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Review: The Austin Powers Trilogy

January 2, 2012

I could review all three separately, but the hell with it, all in.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Austin Powers has emerged as the seminal spy movie spoof for the twenty-first century, putting it in company with films like Our Man Flint, the 1967 version of Casino Royale, and sadly, Spy Hard. The movie starts in 1967, where at a party, Austin Powers just misses capturing noted supervillain, Dr. Evil. Evil freezes himself, returning to Earth in 1997, prompting British intelligence to unfreeze Austin, who is then paired up with Vanessa Kensington, the daughter of his 60s partner.

A fair portion of the scenes involving Austin are there to point out that he is, to borrow a term, a fish out of temporal water. And a lot of these are pretty good, like his assumption that the communists won the Cold War, or his putting a CD on a turntable and his reaction to Liberace being gay. Likewise, a lot of the jokes in Dr. Evil’s scenes work really well too, some because they’re straight up parodies of what evil geniuses do in serious movies, and some that take the Family Guy route – doing something mildly funny so long that the joke stops being about what’s going on and starts being about how long it’s been going on.

One thing that makes appearances for all the characters is wordplay, for instance Frau Farbissina’s militant wing of the Salvation Army, or Austin waterboarding Patty O’Brian in the toilet shouting “WHO DOES NUMBER TWO WORK FOR!”, a joke lampshaded by Tom Arnold telling him to show that turd who’s boss. The movie manages to hit all the high marks for a spy thriller while mocking them: a madman bent on ransoming the world, a daring super spy, playing a card game with the dragon, an underground base, a nuclear weapon, and a self-destruct system when it all goes awry. The majority of the jokes work, and overall it’s a funny movie. What I did find interesting were the alternate endings included on this copy. Both start with Austin and Vanessa somehow having escaped Dr. Evil’s exploding base in a raft in the Pacific, with the two having a glass of champagne.

The first ending continues with Basil entering by helicopter, giving Vanessa a promotion to full field agent and Austin the card to his dentist. The second continues with Basil summing up to the music from The Great Escape: Dr. Evil escapes but gets amnesia, becoming manager for a Bob’s Big Boy in El Segundo, California, Scott became frontman for alt-rock band Evil Petting Zoo and is dating Courtney Love, Frau Farbissina became a professional golfer, founded the militant wing of the LPGA, and is also dating Courtney Love, Austin and Vanessa get married with Austin going back to photography and denying ownership of the penis enlarger pump, and Mr. Bigglesworth goes on to become president of the Hair Club for Cats.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

The Spy Who Shagged Me is like a lot of sequels of successful movies: Not quite as good as the original, but it’s still good enough not to make you want to complain about it. Well, at least not too much.

The movie starts as Vanessa is revealed to be a suicide fembot built by Dr. Evil to kill Austin on their two year long honeymoon. Dr. Evil reveals his return to Earth by appearing on Jerry Springer. He reunites with Number 2 in Seattle, the latter having invested in Starbucks in the intervening years, gaining a controlling interest in the company. Number 2 has created for Dr. Evil a clone at 1/8th scale for some reason.

Dr. Evil reveals for his henchmen his plan to go back to 1969 and steal Austin Powers’ mojo. His first attempt to use his time machine is thwarted by the machine being off. His second attempt is far more successful, and he is whisked away to his new secret volcano lair, because he’s an evil genius, dammit! Austin meanwhile is also sent back to 1969, on a mission to regain his mojo from Dr. Evil’s agent, Fat Bastard. To make a long story short, he winds up on the moon thwarting Dr. Evil’s plan to shoot a laser at Washington D.C., and through abuse of time travel, saving his new love interest who disappears after the movie is over.

Again, like I said at the start, it’s not bad. In fact, compared to some other spy movie spoofs (*cough*InLikeFlint*cough*), it fares remarkably well. It’s one of those movies that, if I find it on cable I’m not going to turn my nose up at it, but it’s still not as good as the original. Some of the jokes from the first one get reused, but luckily they’re the funny ones.

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Goldmember is by far the weakest of the three, but it’s still not half bad. Most of the movie is fairly solid, and like the second it reuses a lot of the better jokes from the first one. In fact, there are only two serious problems I have with the movie.

It starts with Austin Powers defeating one of Dr. Evil’s minions by ejecting out of his car, over the helicopter, and unloading two SMGs into the rotors. This is actually one of my favorite shots of the entire trilogy, partly because of how awesome it looks and partly because of how it was done almost entirely with practical effects. The only real CG in the shot is the fact that they composited it together.

And then we find out that this is part of a movie within the movie, with Tom Cruise playing Austin (and until now I could have sworn that it was a lookalike), Kevin Spacey playing Dr. Evil, Danny DeVito playing Mini-Me, and Gwyneth Paltrow as love interest Dixie Normous and seriously what the fuck. Really, I get the distinct impression that the movie-within-a-movie angle exists only to showcase that they were able to get all these stars to perform cameos.

And then the movie proper begins. Dr. Evil is in his new hidden lair, this time behind the Hollywood sign, and the front this time is the Hollywood Talent Agency, who Number 2 explains intends to steal clients from other talent agencies by charging 8% rather than the usual 10%, and Dr. Evil doesn’t give a rat’s ass so this is purely for our benefit. Dr. Evil lays out his plan to go back to 1975 to enlist the services of Johann van der Smut, a metallurgist who goes by Goldmember, to construct for him a cold fusion for a tractor beam so he can pull a solid gold meteor into a course to strike the polar ice caps and flood the Earth that is unless of course we pay him one billion, kajillion, fifillion, shabadoodillioo-illion…yen.

And then Austin and the British Military rappel in and arrest Dr. Evil. The rest of the movie will be about Austin’s father issues. Sadly, I am not kidding. Austin is scheduled to be knighted for capturing Dr. Evil in the first act, but is deeply embarrassed when his father doesn’t show up, a mirror of his graduation from spy school when he was awarded international man of mystery. It’s then revealed that his father has been kidnapped by Goldmember, albeit after the knighting ceremony.

He goes to interrogate Dr. Evil in an homage to Silence of the Lambs, and it’s revealed that Goldmember has taken Austin’s father back to 1975. For the information, Dr. Evil is transferred to a prison in Georgia so he can be with Mini-Me. After one day there – I’m going to repeat this – after one damn day in a maximum security federal prison, he manages to escape by causing a riot, which he gets the other inmates to agree to through a rap rendition of “It’s A Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie.

There are just some things you never think you’re going to type in your life, and “rap rendition of a song from Annie” is damn sure one of them.

This one…just…okay, I can say this about it. It’s not as bad as my synopsis makes it sound. It’s not good, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Some of the jokes work really well – for instance, Fat Bastard’s wire fighting scene is hilarious because how much of the behind the scenes stuff it goes into, and the part of the Silence of the Lambs scene where Dr. Evil accidentally opens his cell door is funny because of how awkward it is that he makes no attempt to escape.

At the beginning, I mentioned there were two things that bugged me about the movie. The first was the whole meta-movie thing, and the second is Austin’s issues with his father, because of how it’s just the same thing over and over again. The whole plot point just turns Austin whiny about his father not being there for him, and that’s just not his character. He’s a pastiche and parody of all the best parts of Sean Connery’s Bond and Roger Moore’s Bond. He’s not supposed to complain about his life, he’s supposed kick ass, spout one-liners, and get the girl. In fact, that’s the exact problem with parody characters: developing them into their own unique identity is hard as diamonds. You need a writer with a slow hand (you want a lover with an easy touch), someone who can take baby steps with the development and won’t spring it on the audience, which is what happened here.

But still, the movie is pretty funny, even if it is a lot more slapstick-y. Again, it’s not great, but I’ll still watch it on cable if there’s nothing better on.

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