After treating myself to a third helping of ‘Quantum of Solace’ over the holiday weekend, I thought it only fitting to tackle the ‘Austin Powers Collection,’ a trio of entertaining (albeit patchy) spoofs of the Bond series starring funnyman and SNL-alum Mike Myers. Materializing in theaters in 1997, earning a moderate but profitable $67 million worldwide box office take, and finding even greater success on home video, the first ‘Powers’ film, ‘International Man of Mystery,’ followed in 007’s footsteps and gave birth to a popular series of its own. 1999’s follow-up, ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me,’ nabbed an impressive $300 million worldwide, expanded its scope, and made a killing on DVD. By the time the series’ third outing, ‘Goldmember,’ arrived in 2002, Myers’ various characters had wormed their way into our cultural consciousness, leaving otherwise normal socialites with the overwhelming desire to put their pinky to their lip or belt out an embarrassing “yeah, baby” anytime the opportunity presented itself.
’International Man of Mystery’ introduces ‘60s superspy Austin Powers (Mike Myers), a swinging British secret agent who volunteers to be cryogenically frozen after his arch-nemesis, Dr. Evil (also played by Myers), does the same. When Dr. Evil awakens thirty years later and returns to his world-domineering ways, the British Ministry of Defense unfreezes Powers and tasks him with ending the madman’s quest for power. With the help of his former partner’s daughter, Vanessa Kensington (Elizabeth Hurley), the toothy spy has to adjust to a strange future, contend with Fembots, gunmen, and Evil henchmen like Number Two (Robert Wagner) and Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), and stop the bald-headed mastermind from detonating a nuclear warhead in the Earth’s core.
Easily the most charming and well-paced entry in the series, ‘International Man of Mystery’ does quite a few things better than its sequels. It not only feels more focused (it doesn’t haphazardly toss dozens of characters onto the screen at once), it takes its time developing a cohesive story, has some genuine fun with its hero and villain, and tosses plenty of effortless sight gags and breezy setups into each scene. Fans of the series often argue that it doesn’t have the laugh-to-minute ratio and embrace the sheer abandon of ‘Shagged’ or ‘Goldmember,’ but I find it to be the most endearing of the three and the only entry I’ve watched multiple times from beginning to end. It succeeds by effectively exploiting the sillier aspects of the Bond films, keeping its focus squarely on Austin Powers and Dr. Evil’s hilarious encounters with a future unlike anything they could imagine, and limiting its supporting cast to a handful of talented character actors.
Switching the series’ focus from spy farce to period spoof, ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ finds Dr. Evil traveling back in time to steal Powers’ mojo, the coveted source of the superspy’s skills. In 1969, Evil and his pint-sized clone, Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), encounter a younger Number Two (Rob Lowe), a surprisingly unchanged Frau (still Sterling), and a cantankerous henchman called Fat Bastard (Myers, in a prosthetics-heavy, third role). When Powers realizes his mojo is missing and learns of Evil’s scheme, he too travels back in time to reacquire what’s rightfully his. Teaming up with an American CIA agent named Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), Austin must also prevent Dr. Evil from firing a moonbase laser at Washington D.C.
’Shagged’ is definitely a fuller film, but it lacks the simple charisma and quick wit of its predecessor. Resorting to an abundance of physical humor, relying on mere gross-out gags in place of sharp dialogue, and using countless henchmen and contacts (all with their own unique but obvious quirks) to obtain laughs, the series’ second entry isn't as satisfying as its first. The use of Mini-Me works at first but begins to fall flat by the third act, the appearance of Fat Bastard is good for a chuckle but ultimately distracts the filmmakers even more than the audience, and the ham-fisted moral crammed into the ending neuters the film’s bite and allows it all to end on a cheesy note. Granted, there’s still plenty to enjoy, but I wish Myers and director Jay Roach had kept their sights trained on the Bond films rather than an entire decade of decadence.
