Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, John and Tim provide their opinions on the three "Austin Powers" films, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Films According to John:
In the beginning, there was Alfred Hitchcock. Huh? It was Hitchcock in the 1930s and 40s who helped popularize the mystery-suspense espionage picture with that touch of tongue-in-cheek humor for which Hitchcock was famous. Remember films like "The Man Who Knew Too Much," "The 39 Steps," "Secret Agent," "Sabotage," "Saboteur," and "Notorious"? Then in 1953 former British Intelligence officer Ian Fleming published the first of his many James Bond novels, "Casino Royale." In 1959 it was back to Hitchcock, who directed "North By Northwest" with Cary Grant. What does that have to do with anything? When producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to make their initial big-screen Bond film, "Dr. No," they used "North By Northwest" as their model. They, too, wanted a stylish, sophisticated spy flick with subtle humor, and they went so far as to approach Grant to play Bond. (Grant wanted too much money and wouldn't do a series.) With the success of "Dr. No" and its successors came the Bond imitators and spoofs: "Danger Man" ("Secret Agent"), "The Prisoner," "I Spy," "Get Smart," "Our Man Flint," "In Like Flint," "Cleopatra Jones," "Deadlier Than the Male" (Bulldog Drummond), "Matt Helm," "Top Secret," just about anything ever written by John le Carre ("The Spy Who Came in from the Cold," "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" "Smiley's People"), Tom Clancy (Jack Ryan), etc.
Wading into this morass of spy yarns came comic actor Mike Myers, who in 1997 mined the field with his own spy parody "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," a film that not only poked fun at spy flicks but the whole 1960s' culture of swinging sex, extravagant clothing, garish colors, and quickly changing social attitudes. As the writer and star of "Austin Powers," Myers had a wealth of material to work with, and the movie did well enough that he made two sequels, "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" (1999) and "Austin Powers in Goldmember" (2002). It might have been better for him to quit while he was ahead, but for dedicated "Austin Powers" fans, they couldn't get enough.
"International Man of Mystery"
So, things started off with a bang in "International Man of Mystery." In 1967 London, Austin Powers is a superspy whose cover is that of a famous fashion photographer. Women young and old chase him around as though he were one of the Beatles. Myers plays him as a fellow with terrible teeth, a ridiculously hairy chest, and outlandishly flashy clothes, whose love of self supercedes all other affections. After a successful run on TV, Myers had only done two movies before this one, "Wayne's World" and "So I Married an Axe Murderer," and he was taking a chance, as was the studio, with so outrageous a character.
To counteract Powers' glaring appearance and behavior, Myers also plays the film's villain, Dr. Evil, a spoof of Bond's Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Dr. Evil is relatively sedate and conservative compared to Powers, and Evil's only ambition is to hold the world at ransom or blow it up. When Evil thinks his enemies are catching on to him, he cryogenically freezes himself for thirty years, with Powers doing likewise to be ready for him when he thaws out. Skip forward to 1997 when Powers continues chasing Evil in a totally new world, "a time when free love no longer reigned, and greed and corruption ruled again."
Poor Austin: Imagine his disappointment that promiscuous sex and uncontrolled drug use weren't what they used to be. Dr. Evil is up to his usual mischief, trying to extort one million dollars (uh, a million isn't what it used to be), a hundred billion dollars from the world's leaders.
Every so often in the film, we see Powers in flashback interludes that copy the pattern of the old "Laugh-In" TV show, and the film does its best to revive old Bond heavies: Robert Wagner plays Number Two, Evil's second-in-command; Seth Green is Scott Evil, the doctor's test-tube son; Will Ferrell has a small part as Mustafa, a top assassin; Fabriana Udenio is Alotta Fagina, a Pussy Galore knockoff; Mindy Sterling is Frau Farbissina, a Rosa Kleb or Irma Bunt caricature; Joe Sun is Random Task, an Oddjob clone, etc.
