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Was the world really calling out for another Johnny English movie? It has been eight years since the first movie, which was not good in the first place, based on a character who started life in credit card commercials and has a limited market outside the UK. Still, Universal Studios and Working Title Pictures thought it was worth a go.
Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) was MI7’s top agent, but he has been living in disgrace, conducting martial arts training in a Tibetan monastery for the past five years. MI7 calls him back into action after an ex-CIA agent, Fisher (Richard Schiff) says he has information about a plot to assassinate the Chinese Premier and English is the only person he will talk to. Fisher tells English that a secret organization called Vortex is responsible and plans to use a weapon that needs three keys. Fisher also tells English that Vortex was responsible for his failure in Mozambique. Soon, English is plunged into a deadly mission and has to bungle his way through.
Johnny English Reborn is the type of sequel where you do not need to see the original movie and yet it still feels like a rehash at some points. English has a partner, Tucker (David Kaluuya), who despite being the junior partner has more intelligence and common sense and is ignored by his superior, very much like Ben Miller’s character in the first movie. We get another smart and competent romantic interest in the form of Rosamund Pike, a woman who is 24 years Atkinson’s junior (gross). There is also an over-the-top car chase like in the first movie, but this time with the roles reversed. For that matter, there are set-ups for the comedy of embarrassment where English has to hide what he has done, as well as misunderstandings and general stupidity. Hardly fresh or original.
For the most part, the movie is very much a parody of the James Bond franchise. The speech by Pegasus (Gillian Anderson) that MI7 has changed and is no longer the misogynistic organization it once was echoes the speech by M in Goldeneye. Similarly, the scene in Goldeneye in which Bond tours the weapons lab (a scene that was originally meant to be comic in the first place) is parodied, as Johnny English enters a similar facility and ends up accidentally firing weapons. And the big set piece, which is also the best parody, is the parkour chase in Hong Kong where the filmmakers do at least try and be inventive and end the scene with a boat chase like in Quantum of Solace. But much of these parodies are outdated. The Bond series and whole spy action genre has changed to be darker and grittier.
Most of the humor is physical. Fine for kids, but adults wants more. Atkinson is a man who is in his mid 50s and he is starting to get too old for this type of comedy. He is also capable of much more intelligent humor. Some of the jokes offer a few minor chuckles, but overall the director did not know when to stop and killed the jokes. Some of the other punch lines are just predictable while some do not make much sense, like the attempted poke at product placement and the gag that MI7 is supported by Toshiba and has a slogan “spying for you.”
It was obvious who the villain was going to be early in the movie, but it does not explain why The Vortex wants to kill the Chinese premier, whether it was for business contracts, money, a military coup, or to cause tensions between China and the West. Any of these ideas would have done the job.
A better aspect is that Johnny English can be competent, such as when he is chasing the Chinese theft in Hong Kong, but for the most part he is still an idiot who cannot put two and two together. Moments like when English attacks an old woman do offer a guilty chuckle and the old Chinese assassin (Pik-Sen Lim) who used a vacuum cleaner and a golf club as a gun are inventive.
Overall, if you are a fan of the first Johnny English movie or under 11 years old, you may enjoy Johnny English Reborn. If you are anybody else, you are hardly likely to be won over.
Johnny English Reborn
Directed by Oliver Parker
Written by William Davies, Hamish McColl
Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya