Was there life before 'Kick-Ass'?

Originally published: http://www.timeout.com/film/features/show-feature/9752/was-there-life-before-kick-ass.html
By Tom Huddleston
The USP of Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kick-Ass’ is that it’s about real life superheroes. But what about Mystery Men?
For the next month or so, you won’t be able to leave the house without hearing the words ‘Kick-Ass’. Matthew Vaughn’s teen superhero epic is fast, funny and extremely violent, but it also seems to be labouring under a misapprehension: that the concept of normal, everyday superheroes is somehow original. The film even opens with our hero Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) complaining that, in the real world, no one but the police dresses up and fights crime.
In fact, they do. A few years ago, a film played at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival called ‘Your Friendly Neighbourhood Hero’. This wise and very amusing doc followed the exploits of four real-life costumed avengers – known only as Superhero, Master Legend, Mr Silent and Hardware – as they plied their trade on the suburban streets where they lived. Their exploits were relatively tame – none of them took down a major crime ring or foiled a villain in his underground lair – but, like Kick-Ass, they were dedicated ordinary Joes intent on remaking society in their own image.
Even in the realm of fiction the concept of normal folks with no special talents teaming up to fight forces of evil is nothing new. Alan Moore’s graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ was perhaps the first to imagine what would happen if society was suddenly overrun with masked heroes – his conclusion being that they’d become fascistic, sexually perverse social outcasts. Last year’s film version of Moore’s book turned the idea on its head by becoming exactly the kind of ultraviolent bonanza of special effects which Moore was satirising in the first place.
A decade ago, ‘Mystery Men‘ brought the very same concept which fuels ‘Kick-Ass’ – give or take a few vaguely supernatural elements – into cinemas, and was largely ignored by the ticket-buying public. It’s a shame, because Kinka Usher’s film was a smart, original and hilarious subversion of the superhero genre which deserves a second look.
Just check out the cast list for ‘Mystery Men‘: Ben Stiller plays Mr Furious, an ordinary guy convinced that his boundless inner rage makes him in some way special. Hank Azaria plays The Blue Raja, master of cutlery, while William H Macy brings his customary hapless warmth to the role of family man The Shoveller. There’s also room for Greg Kinnear as preening playboy Captain Amazing, Geoffrey Rush as master villain Casanova Frankenstein, Eddie Izzard as his sidekick Tony P, Janeane Garofalo as hipster hero The Bowler and the great Tom Waits as madcap inventor Doc Heller.
Sure, ‘Mystery Men’ plays things a lot broader and wackier than ‘Kick-Ass’. But it’s also sharper, more inventive and a lot funnier, taking the time to round out its lovingly drawn characters rather than just chucking them into another limb-slicing action sequence.
We’ve no doubt that ‘Kick-Ass’ is going to be a big box-office success. It’s got all the wisecracking, foul language and manic, intense violence that fanboys go nuts for. But once you’ve paid your money and got your kicks, give ‘Mystery Men’ a go: it would be a shame if this big-hearted, anarchic anti-blockbuster got lost in the shadow of its slicker but somehow less loveable offspring.

3 Comments on “Was there life before 'Kick-Ass'?

  1. “Mystery Men” is good. “The Specials” is kind of funny. “Model by Day” is fun. And “Wild Thing”, too (sort of). Oh, and don’t forget “Hero at Large”. I am totally dating my age here, but if anyone knows of other films of this type, please let me know, and educate the kids. Here’s a shout-out to super heroine Flaxen, as well.

  2. I think what makes a Hero might be the small and sometimes larger accomplishments. But more importantly, the person who perseveres to make the world a better place when the accomplishments are few and far between.