Director: David Kerr
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacey, Adam James and Emma Thompson
Plot: When a cyber-attack uncovers all of MI7’s agents, they are forced to turn to disgraced ex-employee, Johnny English (Atkinson).
Johnny English is the dark horse of the comedy circuit. Almost as stealthy as Cloverfield movies when it comes to production, a sequel is always announced when we least expect it. And with a trailer that oozes the dark enigmatic qualities of a Daniel Craig film, this is one Johnny English sequel we actually look forward to.
Even better, this is a comedy with something to say. Sort of. Since Johnny English started, the Bond movies, which the franchise parodies, have been under attack from critics, suggesting that the misogynistic era of 007 is out of date. Rather than being discouraged from the controversy surrounding James Bond, Johnny English feels reinforced. It digs around in some of the Bond archives and pulls out all of the old-fashioned quirks that used to be celebrated in the Bond films and holds them up for some Atkinson style satirising. This does mean that the third film is more in line with the original Johnny English, rather than the updated second film, with a focus on the more traditional Bond entries. As English returns to the fold after some time away, he has found that MI7 has updated profoundly. The quartermaster has to go hunting in the archives to even equip English with a gun, current agents more used to handling smartphones than actual weapons. When English is allowed to pick from any of the eco-friendly smart-cars in the MI7 lock-up, he selects the Aston Martin. At first, you think this movie is going to be poking fun at the new-age spy world (it certainly looks that way, when the quartermaster has to read out health and safety documents with every new gadget), but actually Johnny English Strikes Again wants to talk about why technology’s updating is a good thing. While English certainly looks amazing driving around the South of France in a roaring Vanquish, it is painfully difficult to control, eats petrol and is so conspicuous, every antagonist can see English coming from a mile off. The same goes for the gadgets. Most of the jokes in this movie revolve around Johnny English struggling to use a gadget that is more equipped for the early Bond era. The script has fun poking holes at the use of magnet-boots, super-suits and exploding pens. When English isn’t failing with the old-tech of Bond films past, he is refusing to adapt to the future. A prolonged and highly amusing scene sees him get lost in a Virtual Reality device that sends him unwittingly wreaking havoc across London. To further highlight how old-fashioned English is, it is no accident that the writers put him in a Medieval suit of armour by the finale, which is laughably useless when it comes to taking on high-tech cyber-villains.
While the jokes are getting a little stale by the third film in, Strikes Again does prove to be consistently ridiculous. While some of the jokes, like Atkinson and Miller failing to be undercover waiters, feel a tad forced and predictable, most of the time there will be a big smile put on your face. It definitely feels more updated than the first film’s constant use of the mix-up gag. There is one, for old times’ sake, but it is signposted from a mile off, suggesting that the writers are aware of their own flaw. “Someone should label these!” Ben Miller helpfully suggests when talking about the adrenaline and knock-out pills. To be fair, these joke does lead to the funniest scene in the whole film. You will never look at Darude – Sandstorm in the same way again. Rowan Atkinson can never be accused of not giving 100% and here, whether he is hopelessly failing to seduce Kurylenko’s mysterious Russian or putting too much confidence in his own abilities, the actor is always making us smile. In fact, whenever anyone else tries to do anything, you feel like they are just getting in the way. Arguably Emma Thompson is too good for this material, tearing into her pathetic politician character (based on a real-life someone, perhaps?), but you sort of wish that she would play the authority part more like Gillian Anderson did in the last film and let the main cast get on with their jobs. As always this should be Atkinson’s show, the script surviving the trademark weak villain and haphazard plotting, and simply revelling in the delight of watching a grown man totally fail at his job.
Final Verdict: Johnny English Strikes Again mocks the old-fashioned 007 franchise with renewed vigour, perhaps not as funny as the last film, but certainly holding its own as a sequel.