The O.D. on Movies

The O.D. on Movies: Johnny English Strikes Again

Rulerofowls (ROW) and Highbrowl (H) have seen Johnny English Strikes Back Again, which was directed by David Kerr and starred Rowan Atkinson, Olga Kurylenko, Emma Thompson, Ben Miller and Jake Lacy. After a few days, they discussed the movie and this is that conversation:

  • ROW: So, I guess we should discuss Johnny English Strikes Back?
  • H: It’s actually Johnny English Strikes Again; I searched it to see if I could find a reason this movie was so bad.
  • ROW: I bet this was a troubled production, with many of the creative team gone and many of the stars forced to participate!
  • H: I can’t say for sure, but this looks like any other production; William Davies—part of the writing team on both of the previous movies—returned, Rowan “produced” and doesn’t seem to have any other projects ongoing, David Kerr is a director that comes from TV, which is perfect for allowing creative people the time and freedom they want, but keeping the production on schedule, and freaking Emma Thompson is in this movie, she usually picks worthwhile projects to work on!
  • ROW: So, you’re saying that effort was put into this movie and the best they could return was owl-shit?!
  • H: No; all I’m saying that our initial reaction of “this is a cynical cash-grab movie” seems to not be true, but we can’t know for sure in any case!
  • ROW: Also, that makes things worse; if this was a cynical movie made just to hit people’s nostalgia and love of a legendary comedian, then that I can understand! I mean, we all know how much Rowan loves his Mclarens, and there’s a new—and very expensive—model coming out, but I get that; I get why De Niro, Al Pacino and other legendary actors do movies that are not as good as their previous ones. But, if this was a serious attempt at making a good movie, this is not only disappointing; this is sad!
  • H: Yeah, and the Johnny English franchise especially, because this is a franchise that seemed wrong when it was created as well: The first one in 2003 was decades late to the “spy spoof” party, but managed to find creativity and originality; Reborn in 2011 took the “gritty reboots” literally and showed us what spies would look like if they were “realistic” with smart, non-lethal gadgets and a completely useless but lovable buffoon as the “modern spy”. This one also seemed wrong in every way, but this time it was! I guess that’s this movie’s twist!
  • ROW: They didn’t even come up with an interesting reason to bring this franchise back: The first one was the nostalgia of the movies they were parodying, which gave it character and more original laughs; The second one was the gadgets and tactics of a “politically correct” MI-7 through the nostalgic perspective of the older movies and the goofs of Rowan Atkinson; This one…is a mix of both, I guess?! It takes the worst parts of both movies and throws them on the screen to see what sticks!
  • H: And not enough does; some do, but most we’ve already seen done better by Rowan Atkinson himself! I think the biggest flaw of this movie is that, there is no soul, no character, no joy coming through it; you could tell in previous movies that they knew they weren’t creating a cinematic masterpiece that will withstand the test of time, but they at least cared and enjoyed themselves enough, which translated in the screen and the script. With this one, it feels like they had to do this in order to collect a paycheck or get a “passion project” started!
  • ROW: Even if it was that, we already saw what Rowan can do under those conditions; it is publicly known that Mr. Bean was a character he was becoming increasingly disinterested in, but the movies, animated series and random appearances he has made as the character have been wonderful nonetheless. So, what were truly disappointing for me were not the lazy situations Johnny was placed in, but the lazy/unfunny/joyless execution of the comedic potential those scenes had! Remember the dumb cat scene in the previous movie?! Look at that, and then look at the French restaurant scene in this one; the difference is huge!
  • H: It’s not just the execution of the scenes, though; the previous one really managed to excellently walk the balance between offering depth to those who want it and allowing the character to be placed in funny situations that allow the creative staff the freedom to make great comedy! For example, Reborn starts with the cliché “disillusioned character retreats from society to a remote, densely populated place due to the pain he went through and to get away” but, this is Johnny English so of course everyone hates him and makes him do really dumb challenges in order to drive him away, twisting the “heroic retreat” to a parody and a funny sequence of challenges!
  • ROW: Yeah, in Strikes Back Again, they set up these scenes but don’t use them to parody anything or to further the plot/foreshadow in any way; like the VR scene, where Johnny is placed in a VR simulation of his mission and escapes the room wearing a VR headset and lost in the virtual space! Besides that scene barely getting a few giggle (usually these are the scenes Rowan excels at as a comedian), when Johnny actually carries out that mission, the VR scene barely comes into play!
  • H: To be fair though, some scenes do have that attribute but are not funny or cool creative endeavors that make you—the viewer—appreciate them in any way!
  • ROW: There is one positive to come out of this movie at least; for me anyway.
  • H: What’s that?
  • ROW: Usually, I have a hard time being absolute or very clear whether I think a movie deserves to be given a shot, even if it disappointed me or I disliked it; same thing happened with The Predator recently. This one, despite it having a few good laughs and being competently made by people I admire and think very highly of, I have no qualms or second guesses in my overall impressions of: Don’t go see it! There are better movies made by Rowan Atkinson; there are better comedies to see and there are better movies in theaters right now! I hope the creative staff have another chance at making something worthwhile—in the Johnny English franchise or not—but this is not it!
  • H: [Heavily sighs] Yep…
  • ROW: This bummed me out! Let’s just go watch Reborn again; or better yet, lets binge watch one of the greatest shows ever made, Mr. Bean, so we can forget all about this movie again.
  • H: Now, we’re talking!!
  • ROW: Let me end this in a cool way: [clears throat] Johnny English Strikes Back and it REALLY hurts!
  • H: Umm… It’s Johnny English Strikes Again.
  • ROW: I don’t care; let’s get out of here!!

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