To determine whether you should go to see Johnny English Strikes Again, you need only answer one question: Do you like Rowan Atkinson and his schtick? If the answer is yes, you’ll have a great time at the third installment in the Johnny English franchise, while if the answer is no, you will be much better off offer spending your recreational time and money elsewhere. If you’re still on the fence, ask yourself if you laugh at Atkinson’s routines even when you know exactly what is coming (put an umbrella in his drink, in other words, and you know exactly where it will end up)—an answer in the affirmative means that this is definitely a film for you.
Johnny English Strikes Again has something resembling a plot, some scenic eye candy, and a few fine actors playing backup, but about 90 percent of it consists of Atkinson doing what he does in this type of movie. For me, that’s perfectly fine—there are enough laughs to make it worth overlooking the patchier aspects of the film, and the anti-technology theme running throughout (could it be that Atkinson fans are disproportionately found among those who were most definitely not born digital?) is a bonus.
As the story opens, English (Atkinson) has retired from MI7 and is teaching geography at a private school where he also finds time to instruct his students in the arts of espionage. Due to a computer hack that has revealed the identities of all current agents, he is called back into service, along with a number of retired agents played by, among others, Charles Dance, Michael Gambon, and Edward Fox. After a mishap with a Q-like gadget, English is literally the only man standing, and thus he sets out, with the faithful Bough (Ben Miller) by his side, to find the hacker. At the same time, the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) is preparing to host a G12 summit, and trying to entice technology billionaire Jason Volta (Jake Lacy) to work with her.
English and Bough proceed to create chaos everywhere they go, but do manage to penetrate the apparent site of the hack, a yacht called the Dot Calm (get it?). There, they encounter a beautiful Russian spy (Olga Kurylenko) who becomes more than a bit player as the movie progresses. Back on the home front, the hacks are continuing, although the results have a decidedly prankish nature (like turning all the traffic lights in London red, as opposed to, say, taking over the operations of a nuclear power plant), increasing the pressure on English and Bough to save the day.
English is an old school kind of guy who refuses to carry a cell phone on the grounds that it could be used to track him and chooses a 1970s-era Aston Martin over any of the many hybrids offered to him. That might be a one-off joke were it not for the clever (if highly improbable) ways the screenplay by William Davies has found to exploit the specific capabilities of old technology (including land lines!) to make everything come out right in the end. Direction by David Kerr is as good as it needs to be, with some nice scenery porn and well-chosen locations providing the backdrop for Atkinson to do what he does best. | Sarah Boslaugh