On Austin's side are Mimi Rogers as his 1967 partner, Mrs. Kensington, an Emma Peel type; Elizabeth Hurley as Mrs. Kensington's daughter, Vanessa, a modern, independent woman who is Austin's 1997 partner; and Michael York as Basil Enterprise, head of the British Secret Service.
Besides the listed stars, the movie also uses a number of familiar faces in uncredited roles. Look for Tom Arnold, Lois Chiles, Carrie Fisher, Rob Lowe, and Christian Slater, among others.
Directed by Jay Roach ("Meet the Parents," "Meet the Fockers"), "International Man of Mystery" contains its fair share of bathroom humor, much of it childish, a lot of it gross, and some of it hilarious. There is a particularly funny pair of scenes in which a totally naked Myers and later a totally naked Hurley wander around the set with their private parts artfully and ingeniously obscured.
"And I can't believe Liberace was gay... I didn't see that coming." --Austin Powers
"The Spy Who Shagged Me"
The second movie, "The Spy Who Shagged Me" (taken from the Bond title "The Spy Who Loved Me"), takes up where the first film ended. However, for convenience sake, it needs to get rid of a key character, whom it dumps rather unceremoniously. Then it goes on to parody "Moonraker," but little else. Indeed, "The Spy Who Shagged Me" doesn't so much try to send up other spy films as it tries to one-up its own predecessor in this second go-round.
Myers, who wrote and stars again, seems more self-consciously displaying Austin's ego and his own, and the movie plays one good joke from the first movie into the ground. Not content with simply doing the roles of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil, this time he also portrays a disgruntled Scottish Guard with an eating disorder, Fat Bastard, who does Dr. Evil's dirty work. Fat Bastard is obscenely overweight and is so nasty and so repulsive, he eats babies. For the most part his character is disgusting for the sole sake of being disgusting. But you won't soon forget him, which I suppose is the point.
The excuse for a plot in this one is that Austin has lost his mojo, his sex drive. It seems that Dr. Evil has a time machine and returned to a date in the late 1960s after the British Secret Service had frozen Austin's body; he has Fat Bastard drain the juices from Austin's frigid body, and Austin has to use a time machine to get it back. Myers is really stretching in this one.
Most of the same cast are back (including Will Ferrell, who doesn't die as amusingly in this outing), with a couple of notable additions. Heather Graham plays Felicity Shagwell, a CIA operative with a bigger libido than Austin's, if that's possible, and worse acting talent. Rob Lowe plays Dr. Evil's Number Two man in the past, a younger Robert Wagner. And best of all, Verne Troyer steals the show as a miniature version of Dr. Evil named Mini-Me.
What was humorous in the first movie now begins to feel tired, stale, and old hat. The film seems more gimmicky and self-indulgent, with much of the humor forced and hollow. The gross jokes are grosser than ever, although at least one of them, a tent scene, did make me laugh out loud once again.
Also, look for more famous cameos: Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Tim Robbins, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, Jerry Springer, Fred Willard, and more.
"Austin Powers in Goldmember"
Mike Myers must have laughed all the way to the bank. Too bad he was one of the few people laughing. As the "Austin Powers" films became more imitative of themselves and consequently less comical, they made more money, with the third and final film in the series, "Austin Powers in Goldmember," raking in the most box-office cash of the three. Unfortunately, things went from mediocre to worse in this entry. If only Myers had quit when he was ahead...he would not have become as wealthy.
The title "Goldmember" is obviously a take-off on "Goldfinger," although that's almost as far as it goes. As he did with the other "Austin Powers" films, Myers fills "Goldmember" with an abundance of sexual innuendo, maybe the most of the three movies, yet in order to get a PG-13 rating, there is no actual sex or profanity or nudity involved. Which makes things even smuttier for the constant, unfulfilled references. Myers knows that the human imagination can be more powerful than mere images on the screen, and he takes full advantage to create a cruder, grosser film than ever.
