Across the Bond: GoldenEye


I think I’ll dub the entrance of Pierce Brosnan as Bond’s entry into the modern era, though an argument could be made for Dalton. The fact that a six year hiatus was taken by the franchise really makes GoldenEye stand a part from previous films and Bond’s return to the big screen was not a guaranteed success at all. Of course it was a success. A really big one.

I seem to love this installment a bit more than Xander, but we both agree that this is Bond at some of his best. Brosnan first entry is a strong reminder of just why Bond is so awesome.

Xander Markham

First, some alternate history: had Bond not been sent into a six-year hiatus following Licence To Kill and Timothy Dalton stayed on in the part, his third movie would reportedly have sent him to Japan and Hong Kong in order to track down the people responsible for blowing up a top secret research lab in Scotland. His Bond girl would have been American industrial thief Connie Webb, and his enemies would include a Yakuza assassin, a shady pair of identical twin Japanese business owners and, erm, a robotic female assassin. (Or gynoid, but I think I’m the last person on the planet to use that term). Frankly, from the fascinating rundown offered by Bond site MI6-HQ, the script sounds like it would have edged the series back towards the more fantastic tone of the Moore era, so I’m pleased in a way that Dalton’s era ended with two fantastic movies and his legacy intact, as much as I’d like to have seen more of him in the role.

Back in the real world, Pierce Brosnan had missed out on playing Bond in The Living Daylights by a matter of hours when his Remington Steele contract was unexpectedly renewed – before the series was cancelled again shortly afterwards, just to give the poor chap a second kick in the teeth. With the political wrangling over MGM stabilising in the mid-90s, Brosnan was given a second chance as Cubby Broccoli sought to revive the series. Though I don’t think Brosnan would have been the right man to immediately follow Roger Moore, as the series needed Dalton to earn it some serious dramatic credit back, there couldn’t have been a better choice to remind audiences of what they had been missing since Bond had vanished from their screens in 1989. One of my major criticisms of him, that he plays to the Bond stereotype rather than creating a character of his own, is a strength in GoldenEye, where a radical reinterpretation would almost certainly have led to audience confusion and the series being shut down for good. Despite being a bit too pretty-boy for my taste, Brosnan has buckets of charm and an easy manner at tossing out one-liners. In that respect, if Dalton was the heir apparent to (early) Connery’s more serious Bond, Brosnan takes after Roger Moore, albeit with some much needed restraint. For now.

The movie itself, named after Ian Fleming’s estate in Jamaica (itself named after a WW2 operation Fleming masterminded whilst working at Naval Intelligence), manages its more outlandish elements with a straight enough face to allow its plot to still be taken seriously. Xenia Onatopp, for one, is an absolute joy and the series’ most striking villainess. I mentioned last week that televangelist Joe Butcher was a great example of a Fleming-type character never actually created by the author, and Onatopp is unquestionably top of that list, right down to the weird sexuality which defined so many of Fleming’s villains, for better or worse. Famke Janssen is bombastically hot in the role, and there are few straight men who wouldn’t be delighted to accept death by Janssen thigh-crushing. She play the character’s uber-vamp sex appeal to the hilt and steals every scene she’s in, right up until an absolutely perfect death and kiss-off line from Brosnan. (‘She always did enjoy a good squeeze.’) The plot, about a disgruntled former MI6 agent seeking revenge against Britain by detonating an EMP over London – after stealing all the moneys from its banks – is pretty silly, but has enough post-Cold War resonance to keep it on the straight and narrow, despite Alan Cumming’s gratingly awful satellite programmer, Boris. Sean Bean, himself often mooted for the Bond part, is a great choice for the role of Alec, Bond‘s friend-turned-foe.

The Cold War elements are a sly riposte to everyone who said Bond couldn’t survive in the modern era, and demonstrates how intelligently the series has evolved with changing times. Alec Trevelyan, a descendant of the Lienz Cossacks, embodies the type of villain born from the collapse of Communism, tying together disparate elements from the Soviet era still bearing a grudge over the fall of their previous regime. Gottfried John doesn’t get much to do as General Ourumov, but represent an aged, old-school Russian bitterly yearning for wars long since lost. Daniel Kleinman’s gorgeous title sequence make this post-Cold War theme explicit, and Tina Turner’s theme song harkens back to Shirley Bassey without seeming old fashioned. Eric Serra’s score is often the topic of debate, although I like its mix of (then) modern synth tracks with more sparse, Russian-sounding cues. (I’m no music analyst so those terms are probably all wrong, but hopefully my point is clear when you actually listen to the soundtrack). His choice of ‘The Experience Of Love’ for the closing song is awful, but his gunbarrel sequence arrangement is fantastic, almost as thrilling as the militaristic, bass-heavy version which was such a perfect fit for Timothy Dalton’s swansong.

GoldenEye is by no means perfect, particularly Isabella Scorupco’s nondescript (and drearily dressed) Bond girl Natalya and Bond being given a gadget-laden car whose tricks he never uses (bad enough that it’s a BMW), but once again, it was the right Bond for the right time. Brosnan’s performance was instrumental in taking the character right back into the upper echelons of pop culture, the villains are terrific, Judi Dench is an inspired hoot as M, there are some great one-liners (‘You don’t need the gun, Commander’ ‘That depends on your definition of safe sex’) and the post-Cold War themes answer every question about Bond‘s viability for a new age with aplomb. Though the Brosnan era would quickly sink into bland mediocrity and then outright catastrophe, this is a triumphant, vibrant debut for an actor who perhaps always deserved better material than he was given. Plus, it brought in a whole new generation of Bond fans courtesy of the greatest video game ever made, even if it likely resulted in just as many educations failed due to Slappers Only in the Complex.

