Johnny English Strikes Again is harmlessly silly on the whole, but may even leave fans of the previous Johnny English movies feeling underwhelmed.
Seven years after his last appearance in 2011's Johnny English Reborn, Rowan Atkinson's bumbling British secret agent is back on the case in Johnny English Strikes Again. The third entry in the Johnny English franchise (which began in 2003) once again uses Atkinson's trademark slapstick to gently riff on the James Bond franchise and its tropes, albeit this time in the modern world of the internet and smartphones. Unfortunately, the brand's jokes have only gotten all the more stale and predictable in the years since its last installment. Johnny English Strikes Again is harmlessly silly on the whole, but may even leave fans of the previous Johnny English movies feeling underwhelmed.
Johnny English Strikes Again picks up in present-day London, as MI7 is hit by a massive cyber-attack that exposes the identities of every one of its current agents. The British government and Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) are thus forced to reinstate their retired MI7 agents - e.g. the only ones whose identities haven't been compromised - and send them on a mission to learn who's behind the attack. That includes Johnny (Atkinson), who's been spending his post-retirement life teaching geography to school kids... while also secretly training them in the art of espionage.
One comical mishap later and Johnny is left to complete the mission on his own, with the help of his former assistant Angus Bough (Ben Miller). Soon enough, the pair are working undercover just like the old days, albeit without the assistance of digital technology, as part of their attempt to operate below the radar. Before long, however, the unwitting duo stumble upon a much larger conspiracy - one involving a mysterious Russian woman named Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko) and a Silicon Valley tech billionaire named Jason Volta (Jake Lacey) - that only they have the power to unravel.
Written by William Davies (who also cowrote the first two Johnny English movies) and directed by David Kerr (Inside No. 9), Johnny English Strikes Again is pretty by the numbers when it comes to the narrative that ties its various comedic set pieces together. Likewise, the film's main joke - that Johnny is cheerfully oblivious to just how outdated his way of doing things has become - wears its welcome out rather early on, even before the sequel gets to the extended gags that involve things like Johnny trying out virtual reality for the first time. Obviously, Atkinson's pratfalls and comedy bits are the main selling points for this franchise, but the humorous payoffs here tend to feel as tedious and tired as the movie's attempts at parodying the spy genre and poking fun at the dangers of life in the digital era.
It's the execution that leaves something to be desired here, more than anything else. The film struggles to craft energetic sequences that combine spy-related action with physical comedy - something that other modern spy genre parodies, including this year's The Spy Who Dumped Me, have demonstrated is possible. Kerr and his production team also fall short when it comes to finding uniquely or inventively cinematic ways of staging Atkinson's zany misdeeds, with the result being a movie that's often as visually flat as a run of the mill sitcom (despite having a far larger budget). That being said, the photography by DP Florian Hoffmeister (The Terror) is generally clean and, thusly, ensures that Johnny English Strikes Again looks decent enough for a mainstream action-comedy.
Atkinson, for his part, delivers a serviceable comedic performance in the third Johnny English movie, complete with all the comical mugging and awkwardness that his fans have come to expect by now. At the same time, the British comedy icon seems to be going through the motions when it comes to most of his scenes (whether they involve fake accents and/or klutzy shenanigans) and doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of fresh comedy material here. Johnny English Strikes Again doesn't do much with the idea that Johnny is firmly out of touch with the modern world either and instead settles for one-off jokes that poke fun at his dim-wittedness or casual cruelty towards his peers, but otherwise fail to leave much of an impact.
In many ways, Atkinson gets out-shined by his costars in Johnny English Strikes Again. Miller as Bough is cheerfully polite and likable as the fellow left cleaning up after most of Johnny's messes, while Kurylenko manages to get a respectable amount of mileage out of the running joke that her character (a femme fatale type) can't tell if Johnny is secretly a brilliant spy playing dumb or really is as doltish as he appears to be. Lacy is also fun as the antagonistic Jason Volta (who's a bit like Mark Zuckerberg, if he were more openly malicious and self-aware), though it's Thompson who seems to be enjoying herself the most as the often-inebriated and equal parts incompetent and frustrated British prime minister. Had these characters been in a better-made film, they (arguably) could have made for some entertaining political satire, at that.
At the end of the day, of course, the Johnny English movies have never pretended to be anything more substantial or meaningful than what they are (basically, a light-hearted skewering of the James Bond franchise) and Johnny English Strikes Again more or less meets the benchmark for quality set by its predecessors. Atkinson has certainly done better work in the past but, for those who just can't get enough of the comedy legend, simply seeing up him on the big screen being ridiculous again may be reason enough for them to check this one out. Similarly, anyone in the mood for something as typically inoffensive as Atkinson's British secret agent shtick could do worse than join Mr. English on his latest ill-advised adventure.
Johnny English Strikes Again is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 88 minutes long and is rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, language and brief nudity.
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- Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) release date: Oct 26, 2018