The bumbling Johnny English was invented to take the piss out of James Bond, but with time he’s grown ever more like the British super-spy. After writing Pierce Brosnan’s final films as Bond, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade created Johnny English as an affectionate mockery, working with screenwriter William Davis. Purvis and Wade returned to Bond with Casino Royale (and subsequently co-wrote all the Daniel Craig incarnations), while Davis continued the adventures of 007’s clownish cousin. He wrote the story for the 2011 sequel, Johnny English Reborn, and the screenplay for Johnny English Strikes Again, this reboot that brings the retired MI7 agent back into the fold.
While the original 2003 film remains the funniest, and Reborn has the best action, Johnny English Strikes Again serves as the best showcase for star Rowan Atkinson. Davis seems to have resurrected the character primarily to provide Atkinson with a greatest-hits reel, one that incorporates aspects of the comedian’s other signature characters. Why else would the climactic G12 summit be held in a Scottish castle if not to get Atkinson into a suit of armor to recall Black Adder? Why put English in a high-energy dance club, other than so Atkinson can bust out his Mr. Bean moves?
Director David Kerr engineers Atkinson’s intricate routines with clockwork precision. That said, his first feature film has little to offer anyone not already attuned to modestly absurdist British comedy. The Johnny English series doesn’t have the garish glee of Austin Powers, nor does it upend genre mythology like Paul Feig’s exuberant Spy. It’s as safe and formulaic as many of the Bond films themselves, always reasserting the British steadfastness and gumption that its villains scorn.
David KerrRowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson, Jake Lacy, Tuncay GunesWilliam DaviesTim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Chris ClarkUniversal Pictures