5 out of 5 stars

“Mike Myers fucked us.” Blunt words from Daniel Craig explaining why Casino Royale (2006) required a complete reinvention of James Bond, stripping away past frivolity. The loveable rogue Myers was the latest comedic prodigy championed on Saturday Night Live. Joining the cast in 1989, he was a leading man by the time of Wayne’s World (1992) and Wayne’s World 2 (1993). A Canadian on American screens, raised on British comedy, Myers created the faux 1960s rock band Ming Tea. Their lead singer, Austin Powers, was a sincere homage to his father’s shared love of British culture. Influences ranged from Monty Python and The Goodies to Peter Sellers’ portrayal in the 007 parody Casino Royale (1967).

Then-wife Robin (who penned the parody lyrics to “Just the Two of Us” for this film), convinced Myers to adapt Austin for the big screen. More than just a singer, Austin Powers became a secret agent, photographer, sex symbol, “every bit an international man of mystery”…. and very horny, baby.

Frozen in the 1960s, Powers is thawed out three decades later in the 1990s to battle his arch-nemesis Dr Evil (Myers again). However, he’s forced to contend with the fact that the very things he stands for—free love, swinging parties—are all now considered to be… evil?

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) opened with a slow opening weekend, but positive word-of-mouth resulted in a $67.7M box office. As Austin acclimated to the ’90s, he was dominating the cultural landscape thanks to the rapid-fire gags from Myers and director Jay Roach that were on par with Airplane! (1980). From offices to classrooms, you couldn’t escape hearing someone exclaim “Oh behave!”, “One miiiiillion dollars!”, or “Shagadelic, baby!”

Their original budget of $16.5M was doubled as Warner Bros. fast-tracked a sequel costing $33M. Bigger, better, and more brazen, it promoted one of their raunchiest Britishisms to the title: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Now, Dr Evil attacks Austin through time travel to steal the agent’s “mojo,” thus neutering his Herculean sexual prowess. If you’re wondering what mojo is, then take Basil Exposition’s (Michael York) advice: “Don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.”

Before this tragic loss of mojo, both Austin and Myers were “Flush with the victory of the first film” as critic Roger Ebert put it. We find ourselves “where we last left Austin”, shagging newlywed Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley). Alas, she’s a fembot with “machine gun jubblies” and not only that “but she was a fembot the whole time”. A riff on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) that shatters all continuity of the first film. We don’t have time to process that before Austin jubilantly proclaims, “Wait a tic, that means I’m single again!” Promptly celebrating through a busy hotel with the opening titles, a nutcracker, and a baby’s head all censor Austin’s wedding tackle.

The flagrant return to the status quo exposes one of Bond’s many essential tricks, which inevitably caused the 2006 reboot to tone down the agent’s joie de vivre. While highly successful, the Craig era sacrificed a great deal of silliness to establish a consistent quality of respectability. That’s not Austin’s bag, baby. He’s here to have a good time. Bond is ‘cool’, and that coolness changes with the times. Austin, on the other hand, is authentically himself: goofy, disarming, a beta male by some standards. But it’s all very groovy, isn’t it? Topical references, non-sequiturs, musical numbers, and frequent winks to the camera. There’s a self-assured comfort to Austin Powers that ensures the audience is always having as much fun as Myers.

Ebert’s line was critical, however, suggesting that Myers had “forgotten that Austin is a misfit and not a hero.” While arguing over Austin’s characterisation might seem silly, I must respectfully disagree. A foil to Bond and all his rampant machismo, Austin is a kind, respectful, and decent person.

Eager to test his twig and berries after being defrosted, he still turned down a drunk Vanessa, claiming “It’s not right”. In the sequel, he reluctantly rejects fellow spy Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), suffering from feelings of inadequacy without his mojo. I considered using the word ‘braggadocio’ to describe Austin, but it seems he’s only now become self-conscious with empty boasts, not wanting to disappoint the woman he admires. The emotional plot point in Mystery of Austin sleeping with the enemy for information (a Bond trope) is reversed as Austin is stung that his female counterpart, Felicity, does the same.

Felicity “Shagwell by name and shag very well by reputation” is a wonderful inversion to Vanessa and shakes up the sequel from feeling too familiar. The whole trilogy features strong ‘Bond Girls’ and pepper in supporting women just as funny as the men.

