Yeah Baby! Behold the Powerssaince

Yeah Baby! Behold the Powerssaince


Austin Powers is surprisingly timeless. Hear me out.

The phrase "They don't make 'em like they used to anymore" is often uttered to express nostalgia for some sort of past ideal. Whether the phrase in question applies to movies or mayonnaise, it tilts towards some level of yearning for a previous supposed standard that's since been discarded in favor of something presumably inferior. Often, the statement can take on a sort of cultural conservatism, expressing fear in the face of change or distrust in anything that may seem unfamiliar at first blush. But sometimes, the statement itself is deemed necessary to describe the object at hand—and, really, they don't make comedies like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery like they used to anymore.

Indeed, watching Mike Myers' inaugural bow as the furry-chested, thawed-out British spy-out-of-time in 2020 feels less like a time warp and more like being knocked over the head only to wake up in a completely different world. After all, modern movie culture is currently besotted with attempts to capitalize on newly acquired IP, or attempts to continue to finally profit on IP that's already been proven lucrative; big-budget studio comedies simply don't exist anymore, and you're lucky to find an indie-funded knee-slapper that doesn't concern itself with (extremely serious voice) the changing nature of relationships, or (slightly more lighthearted voice) the awkward complications of adolescence. When's the last time you went to the movie theater pre-pandemic and watched a grown man put another man in a headlock in a restroom stall, demanding he tell him who number two works for?

It's equally amazing that Austin Powers itself inspired its own lucrative cinematic universe spanning two more increasingly expensive and questionably watchable sequels. Beyoncé was in one of these movies, which says a lot about Beyoncé's level of fame at the time as well as just how culturally present the Austin Powers franchise was through the mid-2000s. All three of these films—the original, The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Goldmember—are on Netflix for streaming as we speak; I haven't watched Goldmember in quite some time but remember it not quite fondly. The Spy Who Shagged Me has held up considerably poorly as well, with myriad regurgitated gags from the first film and needless levels of comic escalation between Dr. Evil and his newly acquired sidekick Mini-Me (the late Verne Troyer).

But despite the failures of these sequels, the charm of Austin Powers is...somehow...still...there. I know! Surprising, right? But as it turns out, the original still brings the belly laughs without an ounce of reservation. Part of this is because the film's concept is surprisingly airtight while also remaining quite loose: what begins as a collection of quasi-parodic reflections of spy-movie tropes gradually unfolds into a critique of the sexism that pervaded the James Bond franchise as well as myriad copyist attempts to replicate its success. Austin eventually realizes he's a man out of time (not unlike—stay with me here—Tony Soprano's own witnessing of his dominant era slipping out of his grasp), while his sidekick Elizabeth Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley) handles much of the heavy work spy-wise to flip the Bond films' own subjugation of its female characters.

Of course, these subtle-to-not-so-subtle critiques of eras past dissolved in the following two films, but you don't even need to treat the first Austin Powers as a rich text to enjoy it right now. It's a comedy that's indicative of an era in which comedies were pumped out simply to put people in theaters, meaning that for every dated or problematic joke that might cross the bow of your funny bow there's at least two or three more sight gags, double entendres, or one-liners that will likely land with you even if you don't want them to. Watching a movie like this right now is like putting your car on cruise control and remaining unconcerned about the speedometer just to the view along the way. It's dumb fun, but what's wrong with having fun anyway?

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