Austin Powers 4: Seriously? Why? Why now? And again, seriously?

Published on August 15th, 2011

James on Austin Powers 4. Should this happen ever, let alone now?

It was recently announced that there is going to be another Austin Powers film made. You may be aware of this but when I found out I was very surprised. Usually a trilogy is a pretty good run for a single unique character, and outside of horror, we rarely get to a 4th installment. Besides, there is something about a trilogy that seems like an appropriate length of time to give to any idea. The first instalment may be a fluke. The second movie tests this but there is the possibility that the second one could be successful on the strength of the first while actually being a bad movie. The third movie determines if this idea was worth a franchise and hell, if you made it this far, that’s not a bad run. From what I remember about discussing Goldmember with people I knew when it came out, the consensus was that 3 was plenty and it’s time for Mike Myers to take his fake bad teeth and go home. Goldmember contained pretty much all the things you can expect from the third installation of a trilogy particularly when it’s running low on ideas. It had the biggest budget of all, leaned pretty hard on self-parody and featured several high-profile cameos. If you don’t remember (and you have no reason to, so don’t worry), the film opens with the production of Austinpussy, a film about the ‘real-life’ adventures of Austin Powers. On the film set, we see Tom Cruise playing Powers, Gwyneth Paltrow as his latest sidekick (Dixie Normous), Kevin Spacey as Dr. Evil and Danny DeVito as Mini-Me. The film is being directed by Steven Spielberg who we see for a bit and there are 9 or 10 more celebrities playing themselves. It seemed like everyone involved called in all their favours or threw just enough money at this movie so the franchise could limp to the trilogy finish line. While the second part of the trilogy, The Spy Who Shagged Me, certainly didn’t break a lot of new ground, Goldmember is stunningly formulaic, and you can set your watch by when Dr. Evil and his son Scott have a snippy, catch-phrase filled back and forth, the creepy introduction of the latest weird character also played by Myers and the shadows of 2 characters made to look sexual.

Two questions popped into my head when I read the news of Austin Powers 4.

1) Why?
2) Why now?

The issue of why is pretty simple and it answers every ‘why’ question ever asked about Hollywood: money. For now, let’s ignore taste and opinion and look this from a purely financial aspect.

Film Release date Box office revenue   Budget  
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery May 2, 1997     $67,683,989     $16,500,000  
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me June 11, 1999     $312,016,858     $33,000,000  
Austin Powers in Goldmember July 26, 2002     $296,655,431     $63,000,000  
Total     $676,356,278     $112,500,000

As you can see, Goldmember still made almost 5 times its budget, despite how it was reviewed. That’s a pretty good result to just walk away from. Sure, its predecessor almost had a return on investment twice as profitable, but even if the basic trend continued, Austin Powers 4 stands to make 2.5 times its budget back, which is still good. There’s an answer to the question of why. Now the question of why now, which to me, is more difficult.

I suppose the simple answer that your mom never likes is that everyone else is doing it. People are making movies about anything name recognition. Comic books, video games, TV shows, toys, board games, anything that you’ve already heard of is getting its chance in Hollywood lately. If they’re going to make a Ouija movie, and that seems to be happening, continuing a decade old movie franchise doesn’t sound so ludicrous. By the time Austin Powers 4 comes out, Goldmember will be 10 years old and the original will be 15 years old. This is similar to the timeline of the Scream franchise, and while its most recent entry wasn’t extremely successful, the idea is not unprecedented. Also, it’s been 3 years since The Love Guru and we’ve forgiven Justin Timberlake to the point where we let him in the widely loved The Social Network, so we can forgive Myers too. His small role in Inglorious Basterds has also reminded people that he, in fact, still exists as something other than Shrek’s voice.

So it wouldn’t be the craziest thing that ever happened. Sure, IMDB ratings of the movies get worse with each instalment but the money looks like it could be there and the timeline isn’t too crazy. Now comes the final question about Austin Powers 4: Should they? It’s a broad question with lots of contributing factors so I will suggest some points and allow you to decide.

They should – Reason #1:
The money. As discussed above, they make less and less money but they still make money.

They shouldn’t – Reason #1:
Critics and the public agree these movies just get worse as they go on. How bad is too bad to pay and see a movie, though?

