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‘Johnny English Strikes Again’ Review: Dir. David Kerr (2018)

by Andrew Gaudion

Johnny English Strikes Again review: It is hard to imagine that anyone involved in the first Johnny English thought that there would be a third installment out in the world 15 years later. Yet, here we are, with Rowan Atkinson returning to a role which seemingly just won’t retire, despite the fact that it really probably should.

Johnny English Strikes Again review

Johnny English Strikes Again review

Johnny is called back in to work for MI7 after all the identities of every secret agent in the field are exposed following a cyber-attack on the Government. With more attacks imminent, Johnny, back together with his dependable sidekick Boff (Ben Miller), must find out who is responsible for the attack and ensure that the hackers don’t bring Britain to its knees.

The Johnny English movies (its ‘03 original and the 2011 Reborn sequel) have always operated as a more family-friendly version of the Austin Powers movies, spoofing on the James Bond canon by poking fun at certain trademarks and tropes, all the while its hero bumbles through like a hapless buffoon, yet somehow still managing to save the day at the end of all the hi-jinks. While the first had its goofball charms, the second was an off-target affair, with neither film ever hitting the funny bone in quite the same way as the Powers movies often did. Strikes Again stands as an improvement on the second installment, though this third entry, unfortunately, carries with it a similar lack of inspiration.

The plot is a decent enough setup, riffing on modern concerns involving data protection and allowing for a number of different set pieces that put the analogue English up against high tech gadgets and tools that he simply doesn’t know how to operate. Again, though, the comedy never exceeds your expectation. The buffoonery (of which there is plenty) hits similar beats to its predecessors, often setting up predictable sequences that never truly extend to the point of a satisfying payoff.

There are moments that elicit giggles here and there. Atkinson’s schtick still has a charm to it, particularly when sparing with Ben Miller’s Boff. And indeed, moments that play on English’s Luddite behaviour towards technology do show promise, with a VR sequence proving to be the standout. It is just a shame that the majority of that sequence is given away in the trailers, meaning that many of the jokes lack surprise and invention. The comedy ends up being a bit of a cocktail of missed opportunity, with many of the jokes left flapping about on deck, gasping with what little life they have in them.

The supporting cast do provide some energy, as it is populated with strong character actors, with Emma Thompson treading lightly around a full-blown Theresa May impression as the Prime Minister, while Olga Kurylenko is on Bond girl duty, who has a decidedly less interesting role than she did in Quantum of Solace. Jake Lacy is fun as the villain of the proceedings, but his motivation is so thinly sketched that it is hard to find his evil plan all that interesting beyond it being focused around the timely subject of data protection.

Johnny English Strikes Again, while not entirely un-entertaining, is not an inspiring comedy in any stretch of the imagination. Worn out jokes are trotted out, reheated for a 2018 audience, meaning that the whole affair feels quite deflated, and at times desperate.

One can’t help but wonder who these films are even for anymore. It is hard to imagine young audiences being too psyched about a new Johnny English flick, while those that grew up with the original have largely moved beyond this brand of humour. This thought, coupled with the tired efforts on display in Strikes Again, makes it clear that it is perhaps time for Johnny English to have his license to kill revoked.

Johnny English Strikes Again review by Andrews Gaudion, October 2018.

Johnny English Strikes Again is released in the UK on 5th October 2018.

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