Ivana Humpalot (Kristen Johnston) is more than just a silly name, matching Myers in making a “sexy” chess game as goofy as possible. Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) returns to make the evil lair workplace awkward with a clever time-travel trick, revealed as the mother of Scott Evil (Seth Green). It’s very funny when Dr Evil travels back 30 years to a much younger Number 2 (Robert Wagner to Rob Lowe), yet Frau Farbissina remains played by Sterling. Shout-out to Gia Carides as the one-scene assassin who gets stabbed, shot, and launched out a window by a rocket, prompting Austin to yell “WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!”

The only shame is that Vanessa and Austin overcome their cultural differences and fall in love, whereas Felicity has no immediate problems but confesses to Austin, “I thought I wanted to be you, but then I realised I want to be with you.” Vanessa develops and escapes a third-act trap alongside Austin, whereas Felicity almost seems to lower her standards to be with Austin and then needs rescuing from a third-act trap.

In the end, Felicity’s invited back to the ’90s to be with Austin. This might have been a stronger feminist arc if her expertise had been unappreciated in the ’60s. But it wasn’t. She gives up her old life to be with Austin, a character who felt incredibly out of touch after jumping forward 30 years himself. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it’s still sad that Felicity follows suit to be replaced in the next film, with her farewell relegated to an unseen deleted scene.

Felicity might have had less screen time to develop as the world at large was clamouring for more Dr Evil. The Bond series would take a while before settling into a run of Blofeld appearances. Austin Powers starts with its parody, and even with the arrival of Goldmember in Goldmember (2003), it’s far too late. Shagged opens and closes with the enchanting Robin Goldwasser and They Might Be Giants serenading the brilliance of Evil. Evil is simply too good.

Does his segment on The Jerry Springer Show where evil dads reunite with their sons progress the story in any way? No, but it’s crammed full of laugh-out-loud moments where Evil steals the show. He upsets a member of the KKK and a Neo-Nazi by calling his own son the “Diet Coke of evil”. He punches a Klansman and boasts “I got your hood! I got your hood!” The inane heckle of “You were born in your mother’s ass!” towards Springer was lifted from a real courtroom incident involving John Gotti.

Myers has a keen ear, honed from his SNL days, for finding exactly the right words in the right voice to make them instantly meme-worthy. There’s an infectious joy to be found in repeating these silly phrases until people are sick of them. It’s a comprehensive range of comedy for a Bond parody. Topical gags like Dr Evil quoting “Show me the money” to a bewildered ’60s president. Visual set-pieces like the silhouettes of Felicity removing items from Austin’s backside, to the horror of the henchmen. And yes, “this coffee tastes like shit.”

Even then, Myers steers his passion project well away from the crass early-2000s American Pie (1999) humour or the Farrelly Brothers’ style. Robin Swallows (Carides) mentions her name used to be Spitz, prompting a typically lewd response: “So what is it, baby, Spitz or Swallows?” Austin’s self-aware shrug suggests they’ve reached the limit of crudeness.

Jacob Stolworthy, in his retrospective five years ago, acknowledged that “Austin’s most ardent fans would agree that the original trilogy had some jokes that wouldn’t be there should the character return for a fourth outing.”

In the heightened, playful world of Austin Powers, there are surprisingly few moments that can’t be explained away through basic context. Austin is no “sexist dinosaur” like Bond and often displays a far greater emphasis on obtaining consent. His “that’s a man, baby!” moment in Mystery is set up by henchmen disguised as women, and shouldn’t be misinterpreted or misappropriated by TERFs. Will Ferrell didn’t need to wear brownface to play the minor role of Mustafa. It’s a shame, as he has plenty of great jokes regardless of race.

But damn it, I will defend Mini-Me to the very end.

“I was watching The Island of Dr Moreau [1996], Marlon Brando is playing the piano and on top of the piano is a little miniature version of himself [Nelson de la Rosa] playing a piano. So we applied the dynamic of a family onto an evil family, and what if there is a new baby and it’s upsetting Scott? I just thought, what if his name was Mini-Me? And instantly I said that to Jay and he said, ‘I love this more than anything in life.’ Just when you thought Verne [Troyer] was small, he was smaller than that. But within 25 minutes, he was such a sweet, lovely man that you didn’t even see his size—it’s just Verne. We would give Verne more and more stuff to do and he would knock it out of the park. Verne was a great physical comedian for a human being of any size.”

