Seven years after Johnny English Reborn, Britain’s most hapless secret agent is out of retirement and back with more mayhem and disastrous shenanigans in the latest instalment of this hugely popular, if a little tired, franchise. Presenting a fairly pedestrian premise and an even more ludicrous plot full of nods to a shambolic post-Brexit Britain, Johnny English Strikes Again might not always hit the right notes, but the film still manages to be both hugely entertaining and funny throughout, mostly thanks to Rowan Atkinson’s fantastic comic timing and brilliant delivery.
When a cyberattack reveals the identities of all active secret agents working in Britain, the government, led by an out of her depth Prime Minster (Emma Thompson), has no other option but to bring Johnny English back to help stop the hackers. Reunited once again with his trusted and eternally put-upon sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), Johnny decides to take on this new enemy the old fashion way. Forgoing all new technology in favour of old analogue devises, the two soon make their way the south of France where they make the acquaintance of a mysterious double agent played by Olga Kurylenko.
Offering the film as a series of lengthy and increasingly outlandish skits, first-time feature director David Kerr relies more often than not on Atkinson’s outstanding facial and physical comedy to tell a story which, if we’re completely honest, fails to bring anything new to this much-loved franchise. And while there are moments of true comedy genius, mostly to do with various and increasingly cringeworthy misunderstandings, the film just doesn’t quite deliver thematically leaving us with a few half-baked ideas which are thankfully saved by Atkinson’s unique appeal and Emma Thompson’s fantastic Theresa May-esque “deer in the headlights” interpretation.
Elsewhere, Jake Lacy delivers yet another faultless turn as evil billionaire Jason, while Olga Kurylenko, who is offered rather ludicrously as Johnny’s love interest, does a decent enough job in a role which sadly demands very little of her. For his part, Ben Miller is quietly understated and hugely likeable as Bough, a role which he reprises once again and which he delivers with great comic timing and gusto.
And while there are definite nods to the shambles which followed the Brexit vote in 2016, Johnny English Strikes Again sadly doesn’t quite go far enough in either its criticism or endorsement of the vote, relying instead on a series tired in-jokes and jingoistic pronouncements, which in the end feel rather lame and decidedly unimaginative.
On the whole, Johnny English Strikes Again might not present the most revolutionary premise, nor does it offer an earth-shattering plot, but you will find yourself chuckling away throughout despite the film’s obvious shortcomings.
Johnny English Strikes Again is in cinemas from Friday the 5th of October