My mother has only seen two movies this year. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and this latest Johnny English outing. When asked why she watches so few, she’ll say she can’t find the time or energy. She’s a hard-working mother of three, who once after watching Madagascar 3 said, “I didn’t get it.” One of the rare instances she made the effort to see something at the cinema was for the second film in this spy-spoof series. She loved it. What did she think of Johnny English Strikes Again? Well, she had a great time; so what more could I ask of it?
Strikes Again sees retired MI7 agent Johnny English called into action after a series of cyber attacks are launched upon London. The British Prime Minister (Emma Thompson), at her wit’s end, has no other available operatives, so signs off on the top-priority mission. The plot is ridiculous, makes no sense, and is predictable in every sense of the word. But if you’ve seen the other Johnny English films, I shouldn’t have to tell you that. The latest look at Britain’s best/worst world-saving agent doesn’t do much different than its predecessors, other than subtly staying relevant, and opts to keep to Atkinson’s brand of physical comedy that has withstood the test of time in centre focus, and he’s as funny as ever.
There’s obviously not a ton of depth here, but it did try something interesting that will appeal to older audiences. After his break, MI7 has changed in Johnny’s absence: favouring digital gadgets over guns, email instead of paper trails and hybrid cars instead of Aston Martins. English is an old soul, and his resistance to the modernisation in his field is as amusing as the messes he makes. The world around him is pushing forward, and he’s a stick in the mud who refuses to take the easy route. He’s kind of like your uncle who despises social media and occasionally makes accidental sexist remarks without enough self-awareness for malicious intent. Atkinson’s physical performance is full of so much enthusiasm and willingness to look like a crazy person that it’s joyful to see him still doing it after all these years.
The comedy perhaps isn’t as consistent as it has been in the past, but it’s still the type of ridiculousness that made people like these films in the first place. The virtual reality sequence shown in the trailer was certainly a highlight, and there’s enough there to earn more than a few giggles. The supporting cast lends opportunities for inviting disaster too and are rounded out with the typical roles of sidekick, villain, the beautiful (but maybe a spy) love interest and the head of the operation. Everyone’s in on it and has a hammy time with their parts. English is a magnet for calamity and watching everyone around him navigate the sheer confidence despite his total lack of precision is great.
Director David Kerr’s take on the well-loved character features well-understood nostalgia for the good old days and the classic, traditional parts of the genre, as well as the immature but intermittently hysterical humour its star is known for. The outcome is strange in that it’ll work best for the ones at the polar opposites of the audience scale: older people and kids. Another serviceable spy flick to add to the pile.
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures and Studiocanal