20 Movies 20 Years Later

A Comedy About An Out-Of-Touch, Out-Of-Time Spy Can Teach Us A Lot About Finding The Place Where We Belong

“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” turns 20 this year.

20 Movies 20 Years Later remembers and explores the films that touched us back then and still resonate today. Join A Plus as we rewatch movies released in 1997 and celebrate their contributions to pop culture.

Austin Powers is the unforgettable, quotable, swingin' '60s spy with the unmatchable style that we know and love today, but upon the release of his debut film — Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery — moviegoers could be forgiven for not quite knowing how to interpret this over-the-top James Bond parody.

Fortunately, it didn't take long for us to get in on Mike Myers' jokes and start making them ourselves. And unlike most franchises, it didn't take multiple movies to reach that point. A few minutes into the flick — thanks to a corny, Mod fashion-filled, overly stereotypical British opening number — we're clued in on how hip Austin Danger Powers is, how his sexual magnetism can't be contained, and just how questionable his espionage skills are. We also learn he's a party waiting to happen.

Given its release during the peak "funny White guy" film era — in which Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey reigned, and which Myers himself contributed to with the likes of Wayne's World and So I Married an Axe Murderer — Myers caught the moviegoing public's attention with this offbeat caricature. Not just Powers, but also Dr. Evil, the spy movie-villain amalgamation also played by Myers to the point of sincere ridiculousness. No force on Earth was as evil as Dr. Evil, and he made sure to surround himself with the baddest of the bad, including Number Two (Robert Wagner) and Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), the latter being the founder of the militant wing of the Salvation Army. Of course, Dr. Evil is so dangerous that upon escaping Powers during an encounter in 1967, he has himself cryogenically frozen, only to return in 1997. Austin does the same, knowing someone must counter the schemes of his bald nemesis, setting up fodder for anachronistic jokes and a lesson that $1 million isn't worth as much in the '90s as it had been in the 1960s.

Strangely, among the film's many highlights is the father-son relationship between Dr. Evil and Seth Green, who plays Scott Evil, Dr. Evil's artificially created son who was born while his dad was frozen away and harbors a deep resentment toward the maniacal genius for his absence. The subplot stands out as one of the more relatable during the film and the franchise, and it's no surprise why when Green describes how he approached the role. "I was doing a Mamet play at the time, so my head was in a spot about actor preparation, and all of my thoughts in respect to this character were to play it deeply sincere," Green told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year. "I thought that would be funniest next to Mike's broad character. If you look at me in the movie, I am in a drama." Indeed, the sometimes angsty Gen-Xer's tense relationship with his dad does seem more soap opera than comedy — but thankfully things are brought back to humor through dear old dad's commentary that Scott isn't evil enough or that his common sense schemes simply won't be effective. There's also that Carrie Fisher appearance, where she plays a counselor helping to heal the relationship between the two. It was another father-son duo that help lead to the creation of the film. "After my dad died in 1991, I was taking stock of his influence on me as a person and his influence on me with comedy in general," Mike Myers told The Hollywood Reporter. "So Austin Powers was a tribute to my father, who [introduced me to] James Bond, Peter Sellers, The Beatles, The Goodies, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore."

Relationships of another kind bring us back to Austin Powers, who, again, has a charisma that can't be contained. This manifests in the many sexual innuendos that sprinkle themselves throughout this flick, an inescapable catchphrase ("Do I make you horny, baby?"), and even the villains he encounters, such as Alotta Fagina (played by Fabiana Udenio and whose name sounds best when said aloud) and the blond, big-wig-wearing Fembots, whose only weakness seems to be a strip tease by Powers. Clearly, none of these comes with strings-attached commitment or could be interpreted as love to anyone beyond teenage boys, but that leaves an opening for Vanessa Kensington. The daughter of Austin's former partner in heroism, Mrs. Kensington, Vanessa — portrayed by Elizabeth Hurley — is initially turned off by Austin's machismo (or whatever you call it), but eventually forms a working relationship with him while donning some on-fleek apparel. And Hurley's performance adds a necessary female energy to the dynamics of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery given the somewhat frat house-y feel of the flick. As Austin becomes more lovable, you can maybe forgive for her falling in love with him (and how that monogamy is resolved in the sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), though the scenario does fall a bit into a trope in film, and probably seemed a little more 1950s than sexually liberated '60s or even girl power '90s.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery could have simply relied on jokes related to how different the 1960s were from the 1990s, but instead, the timelessness of this film is how well some of its ridiculousness translates across generations. And within this story of a time-displaced spy is the subtext many of us can relate to about feeling like we don't belong. But if there's a lesson to be absorbed here, it may be the inspiring aspect of Austin's character: his ability to thrive in new surroundings, embrace change, and learning to redefine your own place in the world rather than relying on others to do it for you — made all the more digestible through a few silly quotes and humorously sinister machinations. 

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and YouTube.

Cover image: New Line Cinema

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