On the surface, Mystery Men, is a kind of a parody of your classic superheroes and villains. Greg Kinnear plays Captain Amazing, more or less copied off of Batman, he benefits from the comical stupidity of villains, he has an incredibly obvious alter-ego personality who's a billionaire, etc. When Captain Amazing's nemesis captures him, it's up to a group of 2nd-rate superheroes to save the city, played by an ensemble of underrated stars (Well, these days Ben Stiller might be classified as overrated, as he's played the same exact role in Along Came Polly, Duplex, Meet the Parents, AND Starsky and Hutck, but this was back in 1999, so back then this "Mr Furious" kind of persona, was original for him).
Underneath the surface of this movie is kind of a postmodern superhero movie, echoed by the setting, which reminds me of a rust belt city, an aging town marked by decaying downtowns, abandoned amusement parks, a general lack of vibrancy and youth, but a clear picture that the city, was once long ago important. Similarly, the heroes in this movie are people who grew up watching those famous heroes Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, etc, and are trying to invent catchy names and themes for themselves, and struggle to define themselves in an original way. Of course, as we see in the scene where the Mystery Men are cornered into a back alley by some thugs and start laughing at the thugs for being too cliched in their choice of weapons and costumes before getting the crap beaten out of them, the heroes eventually realize that they have to actually be able to fight in addition to having cool costumes.
However, out of all this comes a moral, which comes to Ben Stiller's character, Mr. Furious, who tries with no luck to pick up a waitress at a diner by impressing her with his superhero persona. For example, he talks about how dangerous the city is and suggests he walk her home because she might need protection, which she obviously doesn't buy. The waitress (Claire Folani) eventually starts liking him, but she plays pretty hard to get, and he only starts getting anywhere with her when he drops the superhero persona and starts being his self, and that's kind of the moral, which i think is a little more all-encompassing than this film. It's all about growing up with certain role models and becoming dissapointed about not living up to them. The other moral kind of comes out of William H. Macy's pep talk when everyone decides to give up, and he establishes that #1, we're not really the best heroes in the world, and #2, however, we are the only guys who can do the job and whether we accept it or not, it's up to us to stop the villain. This kind of touches up on the idea that no one really is asked to be a hero, sometimes they just have a job to do.
Anyway, I think this movie in addition to being both intelligent and hilarious, is really fresh and original. If you've read through this review, and are thinking "huh?", you'll know what I'm talking about, cause just the main idea and so much else in the film are really just so far out there compared to so much else.