Johnny English Strikes Again is the third film in the comedy spy series led by Rowan Atkinson. What started as a great first film grew slightly tiring in the second, and unfortunately this third film continues the slow death. It’s not totally without redemption, but it’s not far off.
Johnny English, at the time, was a great Bond parody to rival that of Austin Powers. Sporting Rowan Atkinson at the helm, it delivered great laughs. Thankfully, with Atkinson returning as the character once more, the laughs still do come. They are, however, much more laboured and never quite as hearty. He still delivers some of his fantastic signature slapstick, including a particularly funny sequence when, high on energy tablets, he does a ridiculous dance to Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’. This scene was like something out of Mr. Bean, and it’s clear that this is what Atkinson is a genius at. It’s a shame the script didn’t give him enough opportunity to fully shine.
The rest of the cast all try their very best with the material they’re given, but again all feel wasted. A particular shame is Emma Thompson who plays the Prime Minister. She felt utterly underused and when she was on screen her jokes were badly timed and poorly written. Similarly, the villain of the piece is horrendously portrayed, and though I won’t spoil the twist of who the villain is, it’s so unbearably obvious from the moment they arrive on screen that they might as well wear a flashing neon sign above their head announcing it.
The script seems almost none existent and this might be the films greatest problem. It appears to have been used more as a tool to take English from one ‘hilarious’ set piece to another, rather than a way to enhance the narrative. Once again, the identities of all of the agents working for British intelligent have been leaked (yawn) and it’s up to Johnny to discover the internet hacker who leaked them. The plot is almost identical to the film, with many of the same story beats being hit. This time though, the writers have tried to update the film with references to Snapchat Filters (totally incorrectly used) and Virtual Reality. These references felt cynical and never quite worked.
It seems that the reason this didn’t work is that the film makers are playing it safe. The Spy Parody genre twenty years ago was about making silly jokes and gadget gags, and this is why Johnny English worked. But in recent years, ‘Kingsman’ and ‘Spy’ has seen the genre re-invent itself as a crude pastiche with adult themes. With Johnny English still maintaining the family audience, it loses any great opportunity to be different or interesting in its modern climate.
Overall, Johnny English should probably retire. While delivering a few good laughs, overall it suffered from a clinical case of underwriting and dragged through the 85-minute runtime. Honestly, it just felt lazy; lazily written, lazily made and lacking in any spark of inspiration or new life.