Saturday, 3 March 2012

James Bond traits expressed in Johnny English Reborn

I watched Rowan Atkinson's spy spoof Johnny English Reborn the other day. Very good, I thought, and funnier than its predecessor. As with the Austin Powers series, the film's principal reference is James Bond. Here are the Bondian traits or memes I spotted.

The titles contain elements of typical Maurice Binder titles, notably silhouetted dancing girls and Johnny English posing with a gun in the manner of Roger Moore in the titles of The Spy Who Loved Me onwards.

Incidental music not long after the start of the film is strongly reminiscent of the James Bond theme.

There is a scene in the equivalent of Q's lab. A range of fun but ludicrous gadgets are tested (including a modified Rolls Royce), and overseeing operations is Quartermaine, a name that sounds like quartermaster, of which Q is an abbreviation. And just to make the reference absolutely clear, Quartermaine, channelling the spirit of Desmond Llewelyn, says to English, 'Try not to meddle, English.'

After making a quip about working 'for Her Majesty's Secret Service', English enters a casino – wearing black tie, naturally.

Soon after, there is an exciting chase scene as English attempts to apprehend a henchman connected with Vortex, a group of mysterious assassins. The chase involves free-running or parkour, which is a nod to the free-running scene in Casino Royale. This is followed by a boat chase, which is a staple of Bond films, among them From Russia With Love, Live and Let Die, The World Is Not Enough and Quantum of Solace.

Goldfinger is referenced by way of an updating of the revolving number plates on Bond's Aston Martin, and also a golf match between English and another individual connected with Vortex. In addition, the Rolls Royce is voice-operated, and responds to commands with a female voice with a slight German accent, recalling Bond's BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies.

And speaking of cars, an Aston Martin DBS (Bond's vehicle in Casino Royale) makes an appearance, driven by fellow MI7 agent (and old Etonian), Ambrose, played by Dominic West.

The final act of the film is set in a mountain-top fortress in the Swiss Alps. One cannot help but think of Blofeld's Swiss headquarters, Piz Gloria, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The narrative leads to English parachuting from the fortress, which recalls The Spy Who Loved Me, and a cable-car fight, which brings to mind Moonraker.

These are the main Bondian references I noticed. I'm sure there are many more, and references aren't just limited to Bond films. For example, there is more than a hint of Where Eagles Dare in both the Swiss fortress and the cable-car fight, while Johnny English's time in the Tibetan monastery alludes to the much parodied monastery scene in Rambo III. The backstory of English's failed mission in Mozambique (shades of Bond's mission in Madagascar in Casino Royale here) induces a nervous tic in English's eye, which recalls Herbert Lom's Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films. And the title has more of Jason Bourne in it than Bond.

Reviewing the Bond films referenced, the films of Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig seem to provide the main targets for parody. This contrasts with, say, the Austin Powers series, which has a greater emphasis on the films of Sean Connery. It is said that one's favourite Bond is the Bond one grew up with, and so the difference between the two series may reflect the writers' particular era of Bond-film watching. It helps too that veteran Bond scribes, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, are among the writers of Johnny English Reborn. That said, non-Connery Bond films outnumber Connery Bond films by almost four to one, and so the amount of non-Connery Bond material potentially available for parody is much greater.


  1. By the way, actress Rosamund Pike, who played Kate Sumner in Johnny English Reborn, also starred in the James Bond film Die Another Day as the inside mole Miranda Frost. By the way, I truly enjoy your articles, keep up the good job.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoy reading the articles. That's a good point about Rosamund Pike. It's certainly interesting casting, and I suppose similar to the way that Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and others were cast in Bond spoofs in the 1960s (eg Operation Kid Brother - which also starred Sean Connery's brother, Neil).


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