JOHNNY ENGLISH STRIKES AGAIN
Director: David Kerr
Screenwriter: William Davies
Australian release date: 20 September 2018
Previewed at: Hoyts EQ, Moore Park, Sydney on 15 September 2018.
Johnny English Strikes Again is the third of the Johnny English movies and once again Rowan Atkinson plays the eponymous bumbling Secret Service agent. The film franchise, which emerged from a BAFTA-winning series of English TV ads in the early ‘90s, began in 2003 with Johnny English and continued with Johnny English Reborn in 2011. All three films were developed by Working Title Films and it’s the gap between the titles that has kept them fresh, according to co-producer Tim Bevan. He says that it’s Atkinson’s restraint with his characters that is one of his most admirable qualities. “He’s never over-exploited his own brands. He’s always made the audience wait a little bit. In this very quick cycle world we live in now, people say ‘Oh, is five years too long?' or eight years or three years, or whatever. The answer with Rowan is ‘No it’s not.’ Actually, the audience are about ready for it again.”
This time around the accident-prone spy takes time out from his job as a geography teacher to attempt to save the UK from a cyber-attack threatening the security of the country. His engagement is pretty much the last resort of the government as the anonymous hacker has exposed the identity of all of MI7’s current undercover field agents, but English’s methods are way behind modern-day trends and he has no idea about contemporary technology. Eschewing digital devices works in his favour, however, as going analogue means he can’t be tracked by the hi-tech villain. Hooking up again with his loyal off-sider from the original film, Bough (Ben Miller), they set off in a vintage, fire-engine red Aston Martin V8 discovered in storage at MI7 HQ after having refused to use a hybrid, a car that would not only blend in but have all the computer technology conducive to their needs. Nevertheless, their chosen vehicle has quite a few tricks of its own. They set off to try and locate the mastermind hacker and their investigation takes them to the Cote d’Azur. Once there, much of the action takes place on winding narrow roads, a luxury yacht and a five-star hotel, where there’s a very funny scene in which the two men pose as waiters and unwittingly create utter mayhem. The ham-fisted pair soon focus their attention on tech mogul, Jason Volta (Jake Lacy), who is peddling his data security algorithm to the UK and has managed to gain the confidence of the Prime Minister (Emma Thompson). Agent English is also aided and, at times, thwarted by the efforts of Ophelia (ex-Bond girl Olga Kurylenko), a Russian spy in deep cover in Volta’s organisation.
Writer William Davies, who’s had a hand in the story of all three Johnny English movies, is aware that Atkinson uses much the same schtick in all his characters so the script must gel with the role. He praises Atkinson for his innate comic sensibilities and the way he understands the Johnny English character. “The thing about Rowan is he knows exactly what's true to the character and the way the character is going to be in a certain situation. Certain things are too big or too wacky. It has to feel real and it has to feel true, otherwise it doesn't work. The world around Johnny has to feel as real as possible to be funny.” The theme of the latest film is analogue versus digital or, seen another way, 20th century versus 21st. This allows for a lot of jokes deriding the safe, nanny-state, OH&S-saturated world we live in today, as against the more laissez-faire attitudes of the past. In the current climate of films examining the fact that technology has overtaken our lives, this running gag in Johnny English Strikes Again is timely. But let’s not get too serious - this is a fun film for all the family and guarantees a happy outing over the spring school holidays.