a (quick) review by the Crow.
Johnny English Strikes Again
WARNING: This review contains MINOR spoilers
Just to break away from our recent horror-themed posts, here we are with some lighter fare: Johnny English Strikes Again, the third instalment in the eponymous series.
Following on the coat-tails of the very entertaining 2003 original (6/10), and the far-subpar 2011 sequel, Johnny English Reborn (1.5/10), Johnny English Strikes Again skips the tone of the second movie and returns to the pace of the original. Instead of ramping up the parody of the James Bond series, it pulls a Skyfall and returns the focus of the series to a smaller, tighter narrative.
And that’s a breath of fresh air. Something about the second movie felt… off. Johhny English isn’t a character who works well once the story around him becomes too large — a problem Reborn had in spades.
It begins with a similar dilemma to Skyfall: with the identities of all active “MI7” agents being leaked via a data breach. Immediately, the organisation is thrown into chaos. And when the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson; after a considerable amount of coffee to help with curing her wine-and-sleeping-pills-induced drowsiness) is finally brought down to headquarters, and told that there are no agents left to deal with the issue, she demands that an “old one” be brought in to tackle the problem.
Enter Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) — a Geography teacher from a posh school in Surrey. We encounter him first at night: moonlighting as a scout for “potential” future agents. Near the end of a montage showing off his escapades while at school, he receives a letter calling him back to action. And so, the stage is set.
Arriving at headquarters, English is introduced to a host of former agents who have been called in, including Agent Five (Charles Dance), Agent Seven (Michael Gambon), and Agent Nine (Edward Fox). Five immediately establishes himself as a ‘ring-leader’, of sorts. Smooth and suave, he signs his papers with a trick pen rigged to explode with “the force of a stun grenade” if the cap isn’t put back on in under a few seconds’ time, whilst speaking to the others.
Once he’s done, he disarms the device and hands it to English so that he can sign on to the mission, just as a tray of tea and coffee arrives for our selected agents.
And — as always — Sir Johnny English Esq. finds a way to become the man for the job.
Selected for the mission, English asks for an inventory of equipment he thinks will be necessary on his mission, which the current management of MI7 find a little much, until he asks for “a Bough”.
Thereafter: enter Bough (Ben Miller) — now a pencil-pusher at some company-or-the-other. In this outing, he returns to his role as a squire to English’s knight (at one point, quite literally so). And despite their distance since the first entry in the series, it seems as if not a single day has passed since they stopped the villainous Frog Pascal Sauvage from claiming the English throne.
Thrust back into the employ of MI7, our two original agents get up to speed with the agency as it stands in the modern era — complete with endless (attempted) speils regarding Health & Safety instructions and talk of “we don’t do [that] any more”. In this vein, there are some fun scenes involving “P” (Matthew Beard; presumably Patch Quartermain‘s from Reborn‘s successor) and Pegasus (this time played by Adam James) in reference to guns and vehicles.
MI7 is all for a cleaner, greener, non-violent future, it seems, with hybrid cars and non-lethal approaches to missions galore. And this doesn’t sit right with Agent English. Following the ethos in Skyfall, our two agents to combat this information-based threat that is looming upon their organisation: by going low tech.
Enter Jason Volta (Jake Lacy): a ray of light that the PM instantly singles out as a saviour to the nation’s problems. An American entrepeneur, he is a self-made Silicon Valley billionaire with his fingers in a lot of cookie jars.
Side-note: Around the time of his introduction to the plot, there is a scene in which he delivers a TED-talk styled speech. In the speech, he mentions a few things that are actually quite accurate, if somewhat embellished. But I’ll leave all talk of algorithms out for now. I just want to point out that the points made to set up the plot are quite legitimate.
The plot thereafter goes through the usual motions: with our agents starting their investigation in the South of France (delivering some good old-fashioned British balance to the world by removing some French cyclists from their path on the way).
Overall, the movie is a gross re-hash of the original up until the final act. And that serves against its best interests. It’s not as much a worthy sequel as it is a good remake. Yes, the central plot is different, and yes: the pay-off at the end is different, too — but all one has to do is cut-and-paste the villain and his intentions, and you end up with the original.
The movie features and extended sequence shortly following the introducion of Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko) to the plot which strays heavily into Mr Bean territory (with solid rationale for it being included in the plot), and it was a nice surprise that it wasn’t a highlight betrayed by the trailers to the movie.
The “VR” scene, on the other hand, while a great sequence — which was betrayed by the trailers — felt much less integral to the plot, and was only really included to pad out the runtime, far as I felt. The sequence does pay off down the line, but it could’ve easily been replaced by something a little more creative.
The inclusion of a certain Navy angle near the end was a nice surprise, and it sets up for a grand finale in which this sudden Chekov’s Gun is not only fired, but it’s fired in spectacular fashion, with quite the result coming from it.
Ultimately, the movie tires itself out by re-treading the same old paths over and again. It’s not bad, but it isn’t anything special, either. And that’s a shame.
If my score for this movie seems a little low to anyone, it’s because I’d expected something a little more from the team behind the movie (add to that my usual harshness with scores).
Johnny English Reborn tried to change the flow of the series, and utterly failed at its job. While I’m nothing but glad that this instalment returned the series to its roots (and brought back Bough, who really shines in this entry) and gave us something more comfortable to work around, it shoots itself in the foot by visiting much of the same territory that the series has covered before.
It’s a good-looking movie, and has a pretty decent score, actually. The performances are mostly on-point, but the editing is a little slipshod, and I do think that the movie could’ve been served with a little better direction. I’m not familiar with the rest of the director’s body of work, so I can’t speak to whether or not this is indicative of his usual style, but I certainly felt that much of the movie was: point the camera at Mr Atkinson and watch him fly.
And that usually works. It’s just that in this movie, with so much more going on, it feels like everyone behind the scenes took the easy way out. This isn’t Mr Bean, and it sticks out like a glaring flaw — especially when English is barely at the core of the real action (even though he sticks himself into the plot every five minutes, because he’s the main character, after all).
It’s just that in this specific instalment, it’s just the same old story with a few different gimmicks pasted in. It induces laughs, it induces enjoyment, but we’ve seen the lion’s share many a time before.
THE CROW: 3.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: TBD/10
Here’s the official poster: