– Summary –
Director : Martin Campbell
Year Of Release : 1995
Principal Cast : Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Tcheky Karyo, Samantha Bond, Desmond Llewellyn, Minnie Driver, Serena Gordon.
Approx Running Time : 130 Minutes
Synopsis: Bond must thwart the plans of a former USSR Colonel who plans to detonate a weapon over London and cause a global financial meltdown.
What we think : Pause. Hit reset. GoldenEye, coming off the back of a 6 year hiatus for the Bond franchise, became the franchise’s first “reboot” and introduced us to Pierce Brosnan as the iconic British super-spy. Director Martin Campbell – who would also reboot the franchise in the late-00’s with Casino Royale barely a decade later – delivers a smart, slick, action-packed entry into the canon, with a masochistic spy existing in the new sexually liberated turn-of-the-millennium post-cold-war era. Brosnan effortlessly makes the role his own, while Scorupco and Janssen (in her breakout performance) provide the requisite female attractions.
Pause. Hit Reset. Reboot.
Check out Tina Tuner’s Classic Theme Song:
Back in the mid-90’s, things in cinema had changed. By the time GoldenEye was released, films such as Jurassic Park had revolutionized digital CGI, while blockbusting mega-films like Terminator 2 had elevated the expectations of audiences as to what could be achieved with the Modern Action Film. About the time GoldenEye was released, I had moved to the Big City to work, and found at my disposal some free time which allowed me to spend a great deal of it at the cinema, imbibing in my favorite past-time – watching movies. I’d seen Bond films before, mind you, although I’d not really appreciated them as perhaps I should (keep in mind, my cinematic knowledge and appreciation was as an infant – new and babbling!) but I’d heard plenty about how much of a staple of cinema they’d become. A Bond film was an Event, and there was no doubt in my mind that GoldenEye was definitely a film to go see in the cinema. I expected big things from GoldenEye, as did most, because the “new” Bond would have to compete with the action blockbusters coming out of Hollywood on an almost daily basis, and were it to fail or somehow not connect with the audience, the future of the franchise might very well have stopped there. Would it be as good as I hoped? Or would the misogynistic, hedonistic, slick-and-style of Bond seem outdated even still, regardless of how many “modern updates” he was given?
MI6 agents James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrate an illicit Soviet chemical plant, in order to destroy it – the plan goes awry and Trevelyan is shot, leaving Bond to escape only barely, before the place explodes. Years later, Bond is tasked with following a suspected associate of the Janus Crime Syndicate, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), who has infiltrated the graces of a Candidan General in order to steal a prototype helicopter capable of withstanding an electromagnetic pulse – which she does – before he tracks Onatopp down and learns that the boss of the Janus Organization is none other than long-thought-dead Trevelyn, who is now vowing revenge on Britain and MI6 for the death of his parents. Trevelyn plans – with the assistance of a Russian Colonel providing cover to a distant Siberian satellite controlling station, to detonate a device known as the GoldenEye over London, using an electromagnetic pulse to wipe all computer records, including financials, and set the country back into the stone age; thereby causing a global financial meltdown. After a battle at the station, where Bond frees computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and learns that another programmer, Boris (Alan Cumming) is helping Janus, Bond tracks them down for a final showdown on top of an enormous satellite array in the jungles of Cuba.
GoldenEye remains one of my favorite guilty pleasure Bond films. Sure, it lacks the pacing or more recent fare like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but for mid-90’s Bond it certainly packs a punch or two. The effects, while not a par on major Hollywood releases, seem quaint now – model work and basic CGI are evident throughout, although one cannot pass judgement on that considering the age of the movie – but the story, the characters and the overall narrative are where this thing is at. GoldenEye is the first Bond film made after the collapse of Communism, and the story makes superb use of the residual mythology of Soviet Russia to heighten tension and add a sense of thrill to the piece. Written by Michael France, the film is also the first Bond movie not to be based on any of the works of Ian Fleming, the creator of the franchise. France’s touches on several key issues with the old-style Bond living in the modern age, where political correctness was beginning to assert itself even in the face of Bond’s seemingly sleazy dalliances with numerous women. This jarring juxtaposition leads even the new female M (and played by Judi Dench), Bond’s boss, to give her agent a stern “here’s what I think of you” speech that sets the tone for not only the Bond franchise going forward but also M’s relationship with her top guy. It’s a scene that so ably assesses and elucidates the male-dominated world of the Spy and brings it – kicking and screaming, if you will – into the new Century (although, when GoldenEye came out, the new century was still five years away).
