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Kick-Ass (2010) -vs- Mystery Men (1999)

Kick-Ass -vs- Mystery Men

Sherry CobenThe Smackdown

The Holy Trinity of Comic Book Movie Superheroes leaves me a little cold; you can have your Batman, your Spidey, and your Superman. They certainly have their devotees and detractors; frankly, it’s all Kryptonite to me. But mess with the genre a little, and I’m right there; I’m no comic book geek, but I love me some tweak. Superheroes with no superpowers particularly interest me; turning the genre upside down and inside out and deconstructing it
reveals plenty about our character, our dreams, our weaknesses, and our strengths. Two comic book-inspired films duke it out in this Not-For-Comic Book-Lovers-Only smackdown. Old School versus High School. May the Forks Be With You.

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The Challenger

Based on a comic book and served up as an effective Origins: Episode One, Kick-Ass tells the surprisingly sweet (and alarmingly violent) story of a comic book nerd turned vigilante-justice-seeking superhero played by eminently adorable Brit Aaron Johnson. The director, screenwriters and source material comic book are British as well, but all the action (and there is plenty) takes place in New York City. Another Familiar Brit go-to bad guy Mark Strong deftly plays the not-so-super villain once again and Christopher Mintz-Plasse his son and aspiring anti-hero, Red Mist. The scene-stealing eleven- year-old girl with the potty mouth and heavy weapons at the red hot action’s epicenter is Hit-Girl, Chloe Moretz. Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn follows up his luscious 2007 fantasy film Stardust and his ultra-violent  2004 directorial debut Layer Cake with this bizarre concoction, the unlikely and unnaturally enticing combo platter of them both. Vaughn’s close professional and personal association with Guy Ritchie makes real sense; Kick-Ass action is gripping and packs a powerful (and painful) punch. Throw in a hearty pinch of well-observed teen comedy (think Superbad) and you’ve got a taste of what’s in store.

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The Defending Champion

Mystery Men is also based on a comic book series; I have no idea how faithful it is to its source nor do I care. Almost a decade ago, the then-coolest actors around got together and wore super funny suits in this weirdly winning mishmash of high comedy, lame action, and too-cool-for-school hipsterdom. Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, Wes Studi, Kel Mitchell, and Ben Stiller play engagingly inept amateur superheroes; they are assisted by mechanical genius Tom Waits in their ludicrous efforts to rescue much-lauded superhero Greg Kinnear (Captain Amazing) from the clutches of supervillain Geoffrey Rush (Casanova Frankenstein) and his evil henchmen, including Eddie Izzard. All-star casts don’t get more promising than this one, and the spirits and ambitions run high.

The Scorecard

Kick-Ass features winning and well-drawn characters engrossed in a complicated narrative full of revenge schemes, garden-variety venality, and grandiose dreams. The suspense gets punctuated with bursts of shocking violence and world-class movie-action, and somehow the high school domestic story remains center stage. Kick-Ass keeps his high-school-nobody day job, and his friends, colleagues, and even his burgeoning romance all ring blissfully true. It’s a subtle mix set in a not-altogether convincing metropolis. The production values don’t disappoint. Director Matthew Vaughn keeps things humming; violence lands with much more than customarily cartoonish weightlessness. Pain ensues, and it lasts. Even the usually over-the-top Nicolas Cage delivers a remarkably subdued performance as Hit-Girl’s father and mentor. The narrative surprises and reaches a more-than satisfying resolution, setting up the certainty of sequels. The casting is brilliant, the acting intelligent and real, and the stunts impeccable.

Tongues planted firmly in cheeks, the motley crew of Mystery Men stumble and bumble their way through adventures they neither anticipate nor master. Their prickly relationships and personal peccadillos make for a memorable and charming ride; the action is messy and the direction not entirely
sure-footed. But the comedy works, and the performances are just terrific. The writing stays quirky and clever even when the action sequences meander messily and the storyline flounders a bit; the dialogue remains especially funny in the character introductions and interactions, all psychologically  insightful and hilarious.

