Rowan Atkinson returns to the big screen as Britain’s most inept spy Johnny English this Thursday, starring in the action-comedy threequel, Johnny English Strikes Again. Atkinson, now 63, first starred in the franchise 15 years ago when Johnny English premiered in 2003 as a spoof of another, much more serious secret agent. A sequel, Johnny English Reborn, released in 2011. And now the hopeless spy is back at it again, with brand new technology on his side. Gulf News tabloid! gives you five fast facts about the unlikely hero, his origins and his latest romp.
Johnny English as a 007 Spoof
That’s right — Johnny English was born as a parody of 007 James Bond, and the secret agent genre in general. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davis devised the screenplay for the action-comedy film series. Funny enough, Atkinson kick-started his film career in 1983 with a supporting role in the unofficial James Bond flick, Never Say Never Again.
Johnny English is based on another Rowan Atkinson character
Some may think that Atkinson’s magnum opus television role as Mr Bean, which he created in 1990, led to him landing the role of Johnny English. After all, Mr Bean cemented the actor as a master of physical and outrageous comedy. But in reality, Johnny English is based around another one of Atkinson’s characters: Richard Latham, who featured in British TV advertisements for Barclaycard. In fact, there were some jokes in the original commercials that reappeared in the films, such as English accidentally shooting himself with a tranquilliser pen.
It’s not a critic’s film
Despite the film’s popularity amongst the general public and at the box office — the first two films made more than $320 million (Dh1.1 billion) worldwide against a combined budget of $85 million — critics have consistently given it mixed reviews, with many thrashing the first two movies. It’s not unusual for blockbuster franchises, or ‘popcorn films’, to resonate with audiences and get an earful from critics. The first film received a 33 per cent rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, while the second film managed 38 per cent. So far, it seems the third instalment is getting a similar treatment. Though reviews are still trickling in, the film had garnered 17 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes at time of writing.
Johnny English strikes again, with VR
The first instalment of Johnny English followed the spy as he went up against the crown jewel thieves, while the second saw him facing off with international criminals that planned to assassinate the Chinese premier. The third and latest instalment has been brought up to date: English, called out of retirement, has to find a mastermind hacker who has waged cyber war against the Secret Service by revealing the identities of all active undercover agents in Britain. English even reckons with virtual reality, or VR, in his technology-fuelled quest to put an end to the security breach.
New cast members
Though there are familiar faces and returning cast members here, one particularly notable addition has been Emma Thompson. Thompson plays the UK Prime Minister, and to hear Atkinson tell it, she lends a strength, seriousness and believability to the role, despite an awareness of the absurdity she’s forced into through the circumstances of the film. “Emma plays it quite excellently, and it is a difficult thing to maintain authority but make it a sort of comic authority,” Atkinson told The New Paper.
Don’t miss it!
Johnny English Strikes Again releases in the UAE on September 20.