Rowan Atkinson Returns to Skewer British Spy Movies in ‘Johnny English Strikes Again’

Johnny English Strikes Again” begins as the United Kingdom is on the edge of disaster. All of her undercover agents have been revealed online to her enemies. Her power grid and her traffic control are hacked and left useless. The Prime Minister (Emma Thompson) has no choice but to turn to retired agents, pre-internet spooks who have no online presence, for help.

Former British masters of espionage gather at the M7 headquarters, prepared to use their experience and skills to save the queen. As played by acting heavyweights Michael Gambon, Edward Fox and Charles Dance, they are confident in bringing the guilty parties to the fore, while restoring order to the empire.

They fail to account for Johnny English, the most incompetent spy among them. His missteps with a James Bond-type explosive pen takes the best of the retirees out of commission, leaving Mother England with the worst. Having no choice, English is assigned the task of saving the nation.

Rowan Atkinson returns as not-so-super spy Johnny English. Atkinson is best known for the hilarious Mr. Bean as well as the darkly funny Blackadder. Capable of more serious challenges, he recently has played the Parisian detective Maigret in a series of period television mysteries. But his best-known attribute is his skill at slapstick, his understated ease at turning the simplest of situations into absolute disasters. That craft is very much in evidence in “Johnny English Strikes Again,” the sequel to “Johnny English” (2003) and “Johnny English Reborn” (2011).

Johnny English is an old school spy. So much so that he has no presence on the World Wide Web. That makes him the perfect choice to track down the nefarious hacker. It’s too bad that he is also tin-eared and incompetent. He is almost religious in his loyalty to the spy tools of the past like the wristwatch with garroting wire. Given a choice of a garage full of hybrids, he opts for the gas-chugging Aston Martin. Perhaps that’s all for the better as his interaction with modern technology usually ends badly for all concerned. In training to use virtual reality, he steps out of the safety zone with the VR glasses on and leaves the spy building for the surrounding neighborhood. Convinced he is exploring the virtual reality world of the villain’s lair, he instead enters coffee shops and double-decker buses where he takes out an old woman in a wheel chair and tosses a tour guide off the upper deck of the Big Red bus.

Rejoining him in the cast is Ben Miller as his long-suffering assistant Bough. Bough does as much to save English from himself as he does to save England from English.

A veteran of  “Quantum of Silence”, a real James Bond movie, Olga Kurylenko enters this pastiche as Ophelia, the Russian double agent. The Bond movie gave her more to do and more gravitas. Her role in this film is reduced to sweet-natured supporting spy, possibly capable of taking down the villain by herself but never given the chance to succeed. Perhaps it is in keeping with the retro feel of the film but her main role is to root for the hero.

Emma Thompson as the troubled Prime Minister is half hysteria and half vindictiveness. She is quick, witty and makes stupid decisions. Jake Lacy is the high tech genius, Jason Volta. Since a large number of recent Bond villains have also been media and tech geniuses, it isn’t difficult to guess where his role is going.

“Johnny English Strikes Again” is a sweet spirited and almost gentle satire on James Bond and his crew. It can be very funny, mostly because of the wonderful Atkinson. As Johnny English, he advocates convincingly that in the spy world the old ways are the best ways.

Johnny English Strikes Again” opens Oct. 25 in theaters nationwide.