The Decision

If you haven’t seen Mystery Men in a while, by all means see it again. Hank Azaria’s foiled pretensions and Ben Stiller’s fits of uncontrollable rage still work comic wonders, and Janeane Garofalo’s non-stop muttering to her bowling-ball-encased dad will keep you grinning. If you’ve somehow missed Mystery Men entirely, get thee to a Netflix queue or Blockbuster pronto. It’s flawed, but it’s good fun with a heart of gold. Kick-Ass aims for a much younger audience of action-weary fans, and it hits its target right in the lucrative bullseye. It’s marketed to a niche much smaller than it deserves; I was pleasantly surprised by how much I just plain enjoyed the film. More than a rollicking thrill ride, the film boasts tremendous heart and some real breakout performances. A warning: If violence, especially graphic violence, disturbs you, stay away. Kick-Ass kicks ass. Case closed.

About Sherry Coben 77 Articles
A comedy writer who created the 1980s hit show Kate & Allie, Sherry Coben — tired of malingering in development hell — has enjoyed coaching a high school ComedySportz team in SoCal, making a no-budget, high-ambition webisode series, and biting the hand that feeds her.

8 Comments on Kick-Ass (2010) -vs- Mystery Men (1999)

  1. Well its like when you see today’s horror movies compared to the old school horror movies. Are we getting scared in today’s movies? Or just grossed out with over the top gore? Where is the fear? Where? We cringe more at the blood and violence but I wouldn’t call that “fear”.
    The same happens with this case. Mystery Men will always be my favorite, it wasnt there to prove anything, it wasn’t try to impress, but it did so in its own way. We drew ourselves into all the characters. In Kick Ass we definetely got a hell of an action ride… but… if you take out all the violence and action do we have memorable characters? Then it would be just another high school romp/dramesque/comedy film. Which if it is, I’d stil watch Breakfeast Club. >.>
    But if your into over the top violence then Kick Ass is waiting to kick your senses.

  2. Cool. And edifying to know.

  3. Ah, but some of us do read it super carefully…

  4. You would probably have trouble believing how guilty my decision has made me feel this week; I feel that I have somehow betrayed an old and dear friend. In fact, I’ve even toyed with the idea of rewriting the ending of my review. My second and third thoughts lead me to believe that despite its flaws (and God knows there are many) “Mystery Men” wins this one. The extreme violence of “Kick-Ass” disturbs me over time more than it did at first; we are all apparently deadened to its impact, and this fact worries me. I don’t love “Kick-Ass.” I simply recognize that it’s a better action movie with more heart than I expected. It will never provide the kind of secret society guilty pleasure that “MM” does. So…Ethan, I have to say, I may have backed the wrong horse. If I thought anyone read this site super carefully, I’d correct my mistake. Instead, I’ll flagellate myself for the critical error here in a comment and see who notices. Long live The Shoveler, the Blue Raja, the Bowler, and the rest. Mystery Men, I salute you.

  5. I loved Kick Ass and I’m both happy AND pleasantly surprised that you did too. Though it’ll take a couple more viewings and years before it can fully snuggle next to the place in my heart where Mystery Men currently resides. When I saw Mystery Men, I thought it was the funniest film every made. Granted I was ten.. but the Blue Raja still kills me.

  6. Now I have to pay to go see Kick Ass. I really liked Mystery Men. Ben Stiller’s anger was really funny.

  7. I love it too.

  8. Another very good review, Sherry. I agree with your assessments of both films. Action and/or superhero movies tend to leave me cold, too, but I was surprised by how much I loved both of these movies when I first saw them. They have a lot of heart and humor, which is all I ask from a movie. I really hope this review will make more people see Mystery Men (I confess it’s one of my obscure favorites… I’ve actually used the phrase “the most underrated film of our time” to describe it on more than one occasion).

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