It's always a curious and slightly frustrating phenomenon whenever an actor becomes typecast into a role that doesn't necessarily represent him or her at the height of their talents. A prime example of this has happened with British comedian Rowan Atkinson; in my opinion, he's at his best as the scheming, snarky-yet-likeable bastard that was Blackadder, and yet the man has become so synonymous with the bumbling Mr. Bean that it might as well be his middle name. The James Bond spoof film Johnny English could have been the opportunity to resurrect the former, but the kids prefer the latter, of course, and that's what they got. The first film was graced with an overachieving and extremely enjoyable score courtesy of then-rising star Edward Shearmur (a shame that the only films he could properly stretch his wings with were such bombs, and that he's reduced to scoring pure fluff these days), but he's replaced by Ilan Eshkeri, himself a rising star of sorts, for the 2011 sequel Johnny English Reborn.
Eshkeri, who is one of those composers who skirts the boundaries of Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions without being fully involved, first made waves in 2007 with his score to Matthew Vaughn's Stardust, which was a somewhat derivative but otherwise phenomenally enjoyable orchestral fantasy score. Unfortunately, the silly nature of this film doesn't really allow him to push for quite the same sort of grand musical statements. Nevertheless, Eshkeri has crafted a score here that is never anything less than competent, with a solid and consistent orchestral foundation accented by the usual assortment of snazzy, propulsive electronic loops and token ethnic accents that are mainstays of Bond and Bondesque scores.
Probably the score's greatest asset is its main theme, a brassy, straightforwardly heroic idea that is actually more akin to an Alan Silvestri composition than anything you'd expect from David Arnold's Bond scores. This brief but memorable idea is usually accompanied by a rising, syncopated ostinato line for (usually) strings, and this secondary idea is often quoted on its own and is never too far away throughout the score's frequent action material. It's that ostinato that opens the album immediately in 'London', before the theme proper is introduced at 0:23, but the best summary of both ideas exists in the heightened tempo of 'Commandeering the Vessel'.
Secondary ideas are few and far between in this relatively straightforward score, though there are singular moments worth mentioning. An interlude in 'Toy Cupboard' between 1:00 and 1:30 is a rare moment of flowingly lyrical strings, something that could have improved the score had it been touched on more frequently. A dated, Bill Conti-like motif opens 'Hong Kong', its parallel fourths evoking the location in a blatantly cheesy way (though, given that this is essentially a spoof score, perhaps that was the intent). Almost certainly played for laughs is 'Hypnotification', which is so laid-back in its combination of electric bass, light percussion, saxophone solos and ooh-la-la chorus that it almost sounds as though it ought to be in a decidedly more adult film than this one. A brief villain theme in 'Karlenko Arrives', 'Ambrose' and infrequently elsewhere is too similar in instrumentation to the rest of the score, and therefore makes little impact.
An extremely brief open trumpet statement of the ostinato at the end of 'Tucker Shoots Johnny' is perhaps a tiny nod in the direction of Hans Zimmer's similar employment of the instrument for tragic happenings in Backdraft and Crimson Tide, though again, it's too inconsequential to make a true impact. The otherwise nondescript 'The Manic Phase' contains a funny waltz figure that accelerates from 1:44 to 2:27, indeed reaching manic levels. Finally offering a satisfying respite from the action is 'Johnny Reborn', a string adagio of sorts that adapts the main theme into a minor key before segueing somewhat awkwardly into a reprise of 'Hypnotification'. Closing the album is the pairing of 'Buckingham Palace' and 'Killer Queener', the former a pompous march in the style of Edward Elgar and the latter a brief, stinger-like action cue that in no way offers a satisfying ending.
Overall, Eshkeri earned his paycheck here and further proves his talent, but one gets the impression that he didn't really stretch himself in the process the way Edward Shearmur did for the first score. This score is appropriate and often entertaining, with a solid main theme, but it's lacking a certain spark. Perhaps it's to do with the fact that none of the score's many but brief action cues ever build up a true head of steam; even though that is more likely a fault of the film than anything else, it doesn't improve the album. Either way, this score is well worth looking into if you're an established fan of James Bond knockoff scores, but I'm crossing my fingers that Eshkeri can move on to bigger and better things. And, really, it's a mystery why Edward Shearmur wasn't allowed to come back for this sequel.