Review by Jacquelin Hipes
The old and the new collide in the latest outing for bumbling British spy Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson). Johnny English Strikes Again is the third film in what technically qualifies as a franchise, although it’s likely one audiences struggle to remember, considering seven or eight years pass between entries. While Strikes Again doesn’t quite manage to capture the charm of its progenitor, there are plenty of moments that hearken back to the playful tongue-in-cheek humor that buoyed the original movie.
When we rejoin English he has only semi-retired into his post as a geology teacher at a posh boarding school; the blackboards might display diagrams of volcanoes, but practical lessons for his students include camouflage, booby-traps, and other accoutrements of intelligence work. A massive cyberattack exposes every current British agent, forcing the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson, whose wit is sorely underutilized) to turn to old operatives whose records were never digitized. English swiftly and accidentally puts these other agents (who include Michael Gambon and Charles Dance, again underutilized in their brief cameos) out of commission, leaving only him and trusty sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) to smoke out this latest foe.
Pitting cutting-edge technology against the classic tricks of a bygone era of espionage, Strikes Again is at its best when poking fun at the differences between the analog days of the past and our digital future. Along the way it also takes shots at the French, Americans, politicians, venture capitalists, cyclists, electric cars, and liability waivers, often to satisfying effect.
The story is admittedly flimsy, with just enough structure to justify the hijinks taking place within it. The first Kingsman movie did a much better treatment of the megalomaniacal tech guru, played here by a bland Jake Lacy. (It is admittedly difficult to live up to the gleeful camp on display by John Malkovich’s villain in the first Johnny English, though.) The physical comedy often feels half-hearted as well, a deflating counterpoint to the one-liners tossed about by screenwriter William Davies.
And yet, in spite of the stumbles, Atkinson and company deliver a cute, harmless bit of action-comedy that doesn’t make the mistake of trying to be something that it isn’t. Agent English might be showing his age after fifteen years, but it’s still nice to see him back in an Aston once more.