The Best Movies Ever – Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Austin-Powers

Only two things scare me, and one is nuclear war.

What is the other?

‘Scuse me?

What’s the other thing that scares you?

… Carnies.

I could start a sub-series within Best Movies Ever, and it would be called “Good Movies Ruined by Their Own Sequels”. The first Austin Powers would be right there at the top.*

*Henceforth, for the sake of brevity, I will be referring to the first Austin Powers as simply Austin Powers, and the sequels as “the 2nd” and “the 3rd”. I still hate titles with colons.

As with many of the movies in this series, if you consider yourself of good taste, and have never sat down and watched Austin Powers with an open mind, you’ve probably already stopped reading this and vowed never to trust my opinion on movies ever again. And that’s exactly why I’m writing about it. It’s yet another example of a movie that made a tiny splash in theaters, but got re-discovered on video. And to score a Best Movies Ever hat trick – became famous for its stupidest scenes (and quotes), meaning it’s very easy to write off.

But in ways similar to that other Mike Myers franchise, Wayne’s World, Austin Powers has a surprising amount of cleverness hidden beneath all the corny one-liners and Mike Myers mugging. Other movies had touched on satirizing the early James Bond films, but this was the first feature length comedy devoted entirely to that specific parody.

And I feel like this would be a good place to mention – “Parodies” are one of my least favorite styles of comedy. Un-funny people too often use them as a shortcut through having to write actual comedy, substituting references for jokes. When that happens you get the Scary Movie series. When it’s done well, you get Austin Powers (and Young Frankenstein, Black Dynamite, Airplane!, and Naked Gun).

For no particular reason, here's Elizabeth Hurley.

For no particular reason, here’s Elizabeth Hurley.

Yes, there are some low brow moments, a little toilet humor, some jokes that club you over the head, but by and large, Austin Powers doesn’t go for the easiest joke. It tees us up with your basic fish-out-of-water story and uses it to set up reversals on a lot of the tropes from those old 60’s Bond films. One of the best and simplest gags is Dr. Evil and his crew engaging in some good old fashioned maniacal laughter, except the camera never cuts away. It just remains there staring, so we get to see the laughter gradually die down and end awkwardly while everyone just stands around. Simple and hilarious.

Speaking of Dr. Evil – he was never as good in the sequels as he is here. In both sequels he’s nothing but a reference-spewing, pinkie-nibbling, midget joke-making buffoon. But here he hits the nail right on the head as the guy Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld character would have been if he were transplanted to the real world and the camera stayed on. He’s just so perfectly clueless about why his Bond Villain persona isn’t playing in the modern world. Again, a simple and effortlessly hilarious premise.

The fact that he ends up having a teenage son, named simply “Scott” always makes me laugh. Having Seth Green, completely decked out in full 90’s garb, just hanging around questioning the logic of Dr. Evil’s schemes was genius.

Dr. Evil: “Close the tank!”

Scott: “Wait. Aren’t you even going to watch them? They could get away.”

Dr. Evil: “No no no, I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just going to assume it all went to plan, what?”

Scott: “I have a gun, in my room. You give me five seconds, I’ll get it, come back down here, BOOM. We’ll blow their brains out.”

Dr. Evil: “Scott… you Just – Don’t – Get it, do you? You don’t.”

Scott Evil

I know it’s kind of pointless and masturbatory to review a film by simply describing my favorite scenes, which is what this article is kind of devolving into. But I honestly think it’s the best way to illustrate the kind of humor Austin Powers goes for. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about a deleted scene.

Actually, it’s a series of deleted scenes. In a nutshell, they portray the aftermath of Austin Powers’ battles with waves of Dr. Evil’s henchmen. The completely innocent, normal wife and children of a henchmen being tragically informed of his death by steamroller. The henchmen’s group of drinking buddies making a toast to his memory. I’ve always been so disappointed there was no place for those scenes in the film because they are brilliant. Think of how many thousands of action movies (not just Bond films) involve the murder of scores of nameless goons, and we never, ever take a few seconds to think of these people as having their own lives, because that would be a major bummer. But Austin Powers ALMOST did it, and it was truly hilarious.

And then there were the sequels…

Not to belabor the point here, but I wanted to walk out of Austin Powers 2 (I’ve never walked out of a movie in my life – primarily because I don’t see movies in theaters alone and don’t feel comfortable asking someone else to walk out). There’s a rather lengthy but extremely enlightening article about why comedy sequels are impossible to completely satisfy, and I highly recommend you read it, but Austin Powers 2 failed on so many levels apart from those related to our expectations of comedy.

It was as though their mission with Austin Powers 2 was to repeat the most famous jokes from the first one, throw out anything that was unique or clever, and season the whole mess with fat, midget, and racist jokes, with a light dusting of anachronistic, non-sequitur references.

Don’t watch the sequels. Don’t think about the late-90’s/early 2000’s obsession with Dr. Evil quotes. Watch the first Austin Powers and let yourself laugh. You may just enjoy it.

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