Johnny English Strikes Again is neither entirely stupid nor entirely witty. It’s just smart enough to set-up a decent joke, but just dumb enough to flop its execution. It sees how pop-culture has changed since the series last outing (all the way back in 2011) but doesn’t know how to approach the material with any tact or wit. Ultimately, Johnny English Strikes Again is neither terrible or acceptable – it’s just a bland mish-mosh of pratfalls and stale hot-takes on technology. Which, all things considered, might be worse than either of the other options.
Johnny English Strikes Again
Director: David Kerr
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Johnny English Strikes Again sees Rowan Atkinson return once again to the titular role, joined this time by the wonderful Emma Thompson and Olga Kurylenko. Johnny English has been out of the spotlight for years, taking a role as a teacher at a local preparatory school. However, when every active agent working for the British Intelligence is compromised, English is pulled out of retirement for one last job.
But does Johnny English still hold water in 2018? To answer that, let’s look back in time.
This series of films has never been great. When the original Johnny English debuted back in 2003, I knew it was stupid fun. Even as a kid, I walked out of the theater with my parents knowing that this wasn’t funny in the same way Monty Python and the Holy Grail was funny. It was cheap, chocked full of painfully obvious humor that didn’t distinguish the Johnny English from other low-effort parodies of the spy genre. Most of the humor in that original film came from Rowan Atkinson. The awkward physical humor from the man that brought Mr. Bean to life is the main course of any Johnny English movie, and while it is certainly funny to see such anticlimactic humor used on the big screen, it isn’t something anyone needs to see more than once.
What’s worse is that we’ve seen this exact same setup done far better. In 1997, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery debuted and was immediately a smash hit. It’s the exact same content: it’s a parody of the spy-genre and it contains lots of physical humor. What make that series of films so entertaining however, is the execution. Comedy is handled well, with physical humor given solid buildup, and painful reactions. It’s low-brow, yes, but it’s still satisfying because the film paces it well, gives it time to breathe and make you laugh before moving on to the next joke. Additionally, Austin Powers has a lot more going on than just physical gags. The tone dips into the surreal just enough to keep things interesting. The physical humor extends itself to fight scenes, and the parodies of pop-culture all feel fresh and funny.
In Johnny English Strikes Again (and in both other Johnny English movies) the physical humor is never executed well. It either interrupts a scene and is abruptly ended, or allowed to go on for far too long. So long that by not introducing new elements to either heighten the hilarity or recontextualize the joke, it becomes so very boring. The attempts at humor universally fall flat, the scene ends, and we’re forced to witness it happen again until the movie is over.
Unfortunately for Johnny English Strikes Again, it doesn’t have a lot else going for it. While the original Johnny English had a somewhat funny plotline, there is little humor to be found in the actual plot of Johnny English Strikes Again. The premise is basically recycled from the first movie, but this time with a twist: a hacker mastermind is behind the attack that compromised all of Britain’s undercover operatives. The technology angle is supposed to add a great deal of humor to this latest installment, but it once again devolves into predictable, poorly executed comedy. English tries on a VR headset. He thinks what he sees is real and becomes oblivious to his surroundings. Comedy? Maybe, if you’re expectations are lower than the Metacritic score for Troll 2. But if you’ve seen literally any comedy movie before seeing this, you’ll know exactly how every single joke will play out in the entire movie.
Johnny English Strikes Again is likely the most boring movie I’ve seen all year. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t endearing or likable. It’s a tired premise with poor execution, and we all know that the only reason these films are being made is because Rowan Atkinson is a load-bearing actor. Without him, the entire façade falls apart.