For a couple of years in the late 1990s you couldn’t escape Mike Myers’s Austin Powers character. A prime example of a movie that did fair business in theaters but really found its audience once on home video, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery launched two sequels and millions of bad imitations of Myers’s goofy British secret agent. But even with the third installment of the franchise – 2002’s Goldmember – pulling in $300 million, a fourth film never materialized.
As years have passed, Myers has occasionally stated that he would like to return to the character, but nothing ever came of it. While on the red carpet for the Queen/Freddy Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody – in which the Wayne’s World star ironically plays someone who tries to talk the band out of releasing the film’s titular song as a single – Myers was asked about the possibility of an Austin Powers 4. He replied that we may be seeing one of the franchise’s characters earlier than we expect and that the possibility of an actual sequel was looking “looking good.”
You’re going to see Dr. Evil soon, somewhere in the culture. But the movie… They take a long time to write. They always have. [Director] Jay [Roach]’s been super crazy… But we – It’s looking good, so we’ll see.
The Austin Powers franchise has always been a prime example of the law of diminishing returns for sequels. The original film, International Man Of Mystery (1997), was a loving spoof of the 1960s James Bond-launched spy craze and swinging 60s mod culture. Even if you didn’t get some of the obscure references that Myers threw into the film – like the fact that his car phone has the same distinctive ringtone as the head of the spy agency in the James Coburn spy spoofs In Like Flint and Our Man Flint – the comedy was broad and appealing enough that it found a wide audience.
But with each successive sequel – The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Goldmember (2002) – relied more and more on recycled jokes from the previous installments and felt more and more stale because of that. Honestly, it was three film franchise that lasted two films too long.
But it is not just the prospect of rehashing twenty year old jokes yet again that makes the idea of a fourth Austin Powers movie sound tedious.
Frozen in the 1960s and revived in the 1990s, Austin Powers was very much a man out of time in the first film, and some of the comedy was derived from his befuddlement of how the world had changed in just three decades. It has been another decade and a half since Goldmember and, let’s face it, society has changed even more so.
What would Austin make of the #MeToo movement, if indeed he managed to not find himself on the receiving end of complaints following his years of asking virtually every woman he encounters “Do I make you horny, baby?” Sure, Myers could write a character arc for Austin where he learns that women aren’t objects to be won or conquered, but that was pretty much the character’s arc in the first film. Then again if anything, this franchise has always been about recycling its own past.