When the original 2003 Johnny English was released, the resounding judgement from the film world was that it was not a good film. It had potential, especially with Atkinson at the helm, but it seemed people just couldn’t accept him playing anyone but Mr Bean.
My friend, then eight years old, rejected the harsh criticism. In her view, Johnny English was no less than brilliant – in fact, she felt it was so worthy of praise she penned a handwritten letter to Atkinson, imploring the British actor to ignore the trolls and produce a sequel.
Her wish was granted (albeit eight years later) in the form of a second film, Johnny English Reborn. Again the film received mixed reviews and again my friend, then 16, wrote to Atkinson to try to keep the ball rolling.
Another seven years later and it appears the advice has been heeded, with the release of a much-anticipated third instalment, Johnny English Strikes Again, directed by David Kerr.
This latest reincarnation of MI7 spy Johnny English sees him emerge from retirement to conquer his technophobia and embrace a modern British intelligence agency that has done away with the lethal gadgets and guns of old in favour of a more digital approach to solving crime. The only problem is, the MI7 network has been hacked, and all the identities of the serving spies have been revealed to the public.
With a penchant for the analogue and his old-school spy gadgets, English goes about uncovering the secret hacker, all the while taking advantage of his resurfaced fame at MI7.
As the mission unfolds, a prime ministerial intervention, a seductive Russian spy and English’s own clumsiness and incompetence hamper its progress. But, as with all the Johnny English films, the British faith in “things always work out in the end” saves the day.
For the most part this is an amusing sequel. Atkinson’s talent for physical comedy carries the film, despite some more awkward scenes of attempted verbal humour. Supporting actors Ben Miller (English’s sidekick Angus Bough), Emma Thompson (prime minister) and Olga Kurylenko (Russian spy) play their parts well, providing a crucial contrast to the outrageous English.
The film’s main down point is its villain, a smarmy American tech billionaire who, despite his intention to control the world, seems to lack sufficient evilness. A disjointed plot and some awkward moments of sexism further disappoint.
Overall, Johnny English Strikes Again is an unsurprising, safe family film that delivers on all that it sets out to be: a light-hearted laugh that’s sure to please Atkinson’s loyal following.
Johnny English Strikes Again opens in cinemas today.