"Goldmember" begins with a cute opening homage to the previous "Austin Powers" films, using famous actors, singers, directors, and musicians in major roles. However, after that, it's downhill; the film-within-a-film means little and goes nowhere. The movie's plot, which is almost indecipherable and includes a ton of repeat business, concerns Dr. Evil kidnapping Austin's father, necessitating Austin's using the time machine to return to 1975 to rescue him. Or something.
It's harder than ever to tell who has the bigger ego in the story, Austin Powers or Mike Myers. This time out, Myers--who co-wrote, co-produced, and stars--plays four characters: Powers, Dr. Evil, Fat Bastard, and Goldmember. As before, Verne Troyer as Mini-Me has the best gags, although Michael Caine as Austin's randy, superspy dad does his best to inject a little life into the proceedings.
Otherwise, it's more of the same. The old characters are back, with a few new faces: Beyonce Knowles is Foxxy Cleopatra (remember "Cleopatra Jones"?), one of Austin's old flames and his new agent partner; and Fred Savage is Number Three, a mole with a mole. Besides them, there is a whole roster of cameos from Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Britney Spears, Nathan Lane, the Osbournes, John Travolta, Burt Bacharach, Rob Lowe, Mandy Moore, and others. They are mostly eye candy.
For me, the "Austin Powers" series started out reasonably well and then began quickly to run out of ideas, the three movies going downhill from a recommendable 6/10 to an average 5/10 to a below-average 4/10. Still, the new Blu-ray transfers look good and make the movies' few genuine laughs more worthwhile than ever.
John's Film Rating for the Three Movies: 5/10
The Films According to Tim:
When I think of comedies that stand the test of time, yet are still hilarious years later and in turn have had an impact on culture, the "Austin Powers" films always end up at the top of my list. They are certainly the kind of movies that are meant to be stupid, and that's what makes them tremendously funny. The impact on culture alone has given these enjoyable films cult status, yet they have become as much mainstream as they have aged. Ever since the Austin Powers craze, beginning in the late 90's, there has been a plethora of cultural effects. Many people quote parts of the movies, such as Austin's "Yeah, baby" or "Shall we shag now or later, baby?" Then there's Dr. Evil's famous pinky finger to the mouth gesture anytime a copious sum of money is mentioned. I've literally seen evening news anchors do this gesture, including Katie Couric on the "Today Show" a few years ago. Obviously a fan of the films, Couric managed even to make a cameo appearance as a prison guard in "Austin Powers: Goldmember."
As for myself, I have been delightfully poisoned by these films over the years, and they are the only movies where I have collected novelty items. I have bobble heads of Austin and Dr. Evil, a Dr. Evil throw pillow, a Dr. Evil T-shirt, and an old Austin Powers mouse pad. Where I work, anytime we have group meetings, I always sit at the end of the table and do my best impression of Dr. Evil, which still gets plenty of laughs even today. Ever since the introduction of "Austin Powers" in 1997, I still have friends and family members bring up various quotes from the movies and impersonations of the many funny characters. Even if you are someone who finds these films ridiculous, you have to admit they have had an astounding effect American culture, and, in my opinion, they are icons in the world of silly comedies.
Austin Powers is the creation of Mike Myers ("Wayne's World," "Shrek"), with the direction of Jay Roach. Together, they embarked on the idea of spoofing the British spy genre, especially the James Bond franchise, with the first installment, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." I should note that the first film never took off at the box-office and started out as an overlooked film for its time. However, the DVD did very well and was a top seller for some time. During the early days of DVD, it was one of the best DVD's I owned because it came with more special features than I had seen on any other disc. Had the DVD sales not taken off the entire project may have been scrapped. Not to mention, before the release of the third installment, "Austin Powers: Goldmember," MGM had issues with Myers and Roach titling their films so closely to the title of Bond movies. The dispute was settled but the conditions were that the two creators could no longer name future films after any of the Bond franchise movies.
