Seldom will you experience delight as in the sheer exuberance of Johnny English Reborn (2011). The sequel to Johnny English (2003), sees director Oliver Parker bring Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling spy out of the wilderness, with the help of a dazzlingly starry cast including Rosamund Pike, Dominic West and Gillian Anderson as the wonderfully acerbic boss of MI7.
A sinister international organisation is plotting to kill the Chinese premier and bring about global chaos. To her consternation Pamela Thornton (Anderson), head of MI7, is forced to reinstate ousted secret agent Johnny English (Atkinson) to try and thwart the plan. With help from fellow agent Simon Ambrose (West) and body language expert Kate Summer (Pike), Johnny sets out to save the world with predictably disastrous results.
Johnny English Reborn, an unabashed pastiche of all things James Bond, works simply because it makes no pretence towards being anything else. It wallows in its references to everything from the opening credits and an arsenal of gadgets which would make Roger Moore green with envy, to Johnny’s voice activated car, reminiscent of that in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and a climax in a mountaintop fortress straight from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
Lest other spies feel left out, homage is also paid to the likes of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther (1963) as Johnny exclaims “ah, it is all coming back to me now” during an hilarious helicopter ride.
Unquestionably Atkinson’s vehicle, he is given every opportunity to utilise the characteristics on which he has built a thirty year career, from Mr. Bean’s scream inducing silliness to Blackadder’s arid wit. What really works though, is his ability to make this madcap behaviour appear normal given the outlandish situations he finds himself in.
The support he receives, particularly from the delectable Pike, helps. Her cool in-credulousness at Johnny’s sheer stupidity is a joy, though at times you do get a glint of a blonde Californian who was recently rumoured to want a place on the Bond wagon – maybe they will still give Aniston the chance she thinks she deserves.
If the troubled Bond franchise needs inspiration on how to reinvent itself, it could do worse than to look to Johnny English Reborn. The secret is not to take it so seriously and, like the cast of this screw-ball caper, actually look like you’re enjoying yourself – then the public might too.