Buongiorno, boys! Next year will be 25 years since Austin Powers became a pop-culture thing; a quarter century since putting out-dated sexist attitudes under a bell-jar for comedic examination became a way to popularise sexist attitudes all over again under the guise of nostalgia. Spoofs are plentiful, but after an initial muted cinematic outing, Mike Myers’ creation rang bells on home video, and then through two expanded sequels. Adding less inspired characters, however, watered down the funny, and the first Austin Powers film is probably the most consistent of the franchise.
A British spy who is not quite in the class of Bond, Austin Powers has the chest hair of Connery, the evening wear of George Lazenby and the puns of Roger Moore; his teeth also leave something to be desired. Frozen in 1967, he’s re-awoken in 1997 to stop the nefarious plans of Dr Evil, a Blofeld to his ersatz Bond. Both men are played by Myers, so it’s as well they only meet once; Elizabeth Hurley provides most of the conflict as woke agent Felicity Shagwell, who rejects Powers’ crude overtures and tries to educate him in the ways of the modern world, a world that Powers’ gung-ho sexual revolutionary attitude ill prepares him for. An Austin Powers 4 has been mooted for some time, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing; when the central gag is about changing times, one imagines Powers would have plenty to occupy him in the era of cancel culture.
As always with Myers, there’s a few excisable jokes too far; the references to carnies, and the Princess Diana joke haven’t gained with age, nor has the inessential Tom Arnold toilet etiquette sequence. But the vast majority of Jay Roach’s film is pretty much on point. The character comedy makes great play of educating a cave-man as to the need to respect women, while the parody of 60’s movies is sharp. Seth Green’s bit as Dr Evil’s son is notably straight-shooting; when his father announces that Austin and Felicity will be killed by fish with lazers attached to their heads, Scott Evil not unreasonably can’t understand why his father won’t just go route one and shoot them. The fault-line of generational conflict is consistent throughout, but there’s also time to ridicule movies in general, from Basil Exposition to the army of fembots who do the Dr’s bidding, Stepford-wives who explode with suppressed passion after hearing The Divinyls’ rarely played hit anthem to self-exploration I Touch Myself. Music fans will also appreciate the inclusion of a full video by the Ming Tea band and their rousing song eulogising the exotic qualities of the BBC.
The Austin Powers films have been released in slightly different versions in different territories over the years; this new blu-ray has most of the best bits intact. Guest stars include Will Ferrell, Carrie Fisher, Rob Lowe, Christian Slater, Burt Bacherach; there’s rarely a lull in proceedings, and even if some the jokes are ancient, that’s the point. Austin Powers is amusing precisely because of the age and silliness of the jokes, and part of the appeal is watching a new generation wrestle with the gags. Comedy is a lot of hard work, but Myers and co make it look both easy and fun, and Austin Powers deserves its place amongst the comedy greats.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery on collector’s edition Blu-ray, DVD and Digital 19 April from Icon Film Distribution. Thanks for advanced access to this title.