Time Out Threequel

Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison.

In this special Threequel Weekquel Edition, I’ll be looking at the bizarre tendency of film franchises to feature time travel in the third installment, despite the original containing nothing of the sort. Is it a logical next step for each series, or just an attention-grabbing gimmick to draw audiences back in? Do the filmmakers even understand their own rules? And does introducing time travel help the franchise or hurt it?

Warning: As each film this week is part of a series, it’s going to get extra spoiler-y. You’ve been warned.



PREVIOUSLY ON AUSTIN POWERS: Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) froze himself, so Austin Powers (Mike Myers) froze himself. Then Dr. Evil went back in time, so Austin went back in time.

WHAT DOES TIME TRAVEL BRING TO THE TABLE? It mostly highlights how Mike Myers is out of ideas, because they already did time travel in the second movie.

Threequel + more time travel = here we go again again again again.

It’s a pretty bad sign for a silly comedy when I can’t immediately recall the plot of the film without looking at my notes, and even worse when I’m not quite sure I jotted it down correctly in the first place. Dr. Evil went back in time to kidnap Austin’s dad (Michael Caine)? Or Dr. Evil kidnapped Austin’s dad and then brought him back in time? Does the rest of the movie take place in the ’70s? WHERE– NO, WHEN IS AUSTIN’S DAD AND HOW OLD SHOULD HE BE?

I feel like the answer to all of these questions is: “We got Michael Caine, so shut up.”

Okay, if Wikipedia is correct, Nigel Powers was kidnapped in 2002, taken back to 1975, then brought right back to 2002. So why did they travel through time at all? From a plot standpoint, to go pick up Goldmember, a Mike Myers character so phoned in that he looks like walking concept art. From an entertainment standpoint, so they can make fun of the ’70s, which amounts to… wait for it… pointing out that disco, in fact, existed!

Also, that Beyoncé has a hot new single out!

The fact that Goldmember is from 1975 adds nothing to the film, so they could just make him live in 2002 and call it a day, or better yet, cut him the fuck out, because he’s the most forgettable character in the entire series. Sending Austin to the ’70s is at least interesting because he completely missed the decade while frozen in ice, but they don’t build off of this premise in the slightest. Hell, the flashback of Austin and friends in college is more fleshed out. Why not warp back to that?

Or, you know, stop making sequels to comedies?

DO THE FILMMAKERS EVEN UNDERSTAND TIME TRAVEL? This franchise openly stopped giving a shit about time travel rules the second Basil Exposition turned to the camera and told us to just enjoy ourselves, but they spend so little time in 1975 (when Austin and Evil are both frozen anyway) that they don’t seem to affect the course of history that much. Wait a minute, isn’t there a young Nigel Powers in 1975 and an old Goldmember in 2002? Ouch. Caring this hard hurts.

Oh, the pain.

DOES TIME TRAVEL DESTROY THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE? Not as much as the lack of comedy, zing! Ka-pow! Boing! Can I go now?

Look, I found a scene I actually enjoy! Despite my traumatic Tom Cruise experience.

This movie does have some funny scenes, but I can literally count them on one hand: the fake opening, the college flashback, Nathan Lane, Austin and Nigel speaking English English, and maybe the subtitle gag. I guess. Sigh. Overall, it’s the worst case of franchise fatigue, bogged down by its re-use of concepts from the first two films, including the time travel. It rides the high of the good will it established long ago, but the celebrity cameos and product placement suck the life right out of it by highlighting how much everybody wants a piece of the Austin Powers brand. You know, except audiences.

Threequel Weekquel Continues! Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007), Men in Black 3 (2012)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.