entertain us: you can do a lot worse than to have Hank Azaria and Janeane Garofalo banter, William H. Macy deadpan, and Ben Stiller pound helplessly against the fourth wall. Sometimes the best super squad of all is an ensemble cast with great timing.

And so, Mystery Men, we salute you!

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