Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: On-This-Day Thursday Review
Every Thursday, an older film released on this opening weekend years ago will be reviewed. They can be classics, or simply popular films that happened to be released to the world on the same date.
For May 2nd, we are going to have a look at Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Cue the George S. Clinton theme song. It's time to get groovy. Can you believe Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is twenty two years old? In another decade, it will be older than the time gap when the titular character was frozen and then woken up. My, how time flies. How does this film age? Well, I would argue it was particularly doomed from the start. One thing that sets this Austin Powers film apart from other juvenile satires (including the following Powers sequels) is that it is self aware of how behind-the-times it is. It's its saving grace.
How current can James Bond spoofs be? Well, the 007 franchise is still being made to this day. Back in the '90s, Bond was still a sex god, campy-action series full of more cheese than a smorgasbord. Most of Austin Powers' jabs were at the original series' quirks, though. This parody meant one thing if you lived the previous films. For those of us my age: remember being a kid and laughing at the immature names, only to find that Pussy Galore was a real Bond Girl name from the Sean Connery days? Did that not throw you in a loop? The parody clearly wasn't that far off with Alotta Fagina: an equally immature, shallow remark that may or may not be commenting on the objectifications of the original series (I honestly couldn't tell you).
Spaceballs was another parody film to be a decade or two too late: it raced a bit of a critical backlash at the time of its release. What sets this film apart from Mike Myers' similar approach, is how Spaceballs focused on the desecration of Star Wars as a genre film, a franchise, a blockbuster, and even a film. I would insist that the film -- while not the greatest film Mel Brooks ever made -- has shown its worth decades after its release. With Austin Powers, we're looking at a mockery of a very specific franchise, and the era of which it came from. Powers is a fish out of water that clearly doesn't understand how today works. That is part of the humour. The other half is enforcing the silliness of the early 007 films, without really doing much more, if you think about it.
Again, think about the names. It isn't as if someone had an accidentally inappropriate name in Dr. No or something. The shock was the entire intention of these monikers. In Austin Powers, they're basically just agreeing with this, and coming up with their own variants. The same can be said with the basic villain names. Oddjob becomes Randomtask (a thesaurus is needed to make a parody, it seems). Dr. No is Dr. Evil (this one is a bit better, because it expands on why a name like Dr. No is so overly redundant).
The majority of the film is a muscle-flex for Mike Myers, who wrote, produced and starred (twice) in the picture (Jim Roach directed the film). Fresh off of a career boom (many thanks to Wayne's World), and a '90s outbreak of too-many-damn-films-with-mugging-for-the-camera-itis (think Ace Ventura, Drop Dead Fred, and Ernest Goes Anywhere), Myers was set to capitalize on these open opportunities. He cringes and scrunches his face when something is bad. He hangs his jaw like a too-slow waiting to happen when he is shocked. The film is a double pedestal for Myers to perform his own party. The kicker is whether or not you find this funny.
If you do, Austin Powers holds up better than the two sequels (The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Goldmember), particularly because it at least tried to be linked to its original source of inspiration: 007. When Fat Bastard and Foxy Cleopatra begin to show up, these are mostly deviations towards this new universe Myers had on his hands once Man of Mystery did well. The original film has a more solid story (again, trying to be a 007 satire than an Austin Powers original).
If you don't, this is a series of jokes that will feel a bit painful. Much of this material had me howling as a child. I was in tears laughing so much. As a near-thirty-year-old, too much of this is a scraping of the bottom of the barrel. Spaceballs is literally a suggestive title, but that film knew how to comment on more than sex, bodily functions, and slapstick. Making a good satire seems a lot easier than it is. You are creating a stupid film, but it's deceptively stupid. I would say that Austin Powers is the teensiest bit smarter than some may give it credit for, but that's about it. Once you get the shtick, and the surface level of digging it decides to do when it comes to truly ripping a previous franchise open to mock it, Austin Powers remains the exact same joke (plus Myers' passion for immaturity) the entire time. International Man of Mystery? There isn't such mystery, here.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.