ENG | BM
Features
Revisiting the first two "Johnny English" movies

Rowan Atkinson and Olga Kurylenko in the third "Johnny English" movie, "Johnny English Strikes Again".

Believe it or not, it has been 7 years since we last saw Rowan Atkinson play the titular bumbling MI-7 agent in a "Johnny English" movie.

The last time he suited up for the role was back in 2011 when he appeared in the sequel, "Johnny English Reborn". Now that he's making a comeback for "Johnny English Strikes Again" a.k.a. "Johnny English 3" currently showing in cinemas, it's time to revisit the first two "Johnny English" movies!

"Johnny English" (2003)


Rowan Atkinson and Natalie Imbruglia in a scene from "Johnny English".

"He Knows No Fear. He Knows No Danger. He Knows Nothing". If the tagline sounds familiar to you, that is because "Johnny English" is actually a send-up to the James Bond movies. It even sounds like it lifted straight from the Pierce Brosnan-starring "GoldenEye" teaser poster which reads "You Know The Name. You Know The Number".

In the first movie, Rowan Atkinson of TV's "Mr. Bean" fame played the titular character who works as a low-level office employee in the MI-7 headquarters. When MI-7 superstar Agent One (Greg Wise) is killed in action and the rest of his license-to-kill successors are blown into smithereens during an ill-secured Agent One's funeral, the only hope to take on the mission is Johnny English. The MI-7 superior, Pegasus (Tim Pigott-Smith) eventually promotes English as a secret agent and tasks him to protect the priceless royal crown jewels.


Rowan Atkinson during an embarrassing mishap in a sushi restaurant in "Johnny English".

Not surprisingly, the royal crown jewels are then stolen and it's up to English and his partner, Bough (Ben Miller) to retrieve them at all cost. Over the course of their investigations, they find out that Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich), the French prison magnate who organised the exclusive party for showcasing the royal crown jewels in the first place, is actually the mastermind behind the elaborate heist. Apparently, Sauvage's intention is to usurp the royal crown jewels so he can announce himself as the new King of England and plan to conquer the country whichever he desires.


The above synopsis sure sounds both absurd and over-the-top, which easily harkens back the quirky era of Roger Moore's Bond movies back in the 70s, but what's even more interesting is the people who wrote the screenplay for "Johnny English" and believe it or not, turned out to be Neal Purvis and Robert Wade -- the veteran screenwriting team behind the then-two Bond movies including "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) and "Die Another Day" (2002). Purvis and Wade, of course, would go on contributing another four screenplays after "Johnny English" including "Casino Royale" (2006), "Quantum Of Solace" (2006), "Skyfall" (2012) and "Spectre" (2015).

Back to "Johnny English", this James Bond spoof benefits mostly from Rowan Atkinson's familiar idiotic gags to elicit most of the laughs. He is no stranger to playing a complete idiot, having mastered a similar character before via his iconic Mr. Bean role. The jokes are actually nothing new but director Peter Howitt manages to keep the pace brisk enough to make this an ideal time-killer, given its scant 88-minute running time.


John Malkovich and Rowan Atkinson in a scene from "Johnny English".

"Johnny English" also featured supporting actors from former "Neighbours" television star and pop sensation Natalie Imbruglia of "Torn" fame, who made her big screen debut as the sexy Interpol agent Lorna Campbell. John Malkovich clearly has a field day playing an over-the-top antagonist role as Pascal Sauvage, complete with a god-awful French accent that it is almost painful to hear him speak. It's the kind of role that you either love him or hate him for.

Despite receiving terribly mixed reviews, "Johnny English" managed to make enough money in the international box office with a respectable USD160.5 million over a modest USD40 million budget.

"Johnny English Reborn" (2011)


Rowan Atkinson reprised his role as the titular MI-7 agent for the second time in "Johnny English Reborn".

Did anyone actually ask for a sequel to the otherwise critically-panned "Johnny English"? Well, the healthy box-office result has clearly proven that there are enough audiences and even fans of its own to warrant a sequel.

The good news is, "Johnny English Reborn" marks a marginal improvement over the first movie. In this long-gestating sequel, we learn that Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) is in a five-year exile somewhere in a remote Tibetan monastery, where he trains in martial arts and meditation techniques after his embarrassing mission failure in Mozambique. After he finally completed his long training, English is brought back to MI-7 by his new boss (Gillian Anderson) on a mission to investigate the assassination plan against the Chinese Premier.


Rowan Atkinson and Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from "Johnny English Reborn".

Likewise, Rowan Atkinson delivers a typically amusing performance as the titular MI-7 agent. His unfortunate encounter with the wicked old-lady assassin (played to hilarious effect by the Penang-born Lim Pik-Sen) over a series of mistaken identity is particularly the highlight of this sequel. His co-star, Daniel Kaluuya (the then-unknown actor who later made a breakthrough six years later with his acclaimed performance in "Get Out") provides a decent support as English's new partner and young trainee agent Colin Tucker.

With Natalie Imbruglia out of the picture from the first movie, the sequel introduced another beauty in the form of Rosamund Pike as the MI-7 behavioural psychologist, Kate Sumner. She was, of course, previously a Bond girl in "Die Another Day".


Rowan Atkinson and Rosamund Pike in a scene from "Johnny English Reborn".

Like the first movie, "Johnny English Reborn" was again released to mixed reviews, but the international box office tells a different story altogether as it successfully made a nearly identical USD160+ million against a slightly higher USD45 million budget.

Now, here lies the biggest question: Will the third "Johnny English" movie repeat the same financial success even with all the (presumably) mixed reviews? As for now, only time will tell. But given the mass popularity of Rowan Atkinson even in current times, it's hard not to ignore his screen presence whenever there's a brand new comedy released in our local cinemas.


Cinema Online, 16 September 2018