Favorite Fictional Characters, #328: Austin Powers
Yeah, baby. Yeah!
The Austin Powers movies were essentially one joke. Fortunately, it was a pretty good joke, a vein of comedic ore deep enough that Mike Myers was able to mine it for more laughs than a reasonable person could expect. The glory of the first film was that it was so different, so unusual, so bizarrely hilarious. It was satire and slapstick and lowbrow and most importantly, funny. Austin Powers was the groovier, less lethal, more quintessentially British bastard half-brother of James Bond, a super-spy who was neither super nor much of a spy. What he could do was roll around in 1960's swinging England, implausibly conquering beautiful women with his crooked teeth, furry chest, and invincible mojo. Do I make you horny, baby?
Austin Powers frolicked his way through three whole movies' worth of rude jokes and physical comedy, managing to skewer an entire genre while also poking fun at a lot of other pop culture sacred cows. The franchise encapsulated the frustrating nature of Myers' talent - he can be inventive and hilarious, but then he grinds the premise into the ground with such fervor that it begins to color the entire exercise. Dr. Evil was a great send-up of the arch-villain, but Myers went way too far down the rabbit hole with the dysfunctional team and family dynamics of the bad guys. Mini-Me was a throwaway gag that improbably and humorlessly took center stage. Fat Bastard, Goldmember - Myers has a genius for creating supporting characters and then the annoying tendency to overuse them.
As the series wore on, we got less Powers and more vulgar frat-boy bathroom humor, fewer clever quips and more crude sight gags. Mike Myers has never met a line he wasn't willing to cross, or a joke he wasn't willing to squeeze bone dry. Austin Powers was funny, he was clever, he was original, he was shagadelic. And then he was consumed by his creator in an orgy of excess and bad judgment. Oh, behave, indeed.