"International Man of Mystery":
In the first movie, "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" we are introduced to Austin's world of the swinging sixties where promiscuous sex being common place and, apparently, having bad teeth is apparently sexy. Austin Powers (Mike Myers) is a swinging British spy with the mission of capturing his nemesis, Dr. Evil (also, Mike Myers). Dr. Evil manages to escape the first attempt and cryogenically freezes himself in a Bobs' Big Boy rocket orbiting the Earth. Austin then has himself cryogenically frozen until Dr. Evil's return. The two obviously come out of their frozen states and the rest of the film is a parody of how two men from the sixties adapt to a new life in the mid 1990's. The formula makes for some of the best comedy of all time.
Not to overlook, the movie is filled with a strong cast of characters and fun cameos. On the side of the bad guys, we have Robert Wagner as Dr. Evil's top henchman Number-Two; Mindy Sterling as the yelling, Nazi woman Frau Farbissina; and Will Ferrell as the assassin Mustafa, who becomes very badly burned but remains alive. Then there's Seth Green as Dr. Evil's son, Scott Evil. He, of course, has a big chip on his shoulder from not seeing his father while he was cryogenically frozen. On the side of the good guys, there is the hotness of Elizabeth Hurley as special agent Vanessa Kensington, Austin's partner. His other partner from the 60's was Mimi Rogers as Mrs. Kensington. As you can see, that makes Vanessa Mrs. Kensington's daughter, but it never keeps Austin from hitting on the ever sexy Vanessa. There is also Michael York as Basil Exposition; try to think of Basil-like "Q" from James Bond and you'll have it. There are also cameos from Burt Bacharach, Tom Arnold, and the king of cameos, Clint Howard.
"The Spy Who Shagged Me":
By the time we get to "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," Dr. Evil has gotten away once again, and Austin married Vanessa only to find out she's a Fembot (an assassin robot) sent to kill him. This leaves the spot for a new Austin girl, Heather Graham as Felicity Shagwell. Otherwise, we get mostly the same cast of characters as in the first film. Other new additions are Mini-me (Verne Troyer), Dr. Evil's clone but only four-feet tall; and Mike Myers taking on a third role as a 380-pound Scottish henchman named Fat Bastard. Of course, Fat Bastard is where a lot of our gross-out humor comes from. Some of the same cameos appear, including is a funny cameo by Tim Robins as the U.S. President and Jerry Springer as himself.
I like the second effort the best out of the lot. There's a lot of fun with time travel, the jokes go for everything imaginable, the gross-out humor is actually gross, and the film is a good representation of the times as Seattle's Space Needle is turned into a Starbucks. This film quite literally has a laugh around every corner. It has become commonplace in my home to watch the movie at least a few times a year with friends and family. I love how it still uses a good sense of stupid humor and is not afraid of being on the edge of going too far. Granted, in the second film we are beginning to see Myers stretch the Dr. Evil character a bit, and, let's face it, Evil does overshadow Austin in many ways. Nevertheless, this movie has more laughs than a pile of movies in a Wal-Mart, $5.00 DVD bin.
"Austin Powers in Goldmember":
"Austin Powers in Goldmember" would be my least favorite in the bunch. However, the opening cameo sequence has to be the best comedy piece that year. The cameo cast includes Kevin Spacey as Dr. Evil, Danny DeVito as Mini-me, Gwyneth Paltrow as Dixie Normous, and Tom Cruise as none other than Austin Powers. We also get Steven Spielberg as himself in this hilarious opening sequence. Also new to this film are Beyonce Knowles as Foxxy Cleopatra, Austin's new love interest, Mike Myers taking on a fourth role as the villain Goldmember, and the introduction of Austin's father, Nigel Powers, played by Michael Caine. Other cameos include Nathan Lane, Quincy Jones, Britney Spears, the Osbourne family, and John Travolta.
By the last installment, the jokes get old, and in some cases Myers reaches for material he did in other films. It has one of the funniest openings ever, but the end seems to drift away from the edginess that once made the series so funny. In some ways, "Goldmember" is borderline schmaltzy, but the overall story manages to stay intact. Nevertheless, while there are still some good laugh-out-loud moments, it is also easy to tell the fresh-idea department was starting to run out of steam. The film simply starts out great, and then turns into having an atrocious, sappy finish. However, I wouldn't say it's a horrible film by any means, and it still stands up a little better than some of the ridiculous comedies we get today. Nonetheless, it's just not the better of the three movies.
