FILM REVIEW: The "Johnny English" franchise will live to Die Another Day
Johnny English Strikes Again finds the titular spy retired from MI6 and working at a prestigious private school. But when MI6 is hacked and all their current agents’ aliases are revealed to the world, the British Government must call on English (Rowan Atkinson) - a man so analog he’s safe from the virtual attack - to save them from the specter of technology. So, yeah. it’s kinda just Skyfall.
At its best, Johnny English Strikes Again feels like an elaborate and prolonged Mr. Bean skit, thanks to the irresistible and irrationally charming Atkinson. Atkinson displays an uncanny screen presence that ranks amongst Hollywood’s greatest and, when Johnny English hits its targets, the laughs are large. Key sequences such as a virtual reality escapade and a poke at James Bond’s signature peculiar aliases are deftly entertaining. But without Atkinson's trademarked tomfoolery, the film would be dead on arrival.
It’s often remarked that a Bond film is only ever as good as it’s villain. In this case, that’s an Elon Musk-esque boy genius (played by Jake Lacy, the new ‘rich young villain’ typecast) whose super evil scheme is to turn off the internet and annoy British commuters using a combination of his cool smartphone, the Siri app, and a 3D printed gun. Or something as flimsy as that. It’s a plot diabolical enough to bore the living daylights out of you.
There isn’t much to say about Johnny English Strikes Again that isn’t hyperbolic. It’s as derivative and fun as any guilty pleasure. Credit where credit is due: there’s some great social commentary, the third act is strangely surreal and, in general, the film feels less haphazard than other entries in this franchise. There’s also a wacky, reality-bending inside joke where Olga Kurylenko (an actual Bond girl) plays Ophelia, an adversarial spy from Russia (with love). But that’s about as clever as the jokes ever get.
The problem with the Johnny English franchise is that it never aims to be larger than life. Atkinson’s bumbling spy is a fantastic character but the world around him is not enough. English has never been given the film nor the adventure he truly deserves: a death-defying mission to stop a larger-than-life villain with an absurd and irrational plan involving plenty of Martini drinking and ass kicking and gratuitous sex along the way.
I would love to tell you that this third outing is what we’ve all been waiting for, but it’s not. Never say never again, though. English’s third outing may be forgettable, but it’s a (sporadically) entertaining film that breathes just enough life, laughs and hope for a better sequel into this agreeable franchise, no doubt ensuring that Johnny English will live to die another day.
2.5 out of 5 stars
header image credit: Universal Pictures