Mr. Bean Plays Spy: A Review of 'Johnny English Strikes Again'
Poor Rowan Atkinson, he suffers the Christopher Reeve Curse. You know how it goes, no matter how much you may try to distance yourself from it, no matter how many films you make where you’re not playing that role, you’re marked for life. Quick, how many non-Superman films with Christopher Reeve can you name? It’s the same with Atkinson, who despite the Blackadder work he did before Mr. Bean or the various roles he has played since, it always goes back to Mr. Bean and any variation thereof.
And the commercial success of the Johnny English franchise notwithstanding (this is the third, 2003 and 2011 are the years the first two were shown), no one seems to remember that it was 2007 when the last Mr. Bean film was released. For most us Mr. Bean is still very much alive! As a special guest during the 2012 London Summer Olympics opening ceremony, Atkinson had to revive his Mr. Bean. So, even these Johnny English films rely a lot on us appreciating how it’s a talking Mr. Bean, and he’s now a spy for Her Majesty’s Government.
So is Johnny English Strikes Back funny, any good? Honestly, it depends on what kind of mood you’re in. It is safe and predictable, the plot and what will happen we can see from a mile away. The most interesting relationship is not between English and Russian spy Ophelia (Olga Kurylenko); but that between English and his MI7 sidekick Bough (Ben Miller). Emma Thompson is slumming it, and picking up a pay-check as the British Prime Minister, and the big villain here is Silicon Valley tech billionaire, Jason Volta (Jack Lacy).
The targets are obvious—it’s modern technology and gadgetry, its presuming the past and older ones can no longer serve, and it’s in thinking that a well-intentioned, bumbling idiot cannot end up a winner. So there are some cute lessons; and if you’re with your children, there are several sight gags that will have them laughing their heads off. It’s all a bit silly, and that is their formula for success. And the first twenty minutes are actually good, a retired English now working as a school teacher.
But if you were expecting some new facet of Atkinson’s gift for comedy to be on display here, just stay home and watch the original Mr. Bean TV shows.