If I were to rate each film separately, I'd give "International Man of Mystery" an 8/10, "The Spy Who Shagged Me" a 9/10, and "Goldmember" a 6/10. Even with "Goldmember" getting a lower score, the Austin Powers films are some of my favorite comedies of all time. You can call them the stupidest films ever made, but that's exactly what makes them the golden, comedy-genius films they are. Even today when I feel I need a good laugh, these films never fail to entertain. And now that you can get all three on Blu-ray, it is truly a blessing for comedy fans everywhere.
Tim's Film Rating for the Three Movies: 8/10
New Line engineers present the picture for all three movies in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio (although IMDb lists the ratio for "International Man of Mystery" at 2.00:1), using a VC-1 codec and a single-layer BD25 for the first two movies and a BD50 for the third. The colors are quite uniform from one film to the next, bright and gaudy, as expected, but rich and deep, with definition ranging from near perfect in some scenes to slightly soft in others. Still, overall, you'll find the video quality quite striking, with particularly realistic skin tones and well-detailed close-ups throughout.
The discs offer up audio in either regular Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby TrueHD 5.1, which is what I listened to. In TrueHD, "International Man of Mystery" is quite unspectacular, with a limited frequency range, limited dynamics, and very little surround activity. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is perfunctory at best. On "The Spy Who Shagged Me" we get a little more surround activity, with a wider front-channel stereo spread and bit more punch. And "Goldmember" is best of all, with a much wider stereo spread, better dynamic impact, and a lot more rear-channel action.
The "International Man of Mystery" disc comes with an audio commentary by star Mike Myers and director Jay Roach; three deleted scenes, totaling a little over six minutes; two alternate endings at about five minutes; and a theatrical trailer, all in standard definition. In addition, there are twenty-four scene selections; English as the only spoken language; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"The Spy Who Shagged Me" comes with more extras than "International Man of Mystery." Things begin as before with an audio commentary by star Mike Myers and director Jay Roach, this time accompanied by co-writer Michael McCullers. After that are about nineteen minutes of deleted scenes; a twenty-six-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; a twenty-minute Comedy Central item, "The Dr. Evil Story," which in some ways is funnier than the movie itself; and four music videos: "Beautiful Stranger" with Madonna; "American Woman" with Lenny Kravitz; "Word Up" with Mel B (aka Scary Spice); and "Just the Two of Us" with Dr. Evil and Mini-Me.
Things finish up on the second disc with two teasers and a theatrical trailer; thirty scene selections;
English, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; Spanish and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
"Goldmember" comes with the anticipated audio commentary by star Mike Myers and director Jay Roach. That's followed by a series of "Focus Points," brief featurettes you can watch during the film (you click on an icon each time it's appropriate) or separately. After that is a "Fact Track," subtitled trivia notes that play during the movie. Then, we find about eighteen minutes of additional scenes.
For you musically inclined, you'll find four music videos: "Work It Out" with Beyonce, "Boys" with Britney Spears, "Daddy Wasn't There" with Ming Tea, and "Hard Knock Life" with Dr. Evil and Mini-Me. Finally, there are four teasers and a theatrical trailer; eighteen scene selections; English and Spanish spoken languages; Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The three discs come housed individually in ultrathin, translucent-blue plastic cases, the cases further enclosed in an attractively embossed and appropriately gaudy cardboard slipcase.
Although the "Austin Powers" movies may not be the greatest comedies of all time, they are surely among the more well known. As Tim pointed out, it's hard to forget specific characters and specific moments that stick with you no matter how silly they are. Personally, I find a little of Mike Myers goes a long way, but the first movie and a few parts of the second movie are still funny enough probably to justify the price of the set.