Rowan Atkinson has said that he dislikes his Johnny English character being described as ‘Mr. Bean meets James Bond’… but I can’t resist: Johnny English is Bean meets Bond. Sure, it’s not a totally accurate account but it does give you a pretty good idea as to the type of movie he finds himself in. Johnny English Reborn is a British comedy that bares resemblance to other genre parodies like The Naked Gun, The Pink Panther (2006) and Get Smart, and it’s thankfully just as good while perhaps being even more family friendly than its pedigree.
Reborn is actually a belated (and superior) sequel to 2003’s Johnny English, though no knowledge of the original is required to understand the plot in this one. In typical fashion, the plot in these types of movies is generally just there in order to facilitate the humour and generate laughs – if you think about it too much then you’re bound to find all kinds of contrivances and oddities.
This time we learn that English has lost his knighthood as well as his secret agent status after having being disgraced between movies. In the present, MI7 learns of an imminent threat against the Chinese premier but their source will only speak to English. Suffice to say that English is brought back on the job, ‘reborn’ after a period of exile in Asia and thrilled at a chance for redemption.
But redemption isn’t easy for the incompetent English, who finds himself up against a mysterious organisation called ‘Vortex’, a killer cleaning lady and even faulty chairs – the latter generating the biggest laughs of the film; it’s all thanks to Atkinson’s amazing physical performance and deadpan line delivery as English. There’s a lot of slapstick here but the jokes never feel like they’re simply rehashing and regurgitating stuff from the first film.
Indeed, it’s been eight years since Johnny English first hit screens so Reborn can’t just ride on the coattails of the original’s success as so many sequels tend to do (The Hangover Part II comes to mind) – it actually had to come up with new material! As such it feels like a modicum of time and effort actually went into making it, which really makes all the difference.
It’s still the same brand of humour, but it’s new and improved. My favourite scene involves a chase in which English must use his mind in order to keep up with a much more acrobatic, younger opponent. Think the parkour chase from Casino Royale only if Bond had used his brain more than his brawn. There are plenty of action movie directors who could learn a thing or two by looking at how Oliver Parker (St. Trinian’s, Dorian Gray) directs this clean, well-paced sequence.
Johnny English Reborn is thus a surprising success and resounding proof that Atkinson still has it. Best of all is that it’s fun without resorting to crude, debauched or derivative humour. A few jokes might fall flat but all in all it’s a good time and so far my favourite comedy of the year.