Johnny English Strikes Again movie review: Daniel Craig’s James Bond films are funnier
Johnny English Strikes Again movie review: Rowan Atkinson’s spy spoof lacks intelligence. By sheer number of laughs alone, Daniel Craig’s James Bond films are funnier. Rating: 2/5.
Johnny English Strikes Again
Director - David Kerr
Cast - Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Jake Lacy, Emma Thompson
Rating - 2/5
The kindest thing that can be said about Johnny English Strikes Again is that it clocks in at 89 minutes - 80, if you scarper before the end credits.
To put things in perspective, in 80 minutes you could buy yourself a mind-altering virtual reality experience, and still have enough time left for a quick snack. You could finally go on that scuba lesson you’ve always wanted, and you could, depending on your mood, buy overpriced tickets to France and spend the next 75 minutes second-guessing your impulsive decision. Each of these things happen in Johnny English Strikes Again and - objectively speaking - are better alternatives to actually watching the damn movie.
Watch the Johnny English Strikes Again trailer:
Its scattershot plot involves Rowan Atkinson and Johnny English being yanked out of retirement to bring their decidedly anachronistic skills in combating a ‘high-tech villain’. The cartoonish bad guy - played by the unlikeliest of movie villains, Rampage’s Jake Lacy - has acquired a full list of the British intelligence’s undercover spies, leaving the MI7 with no option but to turn to the retirees.
It’s a premise that we’ve seen play out on numerous occasions - from the first Mission: Impossible film to Skyfall - but besides inserting Emma Thompson into the mix, Johnny English Strikes Again does little new with it. It’s a film that is bound together more by a series of unrelated slapstick gags than a story, even by this franchise’s unremarkable standards.
Johnny English enlists his trusted sidekick, Bough, to tag along, and to provide a rational foil to his incessant ineptitude - which, like most incessant things, becomes tiresome after a while. Along the way, he bumps into a mysterious woman, played by former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (ha-ha) and stumbles through a ridiculous plot that involves launching a short- range missile into French cyclists (xenophobia), running out of petrol during a car chase (hubris), and setting a restaurant on fire (stupidity).
This puts us in an uncomfortable position - watching Atkinson in what is clearly his element can be enjoyable, but the film is so mind-numbingly unambitious that you can’t imagine it being seen anywhere other than on a plane, where scenes can be skipped, or on YouTube, where someone has already sifted out the best bits for your convenience.
To be sure, there is no performer in the world who has mastered the sardonic eye-roll quite like Rowan Atkinson. The trick, you see, is to involve the entire face. While the pièce de résistance is still the glorious rolling of the eyes - careful and luxurious - pay closer attention and you’d notice that Atkinson also works his mouth; his lips curl into that famous downward frown, and the creases on his forehead become more prominent. It isn’t merely an eye-roll, its a formidable bit of physical acting.
His command over this one signature move has competition only in Tom Cruise’s complete and utter mastery of the act of waking up with a start. Yes, you thought I was going to bring up Cruise’s (admittedly) iconic karate chop run, didn’t you? But observe, for a moment, how Cruise has brought the act of jolting awake down to a science, and you’d realise that the running is merely a diversion. He did it multiple times in Edge of Tomorrow (or are they calling it Live Die Repeat now?) and it’s how Ethan Hunt was introduced in Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Cruise, like Atkinson with his over-intellectualised eye-roll, isn’t satisfied with simply waking up, no; notice how he brings his arms up to his face, in a defensive posture, as if he’s under constant threat of being physically attacked. Notice the almost inaudible breath he releases. It’s a work of art.
But when a split-second acting tick makes for a more fulfilling discussion than the movie in which it happens, something is seriously wrong. I could talk for days about Rowan Atkinson’s phenomenal talents as a physical comedian - he is the UK’s answer to France’s Jacques Tati and America’s Pee Wee Herman - but his films have rarely lived up to his abilities.
The Johnny English series began as a well-intentioned spoof - interestingly, co-created by veteran James Bond writers Neil Purvis and Robert Wade - but almost two decades later, it has become as embarrassing as listening to your elderly uncle repeatedly tell that one joke that got a good laugh at some party two decades ago. You wait for him to finish, chuckle politely, and go back to whatever it was that you were doing before he slid in.
Atkinson revives the series every seven-to-eight years, depending on the prevalent cinematic climate - in 2003, Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond had only recently ended, plummeting the iconic franchise to its lowest point in years; in 2011, Daniel Craig’s shoegazing turn as 007 had left room for humour; and in 2018, the Kingsman series has proven the box office worth of spy spoofs.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the Johnny English films remain as stubbornly buffoonish as the character. They have none of the subversion of the Kingsman series, none of the pastiche of the Austin Powers and the French OSS 117 movies, and shockingly, none of the humour of Steve Carell’s Get Smart.