Move over James Bond, Johnny English is back! In 2003, Rowan Atkinson portrayed the title character in Johnny English, giving us a slightly more sophisticated, but by no means sophisticated, rendition of Mr. Bean. Fifteen years later he’s back for his third outing as the bumbling spy, in Johnny English Strikes Again.
I watched the first movie a long time ago, and don’t think I ever watched the sequel, but the third instalment works as a standalone. What made it particularly enjoyable was the audience I watched it with. There were a lot of younger viewers, many of whom were probably unfamiliar with Johnny English and Mr. Bean (except perhaps in animated form), and it was fun enjoying their first taste of Rowan Atkinson’s incredible comic genius – especially his physical gags. The latter sometimes carry on for too long, but the younger audience lapped it up.
With a story centring on a cyber-attack, there is a lot of pooh-poohing of the contemporary spies (and implicitly the audience) and their overreliance on digital technology. Although it makes for a few laughs, it becomes tiresome after too many, and even a bit preachy. But English soon finds himself in spots of bother which he could easily get out of if he just knew how to use a smartphone.
This back and forth between English’s old-fashioned spy and Olga Kurylenko’s more mod mole would have balanced the old vs. new tension somewhat, if it hadn’t been for the cartoonish Elon Musk-esque digital guru, Jason Volta.
Which brings us to the rather predictable plot and quite obvious villain, which you can see coming as inevitably as another Bond movie. But we’re not really here for clever plotting and mind-bending twists, we’re here for the laughs – of which there are plenty. Of course there’s the masterful Rowan Atkinson, who returns with his sidekick, Angus Bough, played by Ben Miller. If English is a smarter Mr. Bean, Bough is a smarter Baldrick – gently steering English off his outdated path.
There’s also Emma Thompson who, after playing the prime minister’s sister in Love Actually, upgrades to actually being the prime minister. If there had to be a top ten list of best British prime ministers in movies, Thompson’s would unquestionably land a spot. Her prime minister is a neurotic, ingratiating bitch. Other actors would have merely used this character as a foil to English’s well-meaning, if sometimes misguided, patriotism. Thompson uses it to wildly entertaining effect, in a movie that’s all about the entertainment.