—Mike Myers

Sheer brilliance that this was a sequel idea. When people hear Austin Powers, they picture Austin, Dr Evil, and Mini-Me, and it might not be in that order. Mini-Me was the special spark that ignited the pop culture phenomenon. If audiences craved more Dr Evil in the sequel, they definitely wanted more Mini-Me in the third film. The moment he enters the room, the joke lands immediately. Troyer elevates this character from a shallow gag.

Scampering across the table to press Scott’s trapdoor button, hinting at gnawing on his cat’s ear, it’s the sheer absurdity of the concept that he’s supposed to be an exact double yet evidently doesn’t speak and instead acts like a feral child. Verne Troyer is funny. Mystery had the humorous Oddjob parody Random Task, but this injects what could have been an ordinary sequel with a genuine sense of chaos.

That might have been the only new inclusion for the bad guys. But as Myers reasons: “if you have a small guy then we should have a big guy”. Enter Fat Bastard (Myers once more), and like Mini-Me there is certainly the surface-level absurdity. Yet like Mustafa, or just about any character, there is far more comedy that rounds out the stereotype. Fat Bastard emphasises the bastard side. He is extremely gross and proud of it, exuding a revolting confidence that everyone else should get over themselves. It’s one thing to bed Felicity but to offer her a hefty chicken leg whilst in bed and gleefully rub grease over his man-breasts to allure her? That’s not right.

Even here, there is more to the gag than making fun of fat people. Rather the opposite, as a self-conscious Myers confessed “I was on SNL and I was like, ‘Jesus, I have a weight problem.’ I really didn’t have a character that was fully formed until ‘I eat because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat,’ which is something that I had come to the conclusion of about my own life.” Even if you didn’t find Fat Bastard funny, you can laugh at the fact that the make-up effects earned Austin Powers an Academy Award nomination.

Much like Myers in all three of his roles, this sequel is bigger in every way. Mystery boasted an impressive soundtrack, and Shagged outdoes it. “Beautiful Stranger” won Madonna a Grammy, Lenny Kravitz covered “American Woman,” and it goes one better than the Burt Bacharach cameo with a return duet with Elvis Costello for “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” And of course, there are the almost back-to-back showstoppers of Dr Evil and Mini-Me serenading us with “One of Us” and “Just the Two of Us.”

This extravagance was Myers and Roach capitalising on their gamble with Austin Powers. They now knew precisely what the audience wanted. Roach admitted, “The first movie never tested well, it never got above a 55, which is so low. There was scepticism.” Shagged is as much a victory lap for the first film as it is a bold new chapter. It paid off with test scores well above 90. “It was the opposite problem,” Roach conceded, “they were so quick to embrace it that we actually had trouble figuring out what they liked! It seemed they were laughing at everything.” Myers and Roach were laughing all the way to the bank. Shagged earned more in its opening weekend than Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’s entire theatrical run, resulting in a total gross of $312M.

To put that into perspective, Warner Bros. put this bizarro spy spoof up against Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). They made the same opening weekend profit. Warner Bros. were so sure of their imminent success they played a teaser trailer before Phantom Menace. No actual footage, just a dramatic pull-in shot of someone sitting in a Death Star-looking location revealing themselves to be Dr Evil. The narrator instructed, “If you see one movie this summer, see Star Wars. If you see a second, see Austin Powers.”

With Phantom Menace having returned for an anniversary theatrical run in 2024, Warner Bros. is missing a goldmine in nostalgia. At the very least, playing this teaser before screenings would guarantee an uptick in streaming and rental numbers. Myers is asked at least a handful of times per year if we’ll ever see Austin again. Gone is the cock of the walk superstardom. But like Star Wars, it doesn’t matter if the new entries aren’t as good. The original trilogy is perfect. This is the Empire Strikes Back of Austin Powers.

USA | 1999 | 95 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH • GERMAN

frame rated divider retrospective

Cast & Crew

director: Jay Roach.
writers: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers (based on characters created by Mike Myers).
starring: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Rob Lowe, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Verne Troyer & Elizabeth Hurley.