Should I Watch..? Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
What's the big deal?
Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery is an action spy comedy film released in 1997 and is the first instalment of the Austin Powers series. Written by and starring Mike Myers, the film is mainly a spoof of the James Bond series. The film was successful at launching the two characters Myers plays in all Austin Powers films - Powers himself, a swinging Sixties super spy cryogenically frozen and thawed out in the present day and Power's nemesis, Dr Evil who goes through a similar process. A number of catchphrases have since become indelibly linked to the character and two sequels were released - The Spy Who Shagged Me in 1999 and Goldmember in 2002. Myers has often mentioned a fourth film but so far, nothing has been released.
What's it about?
After failing to assassinate Austin Powers at his club in London in 1967, Dr Evil escapes in a rocket shaped like Big Boy and cryogenically freezes himself, vowing to return when free love was dead and greed ruled the world. As a result, Austin agrees to be frozen as well to battle Dr Evil when the need arises. Sure enough, in 1997, Dr Evil does indeed return and reunites with his former cohorts - Frau Farbissina and Number Two, who has transformed Dr Evil's empire into Virtucon - a legitimate billion-dollar company. Realising that his own elaborate plans for world domination had grown passé, Dr Evil relies on the timeless method of stealing nuclear weapons and holding the world hostage.
With Dr Evil back, the Ministry Of Defence has no choice but to defrost Austin and attempt to get him to acclimatize with the world of the 1990's with Vanessa Kensington, the daughter of his former sidekick from the 1960s. However, Austin finds himself and his free-love mantra worryingly old-fashioned as he and Vanessa travel to Las Vegas in an attempt to bring Dr Evil to justice once and for all...
Austin Powers / Dr Evil
Release Date (UK)
5th September, 1997
Action, Comedy, Spy
What's to like?
Weirdly, Austin isn't the star of the show - Myers' performance as the inept, would-be ruler of the world Dr Evil is sublime comic genius. The character has considerably more mileage than Austin does although both get equal billing in this first film because both of them have to adjust to life in the Nineties instead of the Sixties. But with Dr Evil, it's more amusing somehow. Certainly, he's helped by Green as his apathetic teenage son Scott, Wagner as Number Two (complete with requisite eye-patch) and Sterling as Frau Farbissina but he also gets the best lines, compared to Austin's tragic attempts at trying to relive the Sixties.
Not to say that Austin isn't funny because he is, in his own goofy way. His insistence on saying "judo chop!" whenever he judo chops someone and his determined attempt at a three-point-turn in a narrow corridor are genuinely funny and gives the impression that spoofing the Bond films might actually be easier than it looks. Credit Myers with an inventive and brilliant script and Roach's direction, which takes more than a few cues from other influences from the time. Throw in some cameos from Christian Slater, Will Ferrell (before anyone really knew who he was), Burt Bacharach and Myers' former comic partner Neil Mullarkey and you begin to get why the character caught on in the way he did.
- Robert Wagner's role in this movie is appropriate, given his connection to two former Bond girls. Both his current wife Jill St John and the sister of his first wife Lana Wood appeared in Diamonds Are Forever.
- Myers originally wanted Jim Carrey to play Dr Evil but Carrey was scheduled to appear in Liar Liar instead. As a result, Myers took on the role himself and the rest is history.
- The opening titles are a spoof of A Hard Day's Night which featured the Beatles fleeing from adoring fans through the streets of London. Austin also pops up with a fake beard, like Paul McCartney does in the same scene.
What's not to like?
Here is one of those films that is completely undone by its lesser sequels. All the best gags that worked in this film were ultimately recycled and retold in The Spy Who Shagged Me while the third film performed the same smash-and-grab trick with both films. But by this time, the film's humour had more than run its course. If you've seen either of the sequels then I suspect that this first movie might not be as funny for you as it is for a first-time viewer. Even Ozzy Osbourne can spot the reheated leftovers by the time Goldmember rolls around.
Assuming you enjoy Myers' childish sense of humour than you'll enjoy this silly slice of spy spoofery. But anyone looking for an intelligent satire should probably look elsewhere. It isn't as puerile as its sequels but the film tears into Bond easily enough without completely savaging the old boy. Besides, the Bond films at the time had actually started to parody themselves as anyone who watched the wretched Die Another Day especially will testify. There are times when the silliness threatens to take over such as Austin's confrontation with the deadly Fembots and it sometimes overstretches itself when a bit more decorum wouldn't have gone amiss.
Should I watch it?
There are certainly worse spy spoofs out there but Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery remains one of the better ones. Fun, cheerful and with more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek, the film exposes the saucy silliness of the Sixties by comparing it to the supposedly more straight-laced Nineties. Myers would go on to sully its reputation with substandard sequels but there's little to stop this putting a smile on your face.
Great For: silly goofiness, Myers' career, audiences ready for a rib-tickling.
Not So Great For: the Bond series, the reputation of British dentists, anyone convinced Liz Hurley is an actress.
What else should I watch?
Without meaning to pour scorn on the sequels but this is, far and away, the best so far. Never has the Law Of Diminishing Returns been applied harder than to poor Austin Powers. The Spy Who Shagged Me returns Austin to the Sixties to battle his arch nemesis once again but redeems itself by introducing Dr Evil's vertically-challenged psychotic clone Mini Me. As for Goldmember, not even Michael Caine as Austin's father can rescue the picture which is bloated, poorly written and has Myers playing a total of four principal characters. As Eddie Murphy will tell you, this isn't always such a great idea...
Trying to find a good spy spoof is like trying to find healthy food in a McDonalds. One of the better ones is Johnny English which sees Rowan Atkinson play a bumbling secret agent trying to retrieve the stolen Crown Jewels from John Malkovich. A more pumped-up action spy film (and less of a spoof, more a rip-off) is the Vin Diesel-helmed xXx which engages in huge amounts of extreme action and rock music and maybe a bit less actual espionage...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox