The Throwbacks: “Austin Powers in Goldmember” at 20, and a Trilogy Overview

By Christian DiMartino

Not dissimilar to The Dark Knight Rises, which I covered last week, I was pretty disturbed to think that, on July 26th, it’s been 20 years since the release of Austin Powers in Goldmember. I was 5 years old. 5, guys. Did I see it in theatres? No, but I wish I had one of those nifty time machines so then I could’ve. But I received this movie as a Christmas present that year, and have watched the s**t out of it since. So needless to say, this movie has been in my life a long time.

Come to think of it, this entire trilogy has been in my life for a long time. Why else would I have received Austin Powers in Goldmember as a Christmas present at age 5? Or wait, maybe I was 6? Either way, the first movie, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, had its 25th anniversary back in May, and I have been watching that since I was maybe 4. Did I get all of the jokes? Nah, but there was always something about Mike Myers that I knew I responded to, even before I knew he was the voice of Shrek (another movie I’ve watched endlessly). Before I knew of Peter Sellers, I was always wowed by what Myers was able to, and even still am. It’s funny to think that other kids my age were probably watching movies like Like Mike (still never seen it) and Mulan and I was watching Austin Powers. Really shows my maturity level. I also remember having a lot of the toys… which I ultimately broke.

What’s also funny, besides the movies themselves, is that Austin Powers has been in my life longer than James Bond, of which Powers is obviously a parody of. To me though that’s part of the beauty of the Austin Powers trilogy: you can never have seen a Bond film, and you’ll still find Powers funny. The films are funny on their own (though there is a gag or two that might go too far, but more on that later). If this sort of joke-a-second, inspired but silly material is up your alley (think: Airplane, Scary Movie), then the trilogy will give you want, and they’ve given me what I’ve wanted for 20+ years.

These movies were a sensation during the time of their original release. Do I remember it? Not really, but I would’ve loved to have been a part of it. 20+ years later, I still feel as if I am, because I watch these movies, potty humor and all, at least once a year. Not only that, but I often reference them/hear them referenced constantly. There’s just something about them, it’s hard to pinpoint. Also tough to pinpoint is just where people stand on Austin Powers in Goldmember. I’m a dork, so I’ve given this thought. Just about everyone I know personally loves it, and would consider it the best one, or a close second. Others either thought it ran out of steam by this point or Myers was recycling jokes. Which, admittedly, he was recycling jokes, but even he, through a cameo from Ozzy Osbourne, jokes about the joke recycling.

Where do I stand? Well, International Man of Mystery, personally, is the best. It’s lays out the groundwork for the sequels- without it, we wouldn’t get them. Yet it’s also the one that is, through and through, arguably the funniest. Having said that, I have maybe seen Austin Powers in Goldmember the most, and also may find it the most quotable. Accuse it of recycling all you want, to me Austin Powers in Goldmember feels like a culmination of the first two films, and essentially if you enjoyed those movies (which obviously I do) then this was the ultimate Powers shindig. It takes everything from those movies and makes it bigger than before. That and I happen to find it truly funny. Maybe my 6 year old brain isn’t the most trusted source, but here I stand.

As you’ll recall, my deep dive into The Dark Knight Rises really lacked structure. Fun as I had writing it, it was all over the place (which, some would argue, fits the material). For Austin Powers, I’m going to be a little more structured. I’m basically just going to talk about all three movies, leading into the movie of the hour. Bare with me, with the amount I’m probably going to write, you’d probably assume I was talking about The Godfather or something. The Godfather, this is not, but you know what The Godfather doesn’t have? Time travel, clones, Swedish-made penis enlarger pumps, fem-bots, musical interludes, a Frisch’s Big Boy spaceship, sharks with freakin’ lazer beams attached to their heads, Britney Spears, and fat bastards, among other things.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Like the plot of a lot of Bond movies, does the plot of an Austin Powers movie matter? Nah, but I’ll talk about it anyways because it’s so absurd. Austin Powers (Myers, obviously) is a swinging British spy in the 1960s who, despite having horrid teeth and the bushiest chest hair imaginable, is seen as a sex symbol. A “famous spy” feels like a contradiction, but I digress. When his arch nemesis Dr. Evil (also Myers, with a look modeled after Bond’s Blofeld with a voice that is a Lorne Michaels impersonation) has himself cryogenically frozen, Powers decides to do the same, so then they will face each other once more in the future. So, basically, Demolition Man, except I didn’t even realize this until about four years ago. Dr. Evil resurfaces in 1997, and continues to plot world domination once again. So the British government decides to thaw Powers out and partners him with Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley), the daughter of his former partner (Mimi Rogers). The problem is, Powers is very horny, baby, and throws himself at Vanessa at every opportunity. She… is not having it, so Powers, now living in 1997, must come to terms with the decade and times he’s living in, as well as stop Dr. Evil and his evil plans.

Again, totally ludicrous. But is it funny? Yeah baby, yeah. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is my favorite of the three because it’s the one in which all of the ingredients came together the smoothest. Myers, as both Austin and Dr. Evil, is so distinct that he really does find a beautiful way of fleshing out both of these characters. In fact, the two are so good that I often forget that he’s Dr. Evil, and more on that later. Also key is the casting of Elizabeth Hurley, who, let me just say, is aging beautifully. She’s always been beautiful, and I follow her on Instagram and she’s still a knockout. It’s a shame that her and Hugh Grant didn’t work out, what a duo. But yeah Vanessa is the best of the Powers girls because she comes together the most as a fleshed out character, which isn’t something you’d expect from a movie this goofy.

There is a bit of toilet humor in International Man of Mystery, but it feels like the one with the least of it. That being said, even some of that manages to be funny here, ashamed as I am to admit it. The example I cite is the scene featuring Tom Arnold, and if you know the scene, I’ll just leave it at that. This one really just makes me laugh the most consistently, I guess. I love the sequence with Will Ferrell’s Mustafa, who just won’t die. Or Dr. Evil’s monologue in the group therapy session. Or the fem-bots that, legendarily, die at the hands of Powers dancing in his underwear set to, “I Touch Myself.” Or really any scene with Evil’s son, Scott (Seth Green, an underrated player here). I love the Bond references, like “Alotta Fagina” (wow, I’ve never typed that and it got a laugh out of me) or the puns (“He’ll never be the HEAD of a major corporation”). I don’t know man, this movie is just a beaut. It wasn’t a great box office success at the time of its release, but luckily, the people caught on.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

As just mentioned, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, in terms of box office, wasn’t smashing, baby. It did okay, not a bomb, but it sort of came and went. However, when the movie came out on VHS, its popularity skyrocketed. The sequel was greenlit, and when Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me arrived in 1999, it was a box office juggernaut. In fact, it was the third highest grossing movie of that year, behind Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and The Sixth Sense. Which, is pretty wild. As a sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me is pretty much you’d want and ask for: it has the ingredients from the first film and takes them to larger heights (and back in time, and to outer space). It’s my least favorite of the three though. I like it and there are moments of comic gold, but there are two gripes, and I’ll get to those after the plot.

Immediately following the events of the first movie, and the discovery that Vanessa was in fact a fem-bot the whole time (“Yes, we knew all along, sadly,” Michael York’s Basil tells Austin without any explanation), Powers is back on the market and loving his single life. That comes to a crashing halt though whenever (bare with me here) an overweight Scottish soldier from 1969 named Fat Bastard (Myers, in incredible, Oscar-nominated makeup), who is in cahoots with Dr. Evil, steals Austin’s “mojo,” which I guess is his libido in a tube? Again, this is all nonsense. Anyways, Dr. Evil, along with his usual troop and now with a clone aptly named Mini Me (the late Verne Troyer), have traveled back to 1969 through a time machine in order to acquire this. So Austin must also do so (because, you know, he’s very horny baby) and there he is partnered with an American spy named Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) who is really into him. The two race against the clock to find Dr. Evil, his mojo, and thwart Dr. Evil’s plans, which include a laser that is on the moon and will ultimately destroy the earth.

So yeah, that was a lot. What’s impressive though is that all three of these movies are in the 90 minute range, despite all of that detail, and are all pretty funny. The best stuff in The Spy Who Shagged Me ranks with the best of the trilogy. I love the sequence where a femme fatale named Robin Swallows (smh) is used as a shield against a knife, a machine gun, and ultimately a bazooka, and she somehow still lives. I’m laughing just thinking about it. Also great is a scene in a tent where it appears as if Felicity is pulling items out of Austin’s ass. And of course the gag involving the penis-shaped rocket. I also love the look of this movie and the production design is weirdly great. The budget was probably bigger too, and it shows.

There is great stuff in The Spy Who Shagged Me, but what ultimately sinks it a little is the overuse of the toilet humor. Again, it’s present in all three, but it’s at its grossest here. I feel like the only reason why the Fat Bastard character even exists is for Myers to have the carte blanche to let it rip. Because, to my knowledge, he’s not inspired by a Bond villain or anything. He’s just gross. We have the misfortune of seeing his naked body, he farts a lot, and on top of that, Austin literally drinks his s**t, in easily the nastiest gag of the trilogy. I don’t know if it’s because There’s Something About Mary came out the previously year and Myers just wanted to up the ante on the nastiness, but it’s a bit much. Also a bit much are the musical numbers between Dr. Evil and Mini Me. Those are the ultimate opportunity to get up and pee.

Lastly, from a flaw standpoint, it occurred to me the last time I watched this that Felicity and Austin just don’t quite connect. It’s not Heather Graham’s fault, necessarily; she does capture the spirit of a 1960’s love interest, and she has plenty of charisma. She’s just not given too much in the way of funny lines, and ultimately it seems like she is way more into him than he is into her. Yet also in that last viewing, it dawned on me that Myers really does vanish into these roles. It occurred to me during a scene in which Dr. Evil and Mini Me speak to the President (Tim Robbins) on the moon, and two minutes later Mini Me is unveiling the ass-whooping of a lifetime on Austin. I guess what I’m saying is, Myers shares the scene with Troyer in both instances, and it’s a testament to Myers’ abilities that this is only now just sinking in.

Austin Powers in Goldmember

Now we’ve come full circle. As mentioned before, International Man of Mystery is my favorite and the best of the three, yet I’d put Austin Powers in Goldmember right there with it. The whole trilogy is super rewatchable from my standpoint, and yet Goldmember might be the most rewatchable of the three because, even though Myers is covering familiar territory, he’s also covering SO MUCH territory. Goldmember, each time I watch it, feels like an event. The people involved in making it treated it like it was an event, and thus, they made it an event. From beginning to end, from the slew of celebrity cameos to way in which the whole trilogy is tied together, it’s easy to see that there was a phenomenon here, and if you loved these movies, Goldmember delivered. I’m not sure if Myers and director Jay Roach knew this was going to be the last film in the series, but revisiting it, you can sense that they sort of did, which is why they decided to go out with a bang.

I like how all of these movies take place immediately after the predecessors, yet they also, quite visibly, take place in the years that they were released. From a continuity standpoint this makes zero sense, but then again Robert Wagner’s Number 2 died at the end of the first film and then returns without a scratch for the sequels. Anyways, Austin finds Dr. Evil in one of his elaborate lairs and has him and Mini Me arrested. While in prison though Dr. Evil orchestrates a plot to kidnap Austin’s legendary spy father Nigel (Michael Caine, delightful). Nigel is kidnapped by a criminal mastermind named Goldmember (Myers), a Dutch madman whose genitalia was deformed in a smelting accident by solid gold (I don’t know), and he’s taken back in time to 1975. Goldmember also speaks in 1970’s references and he enjoys peeling off his shedded skin and eating it (again, I don’t know). Austin travels back to 1975 to rescue his dad and runs into a former lover named Foxy Cleopatra (Beyonce, who, believe it or not, was 19 when this movie started filming). The two of them team up to save his dad and stop Goldmember and Dr. Evil, who plan to flood the earth with a satellite or something.

This one in particular is one of those cases where the plot doesn’t matter. Where a Bond movie works because of its action sequences, Goldmember works because it’s really funny. Sure, three movies in, there are times where the jokes are just different versions of jokes from the previous movies. It’s never bothered me though because I enjoy spending time with these characters, AND because the jokes are still funny. Arguably the funniest scene here is a spin on the tent scene from The Spy Who Shagged Me, except this time it’s with Austin and Mini Me. This scene is so hilarious that I often have to catch my breath. Also, I should mention that Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg (probably on their lunch break during Minority Report), as well as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey (eek), Danny Devito, Quincy Jones, Britney Spears, Nathan Lane (my favorite) and John Travolta are all in this movie.

Lastly, I like Beyoncé in this movie. It’s not a great feat of acting or anything, but similar to Elizabeth Hurley, she weirdly plays off of Myers pretty well here. Well, I love Michael Caine in it too, but he’s great even in something terrible. Yeah, I think I’ve said all that really needs to be said about Austin Powers in Goldmember, and honestly the time it’ll take you to read this is probably the same amount of time it would take you to watch the trilogy (oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed). I love this movie, I love all three of them, and yes I’m very well aware of how that sounds. I’m a man of simple tastes, and yet I also love things like Ingmar Bergman. The Austin Powers trilogy is one of those that will just never get old, and I guess, mentally, I’ll never outgrow them, even though I’m not always proud of what I’m laughing at.

I guess my final thought is this: will Myers ever make a 4th film? It’s been listed on his IMDb for at least 15 years, but then The Love Guru happened, and Verne Troyer died. I also just don’t know if this humor would work with today’s climate. Don’t get me wrong, if he were to do it, I think the movie would make its money. Yet he’s also clearly struggled to find the right ideas (I have one, if Myers ever wants to reach out, I’m available). Having said this, I think I’m okay without another one, because all three of these movies, depending on your sense of humor, work, and a 4th movie could potentially tarnish that. These movies, like Austin Powers, are of their time, and they really were (and are) a great time, baby (last one).

One response to “The Throwbacks: “Austin Powers in Goldmember” at 20, and a Trilogy Overview”

  1. […] absurd, and silly. But would we want it any other way? Hot Rod is one of those comedies, like Austin Powers or more recently, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar that I will always find irresistible, because […]

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