Freshly Flattened Old Jokes: Our Review of ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 26, 2018
Freshly Flattened Old Jokes: Our Review of ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

Johnny English is a spy parody movie series with two earlier installments that was never worth watching outside of work. But alas, duty calls and some people have to write about its third installment, Johnny English Strikes Again. And not everyone is familiar with the series but more people presumably know its star Rowan Atkinson as the titular Mr. Bean.

Mr. Bean was a part of a lot of people’s childhoods, its memories having two roads to ruin. One, if for some reason, someone else became Mr. Bean and messed that up. Two, if a beloved childhood entity manifests itself in the audiences’ adult lives. And ruins itself by showing how it doesn’t have any new tricks up its sleeve.

Although fine, there are three genuinely funny segments in the movie. But all three completely rely on the same physical comedy that feel dated today. To explain, this is a genre abound with gadgets in disguise as regular objects. One moment involves just pebbles that we might assume are smoke bombs but are just actually pebbles to make enemies slip.

The other two funny scenes are forgettable except for the fact that they were worth mere chuckles. The first attempt at a joke involved a smartphone, which is the second film I’ve seen this year where old people deride technology. It’s tiring to hear old comedians take pot shots at technologies although yes, their paranoia has some grounds in truth.

Speaking of the old guard, we might as well talk about the plot, which involves inter-generational conflict. English has to slip away from teaching to investigate some cyber terrorist or terrorists hitting Britain. They’re more like cyber pranksters. Anyway he discovers that the attacks came from a wi-fi signal from a ship with a mysterious young owner, Bhulatova (Olga Kurylenko).

Meanwhile, English’s boss is a Prime Minister without a name (Emma Thompson). She has a crush on a tech billionaire Jason Volta (Jake Lacy). I don’t follow British politics enough to know the flaws of the Prime Minister’s real life parallel but boy crazy isn’t one of them. Emma Thompson’s doing a favour for an old friend but there are better ways.

English can be a victim of bamboozling like the Prime Minister, the former being in denial of how Bhuliaova is a spy although duh. But of course, he gets over this temporary illusion faster than the Prime Minister does. And the deception against her has more consequences. The parallels are suspect and again, Emma Thompson deserves much better.

However, aside from the occasional laughs, the other thing that’s interesting is the characterizations of the younger characters. Both represent Britain’s old and new enemies. One is a Russian and another is a Silicon Valley douche. Volta represents America and technology, which Britain has phobias against. One of these enemies is more benevolent than the other, the film’s deliberate choice.

There’s also Lacy’s performance as a malevolent jock. Here strays from the usually benevolent jock characters that he normally gets in his film and TV roles. And he plays Volta so transparently that the casting director should get kudos for getting him. But he’s also so transparent that it’s baffling what the Prime Minister saw during his first TED talk.

No one is safe in this film, showing the young as villains while also making potshots at old people. It populates Britain with old people who are victims of English’s clumsiness. Middle aged women getting their driver’s license or women in wheelchairs. It’s not just Thompson getting a raw deal, the film gives Britain’s best generation a sand bag too.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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