Johnny English Reborn (2011)

*. As you know from my notes on Johnny English, I wasn’t blown away by that film. One thing I really did like, however, and which I didn’t mention in those notes, was the theme song “Man for All Seasons” sung by Robbie Williams. I was really looking forward to something as good this time out, or at least a reprise, but instead we only get an instrumental piece to go with the credits that was meant to have a “classic Bond feel” (as explained by director Oliver Parker on the commentary).
*. Aside from this disappointment, I actually enjoyed this second outing quite a bit more than the first movie. The story is more Bondish but also more down-to-earth. It seems strange typing that, but the business of John Malkovich plotting to become King of England was too ridiculous for my taste. A mole (or vole) in MI7 plotting to kill the Chinese premier worked better for me. On the commentary track Parker discusses this a bit with screenwriter Hamish McColl and says you could well ask why you’d bother coming up with a plot that made sense in a movie like this, but that he thinks the effort was worth it. I agree.
*. The Bond stuff works pretty well too. I think the weapons lab can probably be retired now as a gag reel, but that chase across the rooftops of Hong Kong is a nice send-up of the parkour in Casino Royale (2006), and the golf scene, which is borrowed from Goldfinger, plays well with the coded dialogue. What I think helps here, in this scene and the film in general, is another point Parker and McColl make in the commentary: Johnny isn’t a total moron or fool here, as he was in the first movie. He has his moments, and not all of them by accident.
*. In all of this — the coherent plot, the closer adherence to the Bond paradigm, the fact that Johnny isn’t just an imbecile — I think there’s a point worth reflecting on. Parody and satire often work better the closer they stick to their target. If they go too far it doesn’t work.
*. It’s a great cast this time too. It’s always good to see Gillian Anderson, and Dominic West is a swell heel. Also Rosamund Pike before Gone Girl and Daniel Kaluuya before Get Out. Interesting to note that Pike’s first film was a Bond movie (Die Another Day), as was Rowan Atkinson’s (Never Say Never Again).
*. Johnny English came out in 2003 and eight years is a long wait for a sequel. What I find interesting is that so much has changed since Johnny went away (in order to find himself in a monastery). Indeed he is considered to be a dinosaur when he comes back. He isn’t Austin Powers, a refugee from the 1960s, but he’s a close analogue. He wasn’t seen as a dinosaur just eight years earlier, but now that technology has taken over (MI7 is in a corporate partnership with Toshiba) he’s a fish out of water.
*. So: a better production all around, and more fun than the first film. Not a knee-slapper, but a nice turn for everyone with a handful of very good bits. For whatever reason send-ups of this material seem to never run out of steam. But I guess as long as they’re still making new Bond movies there’s an audience for new Bond parodies. This wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Mr. English.

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