They should – Reason #2:
Mike Myers seems like a good guy. This isn’t the best reason to make a film but he seems like a normal, funny, kind, hard-working, hockey watching, Canadian dude and I want the best for him. Deal with it.

They shouldn’t – Reason #2:
Before this news was reported, it was really funny to quote Austin Powers. While they were still in theatres, using Austin Powers catchphrases was unimaginative but at least socially acceptable. After a few years, it was really, really lame to be caught saying “Yeah, baby!” even without the accent. But after a few more years past, it become really funny again. It was recent enough that everyone knew but there was no doubt that you weren’t in on the joke and you were saying it tongue-in-cheek. This progression occurs with many things. Quoting anything from Will Smith’s Y2K-era album Willenium was OK for a bit, then would turn you into an immediate outcast banished to leper colony, and by 2006 was just really funny.

They should – Reason #3:
This will keep him busy and keep his mind of the ill-conceived idea of doing a Sprockets movie based on his SNL character Dietrich. Yes, this was seriously discussed for a while and amazingly would not surprise me as being awful even by non-Wayne’s World SNL movie standards.

They shouldn’t – Reason #3:
Because of those fucking catchphrases. I know that it’s part of his character and that he can’t radically have a different way of talking and we will therefore be exposed to another onslaught of 1960s slang. However, it’s not their use in the movie that would bug me. It’s because when that movie gets reviewed, every critic, reporter and blogger will feel compelled to work those catchphrases into their 2 cents for some reason I do not understand at all. I don’t even want to use examples of those phrases here but look up any article reporting the announcement of Austin Powers 4 and you will find at least one. I do not know why this is the case but I hate it. I understand why people employ puns when reporting box office results for the weekend because that’s different. That same story, about what movies made what, are reported every week and the only way to make it seem like less of a template is to spice it up with some puns and I’m OK with this. Rise of the Planet of the Apes can “go bananas at the box office” because reporting receipts is so repetitive, fine, I get it. But why is it necessary to plug a catchphrase into the announcement of a project being greenlit. It’s not funny and it’s not clever and it doesn’t even prove you know what you’re talking about because people who haven’t seen the movie know such basic and famous lines.

They should – Reason #4:
To make fun of the 1980s. The first two movies in the franchise focus most of their humour on the 60s and 90s, and the differences between them. In Goldmember we spent time in the 70s so they got to use all their 70s material, and plenty of humour was derived from the disco scene and blaxploitation. What Austin Powers 4 could provide is a chance to lampoon the 80’s which, to me is the funniest decade and the easiest target. Yeah, disco looks and sounds silly in retrospect but it was just about having fun and being high, which is not nearly as embarrassing as the self-importance and seriousness of new wave. The Wedding Singer did a good job of setting a movie in the 80s for no apparent reason other than an excuse to make fun of their fashion and crack a few jokes about Flock of Seagulls and it worked. Maybe Austin Powers accidentally hitting on a male member of a glam metal band isn’t exactly comedic genius but the franchise never seemed too concerned with breaking new ground.

They shouldn’t – Reason #4:
The Hangover. That’s a franchise that got way too formulaic with unimpressive results.

They should – Reason #5:
Michael Caine. He was in Goldmember so maybe he’d be in the new one too. I love Michael Caine and not much would make me happier than to see him do comedy. He’s often accidentally funny when he’s being serious and hopefully this would translate to intentional hilarity if he chose to do more comedy.

They shouldn’t – Reason #5:
…I don’t have one. I really don’t. I know this wasn’t the most scientific list, but I have concluded that I am absolutely OK with this. Admittedly I was surprised to hear the news but upon closer consideration I will allow it. Maybe all the time has given Mike Myers to come up with something original. Or maybe a decade was just long enough for us to forget all the recycled jokes from the first three and this new one will seem fresh and original. I won’t rewatch any of the original trilogy for that reason and so I will leave you with a funny, non-Austin Powers, totally Michael Caine clip (however, most of the credit is due to the person who created this video, not Mr. Caine himself).

The Tangerine Knight. I can’t embed it so please click the link. It’s probably the most important citrus-superhero collabo video on the net.



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