After a six year hiatus a new Bond (played by an Irishman!) emerges, the first to tackle the shifting politics of the post-Cold War era.
GoldenEye is the first Bond I saw in the theatres and an iconic movie for many my age. Representative of the start of a new era for 007 (for better and for worse), it’s also fondly remembered as the basis for a legendary N64 game.
Directed by Martin Campbell, with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (for the 1st time)
The Theme Song: “GoldenEye” performed by Tina Turner
The savvy pairing of songwriters Bono & The Edge (of U2) and singer Tina Turner yielded bombastic results with “GoldenEye”. It’s at once familiar but cutting edge (for the time), a showcase for Turner but also a little weird and ominous. The horns are there as is the wildly evocative and symbolic imagery in the opening credits. Classic and contemporary, “GoldenEye” does a fine job of ushering in the new Bond.
The opening sees James storming a Soviet weapons facility by way of a spectacular bungie jump that hearkens back to some of Moore’s best stunts. Brosnan’s first words as Bond are “Beg your pardon, forgot to knock” as he knocks out a commie. He’s soon joined by Alec Travelyan, a.k.a. fellow MI6 agent 006, who is seemingly killed during the mission just as Bond makes a daring escape. That escape is probably the movie’s most outlandish scene, as Bond drives a motorcycle over a cliff edge to catch up to a falling plane. It’s okay in the context of the movie, but in hindsight serves as a warning toward the direction Brosnan’s films would take.
The plot picks up 9 years later and James is investigating the disappearance of a powerful new weapon – GoldenEye – that can arm Soviet satellites to send targeted EMP shockwaves. The trail leads to the shadowy Janus crime syndicate, headed by none other than a heavily scarred and embittered 006 who’s turned against Queen and country.
James The Fighter
Making Alec Travelyan (Sean Bean) Bond’s main foe is a nice twist – 006 is just as much of a homicidal maniac as Bond but he’s seeking revenge against Britain instead of protecting its interests. Bond is increasingly seen as a relic in GoldenEye, as the chaotic Alec chides Bond for his failings: “The United Kingdom will enter another stone age. Did you find forgiveness in the arms of all those women or the ones you failed to protect?”
Other notable foes include the well-coiffed Russian General Ouromov, the sadist Xenia Onatopp (more on her later), the Russian ganster Valentin (whose mistress is played is played by a very young Minnie Driver) and the inimitable evil hacker Boris (“I am eenvincible!”).
The action scenes, of which there are many, are concise and cold in the Dalton tradition. Bond’s foes have a bad case of stormtrooper aim and couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn, while Bond always shoots to kill. No matter, as Brosnan brings a lithe physicality and cool demeanour to Bond that feels adept and able, even when he cracks one-liners. The best scene finds Bond commandeering a tank and causing gleeful mass destruction in the streets of St. Petersburg.
James The Lover
GoldenEye‘s unique in that much of the first half takes place from computer programmer Natalya Simonova’s (Isabella Scorupco) point of view. She’s the sole survivor of a ruthless massacre at the remote facility that houses the GoldenEye weapon and she’s given lots of time to establish her character and elicit audience sympathy. The twist is that she’s a pacifist, although she still helps Bond reap vengeance. Scorupco is one of the better actresses to act opposite Bond and a welcome addition to the pantheon.
The flip side of the coin is Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a femme fatale working for Janus who gets off on killing. Her preferred method? Death by thigh crushing (“Xenia – I can’t breathe!”). There’s also a new Moneypenny who’s far less docile (“As far as I can remember James, you’ve never had me”) and probably the most clever update of the Bond mythos, a female M (Judi Dench) who’s coldly calculating (“The evil queen of numbers”) and at odds with Bond.
- Q is still here and continues to be played by Desmond Llewelyn. He’s also still sick of Bond’s shit. Upon providing him with the latest decked out car (now a BMW) he admonishes: “You have a licence to kill, not to break the traffic laws”
- M rakes Bond over the coals as the series acknowledges some of the creakier aspects of the character while still keeping much what makes Bond iconic intact: “I think you’re a sexist, mysogynist dinosaur”
- 006’s hidden Cuban base (a giant satellite dishes rises out of a lake) recalls some of the grandeur of Connery-era Bond
- The single best beat occurs during a chase when 006 has seemingly evaded Bond and after a moment’s pause a Bond-piloted tank bursts out of a brick wall like a righteous British Kool-Aid Man
- Some nuance is injecting into all the gambling and gunplay as Bond is shown to be ever-loyal to the mission and not his friends, always hurting those around him
- When Bond holds 006’s life in his hands as they dangle from on high 006 pleads “For England James?” and Bond responds “No, for me” before dropping him from a great height
Meet the new Bond, same as the old Bond. Even with the Cold War over, producers found a way to keep Bond relevant by slyly commenting on his outdated views but avoiding obsolescence by showing his effectiveness in an increasingly complex world. As Bond himself says “governments change, the lies stay the same.”
Brosnan slides into the role of James Bond with relative ease, feeling comfortable with the stunts and charismatic with the women (although GoldenEye stills feels somewhat chaste outside of Xenia’s scenes). A remarkably strong first outing and one that features a murderer’s row of memorable characters, GoldenEye kicks off the Brosnan era in style.
- From Russia With Love
- Dr. No
- The Living Daylights
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- You Only Live Twice
- Live and Let Die
- For Your Eyes Only
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Licence to Kill
- The Man with The Golden Gun
- A View to a Kill
- Diamonds Are Forever
James Bond will return in Tomorrow Never Dies…