Having been on retreat in a Tibetan monastery after a disastrous SNAFU in Mozambique, M17 operative Johnny English (Atkinson) is brought back to help foil the killing of the Chinese premier. Joined by rookie agent (Daniel Kaluuya) and his spying idol Simon Ambrose (West), English bumbles on a conspiracy that leads to the heart of his very own secret service.
Eight years since his last mission, Rowan’s Atkinson superspy returns in a cleaner, funnier adventure. Wisely sticking to Bondian parody rather than jump on any Bourne bandwagon, the movie gets off to a strong start as English finds himself at a Tibetan hideaway, dragging boulders by his balls and losing concentration on hot coals.
As the movie sets English on a proper mission to thwart the murder of the Chinese premier, there are big expensive gags — a skit on free running set-pieces works well, a helicopter chase that cleaves to the motorway less so — but better on smaller, simpler gags, the best involving an office chair. It is also strong reminder how funny Atkinson is, both physically and verbally — he can make the word “vole” a punchline. Still you can’t escape the overwhelming feeling that his huge talent might be served somewhere else.
Low on ambition, Johnny English Reborn still delivers some strong laughs with Atkinson bouncing well off good actors like Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson and Dominic West. Still given its thinness, it might be best for all the spy to now go permanently MIA.