Director: Oliver Parker
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Daniel Kaluuya, Tim McInnerny, Pik-Sem Lim, Richard Schiff, Stephen Campbell Moore, Burn Gorman and Gillian Anderson
Plot: After the disastrous failure in Mozambique, MI7 agent Johnny English (Atkinson) hides from the world in a monastery. But then a dangerous conspiracy brings him back into the fold.
While the first Johnny English was hardly a failure (actually earning a considerable haul in the box office), it isn’t the most memorable comedy out there. Perhaps it is the limited sub-genre – the spy parody – or perhaps it was the lengthy gap between the original and the sequel. Whatever the reason, it never felt like the kind of film that needed a follow-up adventure.
Director Oliver Parker disagrees. His biggest advantage here is returning to the serious spy movies, namely the Bonds, rather than getting inspiration from other spy comedies. His findings were largely: 007 had evolved so much since it began, has the spy parody genre? With this new information, the original Johnny English felt rather old-hat. A megalomaniac foreigner has a hair-brained scheme to take over the Throne – the old Johnny English embraced the silliness for maximum comedy appeal. However, with Reborn – and perhaps this title is referring to the franchise rather than the character – Parker fully dives into the evolution of Bond. By 2011, Daniel Craig had two films under his belt, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, both featuring a changed Bond. Therefore, Parker borrows the tone of those films and simply throws Rowan Atkinson in the middle. In many regards, everything but Rowan Atkinson is played straight. The plot is ludicrously vague but buried in the realms of drama. Three government moles across the globe hold a piece of a key each that unlocks a deadly weapon, able to be used to assassinate high profile targets. The villains, while paper thin, are played correctly, all scheming and brooding. Rosamund Pike drags up past experience to play her character as a Bond Girl, rather than a comedy set-piece in a Johnny English comedy. And the superiors, played excellently by Gillian Anderson (the cast of this sequel has been selected marvellously), don’t feel silly or useless. The writing is key in making them all feel grounded, in a movie that is often taking crazy left turns into the realms of all-out comedy.
This leaves the comedy handling largely to Rowan Atkinson and Daniel Kaluuya, as the hopeless spies caught in the middle of this plot. While Ben Miller is missed, there is charm to be found in Kaluuya’s by-the-books rookie, who kills the cool vibe English is going for by demanding receipts for every lavish expense. However, it is Rowan Atkinson who holds front and centre. The trick now is that he is almost half-decent, an amusing chase sequence proving that English can be capable when needs be – in his own peculiar way. If anything, his main flaw is his crippling arrogance that makes him overlook obvious clues. While the traitor bad guy is blatant to every audience member, instead of being lazy writing, it feels even funnier that Johnny English is missing the clues staring right in front of his face. Another major improvement is that the writers go for more gags than the mix-up joke. Yes, this is used a lot in the sequel too – and often to funny extremes – but as long as it is balanced out with other smart jokes, it feels far more multi-dimensional than the first. Johnny English being hypnotised immediately. Johnny English being hit with a mind control drug and then following the instructions on a radio. Strangely, the idea of this sequel gives a first impression of a forced return outing for a comedy character nobody wanted. The actual experience is a fresh, funny comedy.
Final Verdict: Oliver Parker turns to the spy roots to make a much wiser and sharper comedy.