Does ‘Austin Powers’ Hold Up 20 Years Later?

     May 2, 2017

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[Note: This feature was initially posted at a prior date, but has been bumped up to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary.]

Cultural phenomenons are funny things. In the moment, it seems like there’s nothing in the world that could be bigger, and yet so often these cultural hallmarks fade as quickly as they came. A hit is fleeting; a legacy is forever.

In 1997, Mike Myers was four years removed from the Wayne’s World sequel and was ready to break new ground with a comedy of an entirely different sort. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was a loving homage to James Bond and the spy genre as a whole, but also an incredibly silly comedy that would do solid business in theaters and become a bona fide hit on home video (remember home video, kids?). It not only spawned two wildly successful sequels, but it invaded the zeitgeist wholly and completely, like nothing since…well Titanic also came out in 1997, but Austin Powers was still a huge deal. From impressions to incessant line quoting to Halloween costumes for years to come, Austin Powers mania could not be stopped.

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Image via New Line Cinema

But now, 20 years after its release, Austin Powers doesn’t really make much of a mark on the current cultural landscape. Certain lines are half-heartedly quoted from time to time, but by and large it’s not an evergreen IP. In 2017, cultural enthusiasm surrounding Austin Powers feels as dated as being nostalgic for Y2K or Ricky Martin.

So the fandom surrounding Austin Powers feels like a thing of the past, but how does the actual film hold up all these years later? Surprisingly well, actually. Myers and director Jay Roach’s heavy focus on simple yet perfectly executed sight-gags maintains laughs throughout, and while the pop culture-related jokes don’t land near as heavily as they once did, Myers and Co. were smart to scatter them few and far between, which means the comedy remains evergreen.

Which is impressive, because the comedy landscape of 2015 is so different than the comedy landscape of 1997. These days, R-rated ensembles and grounded character comedies are all the rage, while high-concepts don’t really get made that often (we can thank Your Highness for that). 2017 audiences are used to profanity-laden dialogue or sex-related sight gags with a premise that’s fairly relatable, which makes Austin Powers feel foreign and quaint by comparison. And yet, I’ll be damned if the prolonged thawing sequence or the double entendre-filled finale don’t still crack me up.

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Image via New Line Cinema

The Austin Powers follow-ups, The Spy Who Shagged Me and Goldmember, upped the ante in both the sight gag and pun department, but are also much more pop culture heavy than the first film, which makes the original stand the test of time a little better. 20 years later, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery remains a fun, silly little film that still manages to elicit laughs despite nearly two decades’ worth of beating a dead horse when it comes to the film’s public impact. Are people still talking about Austin Powers in 2017? Not really, but pull the DVD off your shelf, put it through the warm liquid goo phase of thawing, and you’re likely to be sound as a pound.

Final Verdict:

Does It Hold Up? – Yes

Do I Still Like It? – Yes

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