It’s been 25 years since Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery premiered, and if you’re anything like me, you probably haven’t seen the original Austin Powers in almost as long.
When it comes to Mike Myers, I mostly rewatch Wayne’s World or even the first two Shreks (the Shrek 2 soundtrack is a thing of beauty). That being said, lines from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery have ingrained themselves into my synapses since my first viewing at the ripe age of seven in 1997. If you were a kid/teenager in the late ’90s, there’s a good chance you spent the better part of your adolescence shouting “Oh, behave!” or if you were a particular brand of rapscallion, “Do I make you horny?”
But the passage of time flattened my memories of the film, regulating it to the bin of misogynistic ’90s comedies I enjoyed since I was essentially raised as a grimy little boy. A lifelong fan of James Bond and 007 (I dressed up as the spy for Halloween the year Austin Powers released), the film was catnip for a young, problematic me.
A Saturday Night Live alum, Mike Myers (not to be confused with Michael Meyers, the crazed killer of the Halloween franchise) tapped a few of his old cast members, like Will Ferrell, to play small parts. The notable parallel here is another SNL alum making movies in the ‘90s, Adam Sandler, who would play loveable misogynists not from the swinging sixties. (A noteworthy exception is The Wedding Singer; not only was it set in the ’80s, but Sandler’s character Robbie Hart was a gem of a man.)
Although Sandler’s movies often started with the loveable-loser-who’s-a-mild-misogynist trope and revolved around his redemption, Myers decided to imagine if James Bond were a disgusting-yet-somehow-still-a-sex-symbol secret agent from the sixties transported to the 1990s via cryogenic freeze. Moving his secret agent from the ’50s to the ’60s was a deft move on Myers’ part, enabling him to imbue Austin Powers with idealistic sentiments of free love rather than James Bonds’ cold superiority to the women he sleeps with and, ultimately, abandons. Of course, Powers is a cultural cousin, if not brother, of Evelyn Tremble (played by Peter Sellers) in the 1967 James Bond parody Casino Royale).
A speech Myers delivers toward the end of the film touches on why it’s hard to view Powers’ womanizing as anything other than cheeky fun. When Dr. Evil (also played by Myers) tells Powers his ideology failed, the titular spy responds:
No, man, what we swingers were rebelling against were uptight squares like you, whose bag was money and world domination. We were innocent, man. If we’d known the consequences of our sexual liberation, we would have done things differently, but the spirit would have remained the same. It’s freedom, man.
That’s why right now is a very groovy time, man. We still have freedom, but we also have responsibility.
In response, Dr. Evil says the ominously prophetic, “Really, there’s nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster.” It’s interesting to me that only two years later entities would try to capture the magic of Woodstock with an ill-planned and executed event titled Woodstock ’99, the second of two attempts. It seems Austin Powers’ assessment was promptly ignored and the majority of the population leaned toward Dr. Evil’s capitalistic nihilism. This feels prescient now, especially given the changing definition—and commodification—of “hipster.” But that’s a discussion for another time.
Transcending the wider cultural implications and commentary of the film, Austin Powers popularized a widespread trend in comedy: an SNL alum playing multiple roles for comedic effect. To give credit where credit is due, Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor came out the year prior, barely beating Austin Powers to the punch. But Nutty Professor, a largely forgettable outing, hardly made the same impact as the Austin Powers franchise (mercifully, we won’t dive into 2000’s Nutty Professor II: The Klumps). The last and late entry to this comedy trend came in the form of Adam Sandler’s commercial and critical failure Jack and Jill (2011).
Will we see the trend of one comic, many roles return? It seems, in a roundabout way, it has: Netflix’s limited series The Pentaverate, starring Mike Myers in many masks, debuted on May 5th. It makes sense—the first rehash of Woodstock took place 25 years after the original festival.
Personally, I’d like to see a new iteration of the spy spoof genre with a genderswapped Bond. We came close with Melissa McCarthy’s Spy (2015), but all of the fun—and bonkers jabs at James Bond—were saved for Jason Statham’s character. We’ll see if a true, self-aware female Bond spoof ever happens, but until that day, an ex-grimy little boy can dream and rewatch Austin Powers. After all, it didn’t age as poorly as I expected it to.
Brooke Knisley is a freelance journalist and comedy writer. She has balance issues. Let her harass you on Twitter @BrookeKnisley.