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Film

25 years of 'Austin Powers': The franchise that killed and saved James Bond

@Russellisation

Back in the 1990s the James Bond franchise was in a peculiar position, lodged in between the tradition of the past and the yearning for a more spectacular future. The gooey-faced schmaltz of the British thespian Pierce Brosnan led the series with an enduring insincerity, whilst in the background, the mockery of the Austin Powers films forced 007 to drag his Clarks shoes across the floor. 

With thick-rimmed black glasses, white frilly lace cravat and noticeably poor oral hygiene, Mike Myers’ titular Bond piss-take, Austin Powers, heightened the 007 character and exposed his foibles 35 years in the making. Released in 1997, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was a monumental success, with Myers’ take on Britain’s most famous spy being a welcome relief from his decades of monotonous tomfoolery. 

Sequels followed, with The Spy Who Shagged Me in 1999 and Goldmember in 2002, the very same year Bond surfed his way out of the James Bond franchise with Die Another Day, leaving the series in tatters and a confused sense of identity. 

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No doubt, Austin Powers had a hand in the series’ downfall, with the sharp satire of Bond dicing the modern iteration of the character into several pieces, encouraging audiences to belittle the iconic character. Suddenly, James Bond was impossible to take seriously, with Myers and Co. taking aim at everything from his ceaseless sexuality to the bizarre minds of the evil genius’ who will stop at nothing until they achieve world domination. 

Audiences fell out of love with Bond as the popularity of Myers’ satirical series ascended, with the shortcomings that Austin Powers exposed of the 007 franchise being too precise to look past. 

Though, whilst Austin Powers ridiculed Bond into a state of submission, they also inadvertently encouraged the 007 producers to radically revolutionise the franchise to fit the demand for changing tastes. The final movie of Myers’ James Bond satire was released in 2002, shortly before the series would take a hiatus after the release of Die Another Day, and the very same year when Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity would work to change 007 forever. 

A dense and gritty crime thriller with sharp, snappy action that would soon become ubiquitous with the franchise, The Bourne Identity would start a trend toward a brand new series of core values and expectations for 21st-century filmmaking. Heightened by the film’s sequel, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, as well as Christopher Nolan’s superhero game-changer Batman Begins in 2005, by the time Casino Royale came in 2006, armed with the new Bond, Daniel Craig, 007 had adapted to survive to the 21st century. 

Successfully shaking off its Austin Powers presence was no easy task, with the new Bond actor telling the unofficial fan website MI6-HQ in 2012: “We had to destroy the myth because Mike Myers fucked us”. 

As Daniel Craig further admits, “I am a huge Mike Myers fan, so don’t get me wrong – but he kind of fucked us; made it impossible to do the gags. What I am proudest of in Skyfall is the lightness of touch we’ve been able to bring back into it but not lose the drama and the action”.

Doing the equivalent of painting a clown face on Brosnan’s Bond at the turn of the new millennium, the Austin Powers series made 007 an unmarketable character by exposing each and every one of his farcical flaws. Though, rising from the ashes, much like the character himself, the Bond producers were forced to recognise how to move forward, bizarrely encouraged by a ‘60s loving, shagadelic caricature.

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