If there was a film I didn’t expect to become a trilogy, it was Johnny English. The first appearance of Rowan Atkinson as the bumbling MI7 agent was back in 2003. Despite mixed reviews, the first instalment made a very neat $224 million worldwide and has become somewhat of a nostalgic staple. After what was seemingly a one-off, English returned to screens eight years later withJohnny English Reborn. Even though the character hadn’t graced screens in nearly a decade, and Atkinson hadn’t starred in a film in four years, it still grossed the same amount worldwide as the first film, proving Atkinson’s star power. In an age where bankable properties take precedent over movie stars, Atkinson is a rare breed in that he’s an actor who puts people in seats. After another long break—this time seven years—everyone’s favourite MI7 idiot is back, for what’s likely to be his last go around.
Our story begins with the now-retired Johnny English working as a primary school teacher, secretly teaching his students the ways of a spy. After a cyber-attack reveals the identities of every secret agent in Britain, the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) has no other option but to bring Johnny English out of retirement to locate the person responsible.
Your tolerance for this film will depend on how much you enjoy the previous two installments and the signature physical comedic style of our lead star. If you’re not into Atkinson’s schtick, this film isn’t going to hit the mark at all; if you are, it’d be hard not to get some form of enjoyment out of this installment. I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two sequels. But, as I was expecting, Johnny English Strikes Again is very light on action compared to the second installment, focusing mainly on purely comedic set pieces. It was slightly disappointing not having a standout action sequence, but, considering Atkinson’s age, I wasn’t surprised.
With a swift 89-minute runtime, the film is rapidly paced with gags flying at you every minute. For the first thirty minutes I was struggling to get into the film, with a lot of jokes missing the mark for me. It wasn’t until the film’s most uproarious sequence, mid-way through, that I was fully onboard. In fact, the said scene may be the funniest I’ve watched all year and a shining example of Atkinson’s unmatched physical comedic talent.
Scottish director, David Kerr, makes his feature directorial debut and does a competent job helming the comedic set pieces. He’s a veteran TV director and has vast experience directing comedy. Having an actor like Atkinson in the lead is a director’s dream, as you don’t have to rely largely on dialogue-driven, improvisational comedy which—unless extremely funny—can often become very stale. In a film loaded with slapstick gags, it’s imperative you vary up the comedy, while keeping the jokes coming at a fast pace. While Kerr doesn’t get a chance to helm a big action set piece, he does keep the jokes rolling at a rapid speed.
After only appearing in a deleted scene in Johnny English Reborn, Ben Miller returns as English’s loyal sidekick Bough and is delightful once again. Miller’s chemistry with Atkinson is what consistently kept the film afloat. Seeing them get into serious hijinks is always amusing. Olga Kurylenko plays the film’s femme fatale, Ophelia. She has surprisingly good chemistry with Atkinson and thankfully doesn’t serve as solely a love-interest like I feared.
A large amount of this film’s comedy is derived from English’s lack of technological nous. The less than tech-savvy English knows avoiding the world’s increasing reliance on technology is his greatest asset. Showing his disdain for modern technology, he believes his petrol-guzzling Aston Martin is intrinsically superior to a hybrid vehicle. We see him receive documents via fax, and happily use a public telephone to make calls back to MI7. English knows that without technology at his immediate disposal he is untraceable. We see his technological struggles come to the forefront in a very effective virtual reality sequence where English unknowingly causes chaos around London. The idea of a purely analogue spy in an increasingly virtual world was very well executed comedically.
Those who see Johnny English Strikes Againshould know exactly what they’re getting into. It hits similar plot beats to the first film; yes, it’s astronomically silly, but if you like Atkinson and his signature brand of comedy it’s highly likely you’ll be amused by this instalment of the series. It doesn’t have the second film’s slick action and there are many jokes that don’t fully hit the mark—especially in the film’s first half—but thanks to its relentless momentum and constant shenanigans, chuckles are likely to be had.
Johnny English Strikes Againhits Australian cinemas September 20.