Maybe it’s growing up in the UK or maybe it’s the fact that my father was a massive fan of Blackadder but I love Rowan Atkinson. I think he’s genuinely one of the funniest people who has ever lived. When it comes to physical comedy and facial expression, I can’t think of any other actor who comes close to Atkinson. He can make any situation funny by simply gurning in the right way. So, despite how silly the Johnny English films have beem, I am always kind of happy to watch on. It even meant that I was looking forward to the latest one. Even though it has been a good 7 years since the second film came out and 15 since the first one. Did I think it was necessary to bring it out? Nah. Was I going to watch it? Of course. These films have always set out to be as silly as possible. And, in these dark political times, it’s probably a good time for Johnny English to come back out of retirement to show it’s fine to take the piss out of ourselves.
Since we last saw Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) he’s left the spy business behind him and has taken a pretty sweet gig as a geography teacher. Although, he is actually secretly teaching his students spy skills behind the headmaster’s back. Turns out old habits don’t die hard. Luckily for Johnny, the British government finds itself the victim of a hacker. A hacker who reveals the identity of every spy who is currently under its employment. So they start calling in the old boys, which is where Johnny comes in. It is up to Johnny and his old partner Bough (Ben Miller) to find the hacker and stop them infiltrating the country even further.
At the same time we see the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) making a deal with mysterious Silicon Valley billionaire, Jason Volta (Jake Lacy). She wants to finish the agreement before she hosts the G12 summit but English finds evidence that Volta might be connected to the cyber attack. He must convince the Prime Minister that, despite all of his usual mishaps, he’s on the right track whilst also keeping one step ahead of the sexy Russian femme fatale (Olga Kurylenko).
Really, there is nothing very exciting or fresh about the third outing of Johnny English. It screams of a desperation to remain relevant. Much is made of cyber crime and the film tries to wring as much humour out of the older spies’s more vintage tastes. When he is offered a smart phone and a hybrid car, Johnny requests some old school gadgets, a gun, and an Aston Martin. When faced with a health and safety briefing he rolls his eyes and refuses to pay attention. But that’s it. The running gag is that Johnny is outdated but doesn’t realise it. It feels as though the film is trying to make a point within all of this set-up but it’s so one-note that it just doesn’t come through. And, unfortunately, the comedy isn’t quite there either. It’s a conceit that has been done before and done better.
And, to be quite honest, though it tries hard to remain topical, it doesn’t feel as if Johnny English is about as irrelevant to modern cinema as its main character is to modern espionage. It started as a spoof of the classic James Bond films but it feels like the time for that kind of thing has passed. The Bond films have really changed and are embracing their own comedy. The parody driven Johnny English films just feel nostalgic and kind of relic like. Something that isn’t helped by the fact that the humour is even less sophisticated, which is saying something. This film feels more childish than any of the others. Don’t get my wrong, Rowan Atkinson can make nearly anything funny but his performance just gets lost. Whoever has made this film just doesn’t know how to showcase their star player. Most of the comedy set-pieces work in their own right but the humour is so obvious and signposted that it ceases to become funny.
Johnny English Strikes Again is the kind of film that just squanders the amazing talent it manages to bring together. Rowan Atkinson and Emma Thompson are both far too good to be given this kind of shitty script. Thompson does what she can with this Theresa May impression but it never lands the way it should. There’s no jokes. The script ties itself in knots trying to fit in with modern politics but manages to forget the real reason this film exists. It forgets that it needs to make people laugh. And, unfortunately, third time out the physical comedy isn’t enough to pull it through.