As ’Goldmember’ opens, Austin Powers has returned to the future and become an international celebrity, serving as the inspiration for a Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, and Danny DeVito (all of whom make cameo appearances in the film’s best scenes). Meanwhile, Dr. Evil makes plans to visit the ‘70s to acquire the services of Johan van der Smut (Myers, yet again), a gold-obsessed Dutchman who has developed a tractor beam capable of pulling a meteor toward the planet. However, Powers thwarts Evil’s plans just in time and the madman is shuttled off to prison. After a painfully convoluted series of events lead to the kidnapping of Powers’ father (Michael Caine), Austin has to travel to 1975, join forces with an FBI agent named Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyonce Knowles), and attempt to rescue his dad. But the hits (and unnecessary time-bending plot twists) keep on coming. This time, Van der Smut transports Austin’s father back to the future, teams up with a newly-escaped Dr. Evil, and attempts to destroy the world.
Like ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me,’ ‘Goldmember’ boasts memorable scenes, outrageous sequences, and a host of hilarious encounters. Unfortunately, it’s all buried within a messy, convoluted screenplay, uneven and unending subplots, and a collection of characters that fail to capture the imagination like the original creations. Powers’ father is a boring and predictable addition to the mythos, the various revelations about Powers and Evil’s past never gets off the ground, and Van der Smut is one of the worst comedic inventions of recent memory. Considering the title refers to the character’s alias, you would think he would be the high point of the film. Instead, his schtick grows old within minutes and I groaned every time he appeared on screen. I really wanted to fall in love with this one, but couldn’t ignore its faults long enough to immerse myself in Powers’ world for a third time.
The ‘Austin Powers’ films may fizzle as they barrel along but, taken as a whole, the trilogy still has a lot to offer genre fans everywhere. Myers was clearly at the peak of his career (long before he lost his own particular mojo and starred in ‘The Love Guru’), the various filmmakers knew how to write a proper joke and stage a solid gag, and the cast members are clearly having a great time with every line and scene. I’m certainly not in love with all three films, but I have to admit the series can be quite infectious.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The ‘Austin Powers Collection’ bundles a trio of thin Blu-ray cases in a colorful but fairly flimsy cardboard sleeve. Several readers and reviewers have expressed dissatisfaction with the use of super slim BD cases (ala ‘The Matrix Collection’), but I found the entire package to be streamlined, petite, and attractive. As for the films themselves, ‘International Man of Mystery’ and ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ are housed on individual BD-25 Single-Layer discs, while ‘Goldmember’ arrives on a single BD-50 Dual-Layer disc.
Like the series itself, the picture quality on the ‘Austin Powers Collection’ is a bit hit-or-miss. While the first entry is an unexpected visual treat and the second offers a near-perfect presentation, ‘Goldmember’ simply doesn’t look as sharp as the first two. Nevertheless, each film looks much better in high definition than it does on DVD. Colors are more vivid, detail is more precise, and the transfers don’t suffer from rampant blocking, banding, or noise.
International Man of Mystery
Presented in its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time, ‘International Man of Mystery’ debuts on Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/VC-1 transfer that looks much better and more pristine than I expected. Colors are rich and stable (although not as vibrant as they are in ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’), blacks are deep, shadow delineation is revealing, and contrast is bright and inviting. Detail is impressive as well, offering fans of the film well-defined edges, sharp textures, and a clean image that isn’t plagued with bothersome print scratches or damage. Better still, I didn’t detect errant artifacting, pesky source noise, or anything resembling the Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) New Line slathered on ‘Goldmember’ (and other prominent releases of late). There are some grain inconsistencies and a bit of lingering edge enhancement, but it rarely detracts from the studio’s otherwise impressive effort.
My video score for the original: 4 stars (out of 5)
The Spy Who Shagged Me
Treated with another striking 1080p/VC-1 transfer, ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ is the best looking film of the bunch. The audacious palette simmers on the screen, primaries are bold and lively, and blacks are inky. Bright contrast and warm, natural skintones round out the powerful colors, giving the image a healthy, polished appearance. Detail showcases every on-screen element and background easter egg, fine textures are coarse and realistic, and street signs and dial indicators are clear and legible. While it’s not as grainy as the first film, I still didn’t get the impression that DNR was applied to the image. Likewise, I didn’t catch any intrusive artifacting, noise, print damage, or banding. The only minor complaint I can drum up is that I noticed a bit of edge enhancement in a few scenes, but it was fairly negligible. All things considered, the series’ middle-child looks fantastic.
