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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Johnny English Strikes Again movie review: the spy who was a complete doofus

Johnny English Strikes Again yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Better than the unfunny first one, not as witty as the clever second one. But it has a bit of sly Brexit bite that is very welcome right now. Laugh until you cry!tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Rowan Atkinson…
I’m “biast” (con): ..but I was hot and cold on the previous installments
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

An idiot doofus is out to save the dregs of the British Empire while wallowing in unwarranted nostalgia for a past that wasn’t as awesome as he would prefer to think.

I did not expect this new Johnny English movie — third in a franchise sending up spy movies in general and James Bond in particular — to come with an anti-Brexit bite. It may be unintentional… but then again, it might not be. (Creative types in the UK are very worried about how badly Brexit will impact all things artistic, even silly spoofy popcorn movies. It wouldn’t be surprising for this to manifest, either deliberately or subconsciously, even in goofy movies like this one.) If nothing else, even accidental snarking rage against the impending UK withdrawal from the European Union lends Johnny English Strikes Again a bit of heft that it might otherwise not have, a bit of significance that lets it sit without embarrassment next to the much wittier second movie, Johnny English Reborn. (The less said about the dreadful first movie, entitled simply Johnny English, the better.)

“Yes, cup of tea, you may tell me all your secrets. But no, I shan’t be granting you informer status.”

“Yes, cup of tea, you may tell me all your secrets. But no, I shan’t be granting you informer status.”

(A bit of background for those not familiar with me and my criticism: I am a very progressive native New Yorker who has been living in London for almost eight years, who loves both America and Britain, if almost in spite of myself, and who despairs at the rise of Trump and the triumph of Brexit, which are obviously two sides of the same coin of bigotry, xenophobia, and a wistfulness for a past that excluded everyone from basic respect and dignity who wasn’t a white man. I am a proud social justice warrior, and fuck all y’all who can’t deal with black and brown people, with aggressive women, with diversity, and with the notion that social justice isn’t worth fighting for. I am living both sides of the transatlantic awful.)

So, Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson: Love Actually, Scooby-Doo) is called back into service when all the agents of — ahem! — MI7 are outed in a cyberattack. He has to do a thing and run around and save the day, etc, because literally no one else is available who won’t be instantly IDed by the nebulous enemy as a secret agent. I shall refrain from pointing out that this was also the inciting event of the Melissa McCarthy movie Spy, and that that one was about giving ultracompetent and if anything overprepared women the chance to show their stuff while this one is about letting an incompetent moron of a man play the hero in spite of his ineptitude. I mean, fuck this shit, and yet I also love Rowan Atkinson, so I am confused.

This spoof has the same inciting incident as Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, but while that movie was about giving ultracompetent women the chance to show their stuff, this one… is not.

The plot is entirely besides the point except in how it allows Atkinson to celebrate male fatuousness as a good thing, which is at least more actually mildly amusing than it is generally presumed to be. But we also get the awesome-and-why-doesn’t-she-get-to-headline-her-own-movie Olga Kurylenko (The Death of Stalin, A Perfect Day) — as some flavor of Eastern European baddie spy — to show up English absolutely every time she encounters him. We get the even more awesome Emma Thompson (The Children Act, Beauty and the Beast) as the British Prime Minister, but she’s kind of a baddie, too, a neoliberal who wants to hand over all of the country’s infrastructure to an American tech tycoon (Jake Lacy: Rampage, Miss Sloane), which is almost precisely the overtly obvious evil plan of the actual currently in-power Tory party, to privatize all public services in the UK.

Is this heavyhanded? Sure. Is it nevertheless pointed and very necessary? You bet. Is it funny? Sure, in a laugh-until-you-cry sort of way.

“These virtual-reality glasses make the postbox is touchably real!”

“These virtual-reality glasses make the postbox so touchably real!”

Meanwhile, because of the nature of the cyberattack — it’s digital! — English refuses to use any modern tech: not a hybrid car, not a smartphone. It could be tracked, y’see. So instead he’s getting faxes — faxes — from HQ while on the road in France, and Kurylenko in her zippy electric car is running rings around his Aston Martin, which looks great but is a petrol-hog, a problem in the middle of a car chase. The “good old British technology” that English favors — favours! — is laughable in the modern world. Retro vintage is nonsense, it’s bullshit, it’s not cool. It is low-tech hilarity. English and his preference for old-school is buffoonish. Laugh until you cry!

So, yes, you could see this cheerfully dumb movie — the perfectly competent feature debut of British TV director David Kerr, from screenwriter William Davies, returning from the previous Johnny English movies — as good-natured silliness, forgettable but inoffensive. And, no, that really is the best way to see it. But maybe someday, as we wander the Mad Max afterscape in search of potable water and antibiotics, when we have crashed the society that allowed us to produce inconsequential fluff like this, we shall look back, and — justifiably — we will mourn the past that has gone.

see also:

Johnny English (review)
Johnny English Reborn (review)

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

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yellow light 3 stars

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Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) | directed by David Kerr
US/Can release: Oct 26 2018
UK/Ire release: Oct 05 2018

MPAA: rated PG for some action violence, rude humor, language and brief nudity
BBFC: rated PG (mild comic violence, language)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • althea

    Thank you, MaryAnn, I’m glad to see this after being befuddled watching Rowan Atkinson as Inspector Maigret on Sunday nights recently. It’s great, the show – terrific cinematography in particular – but even after several episodes I still haven’t silenced the little voice in my head that keeps saying, “Any minute now Mr Bean will burst out.”

  • LaSargenta

    Only comment I feel I can add is that there is hope for you with respect to Olga Kurylenko. IMDB indicates that she is starring as Hedy Lamarr in an upcoming movie about Ms. Lamarr’s electrical engineering breakthrough (with Stanley Tucci) and she seems to be listed as the lead in several other movies.

  • RogerBW

    As long as she can keep getting parts like that, and not have to take more like Vampire Academy and the increasingly white-elephant-resembling Empires of the Deep

  • Tonio Kruger

    I still think of him as Sir Edmund Blackadder — when I don’t think of him as Captain Blackadder. Or Blackadder, the valet to Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent. (What a team that was.)

    When I do think of Rowan Atkinson as a cop, it’s usually in regards to his starring role in The Thin Blue Line.

  • Tonio Kruger

    What? No Gillian Anderson? It’s almost as if all her time has been spent doing a starring role in an American TV show. Surely that can’t be right…

  • Blackadder is by far Atkinson’s best role.

  • Oooo!

  • She was in a previous Johnny English movie.

  • James Brown

    How did you come to the decision voting for Brexit is xenophobia with eight years living in London? And also what on earth does it have to do with the moron which is Donald Trump? I voted for the Referendum Party in 1997, and my family have always wanted to leave the European Union, my parents voted not to join in the first instance. Neither of them were xenophobes, and their reason, and my reason for voting to leave is routed in believing we the British people can self govern. If Americans can do it; why not us? We have a proven track record of being much better able to contain our emotions, and behave properly on the world stage. And Donald Trump latched himself onto brexit. But Brexit is nothing to do with him. Brexit is about becoming independent again so we can engage fully with the world, and trade with the world at large. Trump is an ugly little man who wants to isolate America, and who I have no time for.

  • So many straw men and falsehoods. I am not going to educate you on Brexit — there are many resources available to you online. And I am not going to debate you about this well-covered issues.

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