Looking at this film now, with a more attuned critical eye, GoldenEye still stacks up in the storytelling department, even if there are some faults in the execution. The narrative is exceptionally brisk, as you’d expect from a globetrotting agent like Bond, and the broad scope of the plan to destroy the world (etc etc) is significant enough to really generate some tension. World domination plots are the bread and butter of Bond, and GoldenEye’s is one of the better ones – even if it’s not the most imaginative. Some of the double-crossing and plot devices used seem pretty cliched – although I admit, at the time I saw this theatrically, I was amazed and shocked that Trevelyn had turned to The Dark Side and was now Bond’s enemy – and if I was to be a little harsh, there’s a little too much build up to the finale out in the jungle – the final fight between Bond and Trevelyn, because you always need a Boss Battle, is noteworthy for not quite being the Big Finish it should have been compared to the rest of the film. Until that point, Bond had exploded a massive factory, driven a tank through a city, (yes, really) and destroying multiple properties owned by the Russians (including a massive satellite array) along the way. His fight with Trevelyn lacked the raw grit the film needed to end it on a real emotional full-stop.
France’s script gives us everything we expect from Bond: the cars, the guns, the gadgets and the girls – Famke Janssen, as Onatopp, has the ability to crush men to death with her thighs while in flagrante delicto, making her potential tryst with Bond one with a potentially deadly.. er, outcome. Izabella Scorupco, who would later become director Martin Campbell’s wife, provides the softer feminine touch as Natalya, although I’d hardly rate her as a “classic” Bond girl, due largely to a frigidity of romantic entanglements (mainly thanks to the action-focused script) save for the latter moments where she softens a little. Scorupco is beautiful, sure, and she handles the action and thrills with aplomb, although I think her role is more of an “assistant” than an actual “participant” in GoldenEye – she observes a lot, talks a bit, and aides Bond only in minor circumstances. Watch out for terrific performances by British actors Alan Cumming, as Boris, and Judi Dench, as M (when hasn’t Dench ever provided a solid act on film?), with American Joe Don Baker essaying a CIA agent also tracking Janus with an attitude just a touch more overbearing than needed – he’s cocky, sure, but occasionally swerves into reckless. Bit parts of note include the perfectly named (and super-hot!) Samantha Bond as the new Miss Moneypenny, whose sexual attraction to Bond is a lot more obvious than we’ve seen in previous films, and the terrific Desmond Llewellyn, once more as Q, Bond’s gadget guy.
Of course, all eyes were on Pierce Brosnan to produce the goods as the iconic spy, and produce them he does. While I’d be hard pressed to elevate his portrayal of Bond into the same category as, say, Connery, he personifies the cocksure, suave and buttery-smooth hardness of the character moreso than even, I think, previous incumbent Timothy Dalton. Some might argue, but then again, we’ve all been arguing about Bond since Ursula exited the ocean. Brosnan plays Bond as M’s quoted “relic of the Cold War”, a man struggling with the new world order contrasting how he previously lived his life – while a Bond film doesn’t always allow time for introspection and subtext (at least, not outside the sexual kinds), I think GoldenEye showed us a more conflicted Bond than previously. Yes, he fights for King and Country, but the enemy is now more ethereal and intransigent than ever before. At least with SPECTRE you knew who you were up against. This new subterranean menace comes with an inbuilt Hydra-like headlessness, and I think that’s what scares Bond the most. Brosnan, while flipping glib one-liners to the girls and giving the audience a knowing smile, seems somewhat confused by it all, as if this new Bond is equally unsure of himself in the latter stages of the 20th Century.
But, since this is Bond, the key to the film being a success would always be the action set-pieces – and boy, are there some rippers here. Of note, the aforementioned pursuit by Bond of Natalya and her captors through St Petersburg in a tank, and by through I really mean through. It’s a classic Bond sequence, causing massive destruction to achieve an end result, and Brosnan delivers a performance of nonchalance and competence that oozes pure Bond charisma. The destruction of the Russian chemical factory is also pretty awesome, although, like the destruction of some Soviet jets and the satellite control bunker, the obviousness of the miniature work is now quite large. It’s still cool that Bond used miniature work even up to this point (and beyond), instead of going the CGI route like so many films would inevitably utilize. It’s just obvious. Bond should be large-scale action, and GoldenEye does exactly what it needs to do make it work – even if sometimes the credibility of it all wavers into outright fantasy at times. In any case, you’d be hard pressed to really consider GoldenEye as anything other than a product of its time – flaws and all – and for that, we can be thankful. Martin Campbell’s foot was firmly on the accelerator with this one, with a tendency towards a Richard Donner-esque style of action editing and pacing that he’d follow on with in The Mask Of Zorro, and the lamentable Vertical Limit.
GoldenEye remains the best of the Brosnan bunch; Tomorrow Never Dies is almost at the same level but is let down by a somewhat over-fluffed central villain, while the less said about The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, the better. As a Bond film, it’s terrific, with a top-tier opening title sequence and killer theme song, and some magnificently staged set-pieces. Sean Bean rips into it, Scorupco is alluring, Janssen is all BDSM and Brosnan himself was born to play the part – he was initially going to be Bond back in the 80’s, although he couldn’t get out having to shoot Remington Steele, which led to the producers casting Timothy Dalton – making GoldenEye one of the better Bond movies in the history of the franchise.