My video score for ‘Shagged’: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Despite the fact that ‘Goldmember’ is the most recent ‘Austin Powers’ production, its 1080p/VC-1 transfer doesn’t fare nearly as well as the first two films. While its colors, contrast, and black levels are just as notable as they are in ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me,’ a noticeable application of DNR is responsible for smudging facial textures, muddying the image, and leaving fine detail looking far softer than it should. Why New Line chose to tamper with the third film and present the first two more faithfully is a mystery, but it’s definitely disappointing. Thankfully, the image is still clean, artifact-free, and isn’t prone to banding or noise. Had the studio treated ‘Goldmember’ as respectfully as the other two, I would currently be raving about the video quality for the entire ‘Austin Powers Collection.’ As it stands, this one just doesn’t stack up the rest.
My video score for ‘Goldmember’: 3 stars (out of 5)
Unlike the collection’s varying video quality, each of the three films offer similar high-def audio experiences. ‘International Man of Mystery,’ ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me,’ and ‘Goldmember’ feature Dolby TrueHD surround tracks that do a nice job handling the series’ punctuated conversations, hushed exchanges, and comically chaotic action. Dialogue is generally clean and well prioritized (aside from a few weak lines in ‘International Man of Mystery’), LFE support is fairly robust (particularly when it comes to the films’ soundtracks), and the rear speakers deliver some decent background ambience and activity. Pans are occasionally stocky but, more often than not, quite transparent. More importantly, dynamics are broad, injecting high-pitched trumpets and low-throttle engines with solid weight and reliable stability. Sure, the chatty nature of the films leave the tracks sounding a tad front-heavy and thin at times, but the series’ more explosive scenes are never far behind and tend to keep the sonic experience exciting.
There is a slight increase in audio quality as you progress through the trilogy, but such minor differences should be attributed to the series’ ever-increasing production budgets and sound design expertise, rather than the technical quality of the TrueHD tracks. In the end, fans will be pleased with the results as long as they approach the ‘Austin Powers Collection’ with reasonable expectations.
The ‘Austin Powers Collection’ arrives on Blu-ray with all of the significant supplements that have graced the three films’ previously-released DVD editions. While there aren’t any exclusive features to speak of, and the video content is entirely presented in bland and blocky standard definition, this set offers fans a fairly informative and extensive glimpse behind the scenes.
International Man of Mystery
Unfortunately, the first ‘Austin Powers’ outing doesn’t have a lot of material to plow through. Like every previous release of the film, the Blu-ray edition is missing the sort of behind-the-scenes featurettes that grace both sequels. Thankfully, ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’ and ‘Goldmember’ content intermittently fills in the blanks. It’s just a shame you have to make your way through all three supplemental packages to get an idea of how the first film came together.
The Spy Who Shagged Me
The series’ first sequel considerably ups the supplemental ante with another commentary, more deleted scenes, and legitimate behind-the-scenes featurettes. Granted, most of the cuts and music videos are a waste of time, but I was nevertheless pleased to discover such a decent helping of extra features.
It may be my least favorite of the three films, but ‘Goldmember’ includes far more extra features than ‘International Man of Mystery’ and ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me.’ Once again, the various content is decidedly hit-or-miss, but it’s still nice to see this Blu-ray collection throwing around some supplemental weight.
While ‘International Man of Mystery’ is the only film in the ‘Austin Powers’ series I would recommend to anyone, I can certainly see why the trilogy is so popular. As such, the ‘Austin Powers Collection’ is worth some serious attention. It offers two impressive video transfers (and a decent third), a trio of noteworthy TrueHD audio tracks, and a nice pile of supplements for those who want to go beyond the films. While it all amounts to a no-brainer for series junkies, casual fans and newcomers should probably give this one a look before considering a purchase.