Matthew Razak

GoldenEye is the Bond movie that really got me into Bond so it holds a special place in my heart. There’s a reason it got me into Bond though and that reason is because it is so entirely quintessentially Bond. After a six year hiatus due to legal issues returning Bond to form was more important than ever. People were sounding the death knoll of the franchise and declaring Bond had no place in our culture anymore. A relic of the Cold War to quote the film itself. GoldenEye took Bond and instead of cowering under the pressure ran headlong into it in the best Bond way possible. The Bond formula when executed this well is almost indestructible, and while the attitude and the tone may change the underlying formula never does.GoldenEye proved this and it’s the reason we have Bond today and the reason we’ll have more Bond for a long time coming.

I’m a bigger fan of Brosnan than Xander is, though I will agree that he got the short end of the stick when it came to the rest of his films. Still throughout his tenure he brought a bit more depth and swagger to Bond that had gotten lost during Moore’s era. He’s often accused of not focusing enough on the character of Bond, but that’s more the films he starred in issue and not his. When he could throughout his tenure he brought a human side to Bond that I thought was better than Dalton’s take when it was allowed to shine through. It’s definitely present in GoldenEye when the film slows down here and there, especially between him and Natalya on the beach (a trite scene, but interesting) or whenever he and Alec Trevelyan showdown. In fact Trevelyan and Bond is one of the best Bond/villain relationships the films have produced, and their shared backgrounds and personalities offer a fantastic contrast and eye into the character of Bond. Their relationship raises questions about Bond‘s duty to England, his coldness to death and his treatment of women. It’s an incredibly dynamic villain/hero relationship and Brosnan and Sean Bean are both wonderful at pulling it off. Watching the films so close to each recently I would liken it back to Scaramanga and Bond, but with some actual emotional punch

I’m not sure how Xander got through his entire piece without mentioning the tank chase scene through the streets of St. Petersburg. If ever there was a moment that defined Bond its when that tank comes barelling through that wall, the Bondtheme kicks in and Brosnan pops his head out looking sharp as all hell. The massively destructive chase scene that ensues is one of the most fun to date and easily is he most costly thing Bond has ever done in terms of property damage. You can tell they were just having a ridiculous amount of fun with it and aside from a horrible product placement moment (Brosnan’s films were sadly overwhelmed with these) is pretty much perfect down to Bond‘s tie adjustment at the end. The rest of the action in the film doesn’t disappoint either with an opening sequence involving a prolific stunt (dam bungee jump), a solid action sequence and the best introduction of a new Bond actor ever (“Beg your pardon, forgot to knock.”). The films climatic ending in a giant satellite doesn’t quite have the grandiose nature of some of Bond‘s other action exploits, but the focus on him and Trevelyan at the end doesn’t call for that. Plus he already killed of Xenia Onatopp (best Bond girl name since Goodhead) in a ridiculous fashion, so the more subdued fist fight and eventual murder of Trevelyan delivers not only a great fight, but a truly great and personal moment when Bond releases him and says, “No. For me.”

What I think GoldenEye does best is confront Bond as a character head on, while still keeping him the one-line spouting action star he is. The film is incredibly meta in the ways it deals with Bond‘s own character and the complaints about the franchise. By doing so and having creative post Cold War plot it completely turns the question of Bond‘s relevance around on the audience by making it part of the story. Our introduction to the new female M instantly telling us that Bond may be considered outdated (“Well, I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.”), but the rest of the film affirming that we still need him and enjoy watching his antics. It’s a devishly smart re-introduction to Bond that simultaneously updates the character while keeping him Bond. I think it’s one of the reason GoldenEye succeeds where Dalton’s films fell through. The change was obviously less drastic in interpretation of the character, but it was still noted.

GoldenEye doesn’t deliver on all fronts (we are nitpicking here, right?). As Xander said Natalya is easily one of the dullest Bond women around. She’s good looking, but not stunning, her character is simply there to follow Bond around and her revenge story is lackluster at best. Thankfully Onatopp is more than enough Bond woman to make up for Natalya’s lack of presence. I feel hat Minnie Drivers completely random cameo as a god awful lounge singer in the film is both strange and fantastic. 

The score simply feels awkward to me, though I can see where Xander is coming from in his discussion and may have to give the movie yet another watch through just to listen to it with a more open ear. There’s also the issue introducing an car full of gadgets and then simply having it drive down a dirt road. Once again the film is a bit marred by forced product placement. Does anyone think a car would have even shown up in this film if it wasn’t for BMW paying a lot of money to have theirs in it. And while I will agree that Alan Cumming’s is inexplicably annoying throughout the movie I think it only makes his inevitable death with liquid nitrogen while screaming “I am invincible!” all the more satisfying. It did spur the 90s equivalent of a meme, with almost everyone using that line repeatedly for at least a few years after the release.

GoldenEye is just Bond. It may be the most Bond movie ever made as it mixes all the elements that the previous Bonds gave to the character so well. Xander’s complaint that Brosnan plays Bond as the stereotype of Bond and not as a new character may have some grounds, but there’s definitely more to his portrayal. It’s this mix of stereotype and character that makes Brosnan’s Bond work so well in GoldenEye.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.