Some 7 years after the second Johnny English film and 15 whole years after the first, Rowan Atkinson is back with his back with the character in Johnny English Reborn. After a handful of cyber-attacks on the United Kingdom and with all other MI7 agents outed, Prime Minister Emma Thompson is forced to bring Johnny English out of retirement to help.
The main gimmick of this is that English is now quite old and unfamiliar with modern technology. Being an old James Bond/Roger Moore era spoof, more accustomed to exploding pens and what-not, he struggles to grapple with things like ‘virtual reality’ and electric cars. It’s a shame because English’s comedic stupidity in the form of his age appears to now be mirroring Atkinson and his ability to do comedy.
The previous two films weren’t amazingly hilarious either. I can scarcely remember the plot of the second one. But this one seems to have taken a new low. That’s not to say that there are no good gags in it, it’s just that most of them were already used in the trailers. Everything you would want out of a Rowan Atkinson performance seems to be missing here. The great physical comedy of visual gags, comedic timing and silly faces seems to have been lost. This feels more like watching a Will Ferrell movie than one from the legendary Rowan Atkinson. It’s all just silly comments and scenarios too stupid to be real. It’s not funny. Just childish.
But maybe that’s the issue. I loved Mr Bean as a kid. I’m sure most of us did. We all have vivid memories of Atkinson silly exaggerated face that he used, and while as a child we remember that for being funny, maybe now we’ve just grown up. Maybe this film is meant more for children and a family audience. But even then, what kids are going to understand anything about the old ‘Bond’ references or the in-depth observations about technology. All the kids get is some silly faces and Atkinson falling over every so often. But I suppose the previous Johnny English films were still like that too. That probably explains why I can remember moments from them but not the actual plots.
Interestingly, like English in this film, I think myself as an audience member have become somewhat of an ‘old agent’ myself. I can’t fully get into the mindset of what a child would possibly see in a film like this. But then if you’re going to take a famous comedic actor from one generation and try to force him into another, you’re not going to attract either generation to be your audience.
Remember the Chuckle Brothers? notorious comedians and children’s entertainers for my generation. Like Atkinson, they used physical comedy and silly scenarios, but the difference was that they stopped doing it when we stopped being children. Instead they moved on to doing club nights and family pantomimes. They realised that their audience had grown up. The people that liked them and wanted to see them were discovering nightlife and starting families, so the Chuckle Brothers saw this and adapted their work around it, as this was their audience. I feel like Rowan Atkinson needs to take on a similar mentality so he doesn’t loose his audience, the people that loved him, into their growing senses of humor.