Johnny English Reborn Review

Catching up with nearly a decade between the first and second feature, Johnny English Reborn settles the absence of spy parody with a bloated and belated sequel. There was little calling for the return of a man who once saved England from John Malkovich, but here he is, back in the field. The issue is not so much in the return of English but the changing times they try and adapt him to. It is far too easy to assume these changes will be remiss and ignored by Rowan Atkinson’s leading role, but they make far larger an effect than first expected. Growth of the parody character is not expected. The great pull of Austin Powers was the characters lack of change. The greater pull of Johnny English Reborn is that literal rebirth of a bumbling spy who turns up with confidence and gusto.

But he is still out of place. What he needed in confidence and machoism in the first film is now too late. He possesses such skills now as evidenced by some solid fight scenes and suave action, but it isn’t needed. Everything has gone a bit technological now. It’s spreadsheets and mission reports now, not field action and high-speed pursuits. Johnny English Reborn finds time for those moments but downplays them for the sake of comedy. A chase scene carries all the usual adrenalin-pumping antics but with an underplayed English at the helm. Rowan Atkinson is tremendous as ever. His comedic timing is fresh and as successful as the first film but the gags are not up to scratch.

Without Ben Miller or Tim-Piggott Smith featuring, Johnny English Reborn has to fill the gaps with new cast members and familiar gags. Daniel Kaluuya and Rosamund Pike are surprising draws considering their talent. Naturally, it is squandered in the film where Atkinson has a gag about piloting a gadget-clad wheelchair through the streets of London, only to be outmanoeuvred by a flight of stairs and a queue of pensioners. There are gags worthy of an audience’s time, but getting to the good stuff is an uphill struggle. More duds than the first, but the set pieces and reunion of Atkinson and fellow Blackadder alumni Tim McInnery is an interesting one. Dominic West features also, the usually handsome and suave depiction of actual spy work and the corruptible minds that fall into it.

Atkinson warms to the leading role once again and doesn’t miss a beat, a far harder challenge than first expected. Out for the count for nearly a decade, he embraces Johnny English Reborn with a desire to craft another classic comedy. He doesn’t get very far on that brave and noble mission. Although Johnny English Reborn has its moments, it lacks a core and interesting villain. The twists and turns of the spy genre are clunky, the betrayal of an old friend newly introduced is not a worthy successor to the mad French soon-to-be King of England that Malkovich offered. Still, when so much of Johnny English Reborn is recouping its Miller-shaped losses, there is only so much comedy that will work when there are no gains from the new cast and only losses from those missing.

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