Austin Powers in Goldmember Review
When the character of Austin Powers first appeared in 1997, the most pertinent question asked by critics was “Why send-up James Bond when he’s been doing it himself for years?” Of course, it soon became apparent within the first 15 minutes that spoofing wasn’t his only raison d’etre; here we had another excuse for writer/star Mike Myers to introduce popular catchphrases into the public consciousness following the success that was Wayne’s World. Indeed he was well within his rights to do so as So I Married an Axe Murderer had not proven to be the follow-up to the adventures of Wayne and Garth the public had expected, and Myers was in danger of being written off as a one-hit wonder.
Looking back - and being fully aware of the Austin Powers success story - it’s important to realise that International Man of Mystery was not an immediate success, its cult popularity grew through video rather than the big screen - a medium it surely seemed more suited to. As a result a sequel followed, The Spy Who Shagged Me, which (in much the same way as Wayne’s World 2 did) essentially recycled the jokes from the first movie as well as the cast (the exception being Heather Graham replacing Elizabeth Hurley). Plus Myers added secondary villain Fat Bastard to his repertoire of characters. Having already found an audience, the second instalment of Austin Powers' adventures was a success and so a second sequel, Goldmember followed.
As with The Spy Who Shagged Me, Goldmember recycles much of its cast and comedy, and again adds another of Myers creation, this time the eponymous criminal mastermind. So, is this a case of diminishing returns? Do we really need the same film played out again, but in different locations? Or should Myers find a new conduit for his knack of one-liners and crude slapstick?
Interestingly, the film answers most of these questions itself. Myers has always been one to wink at the camera so to speak, readily including someone into a scene to just point out that the joke has been done before or simply isn’t funny. In this instance, during the comically shaped satellite gag, Ozzy Osbourne and family pop up to make such claims, and yet while we laugh at such self-referential humour, we’re also fully aware that it’s true: surely, if we want to laugh at the same jokes, we’ve got two films already we can simply re-watch.
An attempt to counteract this sense of deja vu is offered by having Myers tie up all the loose threads of the previous instalments with the addition of little twists and revelations, plus an appearance by Michael Caine as Austin’s absent father, Nigel Powers. Whilst it’s nice to see Caine put in a piece of light-hearted entertainment amongst the recent weightier entries in his filmography such as The Cider House Rules, Quills and The Quiet American (and of course his screen history lets him get away with this - which other actor is iconic enough to play the father of the International Man of Mystery?) it also points up to the film’s biggest flaw...
The new revelations essentially mean very little because Myers creates characters dependent on simple tics and/or catchphrases (the character of Goldmember being the prime example: his dialogue almost solely consists of his three or four one-liners). In the previous films this never became a problem as Myers was creating simple Bond pastiches - easy material on which to hang his scatological gags and the ample slapstick - but here he’s after something approaching dramatic weight (even if it is tongue-in-cheek) and the interest wanes.
Admittedly, this problem only comes into effect during the final third, until then the humour is as expected. Fans of the first two will find plenty of pleasures within, and Dr. Evil still remains Myers’ greatest creation so far. The one stand-out moment comes in the pre-credit sequence where a film-within-a-film of Powers’ escapades (entitled Austinpussy, what else?) starring Tom Cruise and Kevin Spacey bursts into life. Balancing ridiculous action with the revelations as to who’s playing who (a gag reprised at the end), the action gives way to Steven Speilberg cart-wheeling into the now obligatory opening dance number.
As to the new elements, Beyonce Knowles makes a reasonable replacement to Hurley and Graham as Austin’s latest sidekick. Essentially added to cast to provide the odd blaxploitation reference (though fans of the genre should check out Keenan Ivory Wayan’s I’m Gonna Git You Sucka instead), she also loses points for not having an previous screen work to play against; an advantage in Graham’s case making her performance much more pleasurable. As for Goldmember himself, he suffers the same problem of Fat Bastard (who also returns here), namely that Myers appears to be stretching himself too thin. As said, he’s reduced to a solitary character tic (he eats his own peeled skin) and a couple of one-liners. On third or fourth hearing, these lines begin to grate and so does the character.
In response to the last of my earlier questions, I do believe it is time for Myers to move on; he’s created a film with the occasional pleasure, yet adds nothing we haven’t seen before. Thankfully, in tying up all the elements and providing a finite conclusion he should do just that.
Picture and Sound
The Austin Powers films have always had an exotic colour scheme owing to their sixties fixation, and the excellent transfer shows up these elements fine. Presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio, the picture also presents the expensive production design to great effect.
Soundwise, we’re given the choice of either Dolby 5.1 and a 6.1 DTS EX track. As Goldmember relies more on its dialogue than its action for thrills, the difference between the two is limited, although the aforementioned pre-credits sequence does come off better in DTS. (It is also worth noting that there is also a commentary occupying disc space as well as the numerous extras which I’ll come to next.)
As The Spy Who Shagged Me expanded on the extras featured on International Man of Mystery (commentary and deleted scenes supplemented with featurette and music videos), Goldmember once more provides even more goodies for your money. Again its the cut footage that proves to be the main selling point, here we’re given almost 19 minutes worth plus an additional montage of outtakes totalling four minutes. The picture and sound (5.1 only in this case) equal the quality of the main feature as do the gags. As director Jay Roach explains on his optional commentary, there was never deemed to be a dip in quality, simply a problem with the pacing - ninety minutes being the perfect time for a lightweight comedy such as this. He also notes the various influences on the scenes (ranging from Magnolia to Benny Hill!) and fans will be happy to see the reappearance of Rob Lowe.
The featurettes come under two separate brackets: The World of Austin Powers (totalling 38 minutes) and Beyond the Movie (13 minutes). The latter deals with elements outside of the film (the fashions of the time, the disco era, etc.) whereas the former consists mostly of on-set footage and interviews with the main cast and various crew members (ranging from director to hair-stylist). Split into sections covering such ground as the opening stunt sequence and the musical numbers, grand revelations are scant yet the footage is smartly cut to avoid repetition and/or boredom.
Most damagingly, however, these featurettes mean that the commentary by Jay Roach and Mike Myers provides little new insight. Reviving their double-act from the previous Powers DVDs, their conversations offer few pauses and is surprisingly dry coming from a comedian known for his penchant towards improvisation - and his occasional one-liners do seem a little flat in comparison to the main feature.
As well as the usual collection of trailers, the disc also supplies four music videos; the Britney Spears and Beyonce Knowles efforts are strictly for the fans (although Myers does appear in Spears’ ‘Boys’ promo); the other two are pretty much direct ports from the songs in the movie (Ming Tea’s ‘Daddy Wasn’t There’ and Dr. Evil’s cover of Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’) - bizarrely they’re presented in a ratio of 16:9 rather than the original 2.35:1 and the sound is downgraded to 2.0.
For those of hard-of-hearing, subtitles are only provided on the deleted scenes and the commentaries as is the main feature.
Whilst more inventive than the vast majority of current American comedies, Goldmember still proves itself a little lazy in comparison to previous Austin Powers movies. Occasionally inspired, fans should still find plenty to enjoy - a case also true of the special features; this being the most packed Powers DVD yet.
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