Bond / Films

James Bond Retrospective: Goldeneye

By the time of Goldeneye‘s release in 1995, the series was on its last legs. The increasingly dreadful tail end of 80s Roger Moore had been followed by the critically favoured but publicly hated Timothy Dalton era, which peaked with the brutal and violent movie Licence to Kill in 1989. Whilst Licence to Kill had a lot going for it, it alienated audiences and public consensus began to agree that Bond was past it. This, coupled with legal issues within the Brocolli family and of course, the fall of the Soviet Union, lead to a six year gap between Bonds, the longest in history. It was generally accepted that without the Cold War, Bond couldn’t exist, and as such, there was a great deal riding on Martin Campbell’s Goldeneye – if it had failed, it’s unlikely the series would still be with us today. Luckily, Campbell made it work. Goldeneye is a fun and energetic reboot, and though somewhat colder than the best Bonds, retains an important place within the series.goldeneyeThe plot concerns the theft of a secret soviet space weapon called Goldeneye – a satellite capable of knocking out, within a limited area, everything with an electronic pulse. Teaming up with Russian computer programmer Natalya (Izabella Scorupco), Bond (Pierce Brosnan, in his debut) works his way to St Petersburg to find Janus – a mysterious crime lord who may be more familiar than he lets on. goldeneye9The USSR chemical plant infiltration is one of the best openings in the series, and its clear that the filmmakers were trying to make an impression. The bungee jump in the first minute is hugely impressive – tying into the Bond movie precedent of big, GCI-free stunts, and this is followed by a tight and old-school action sequence which is basically a nod to the past, with 006’s ‘ready to save the world again?’ quips and the Big Bag of Mother Russia – the opening is meant to summarise the Bond character and his ideals, and does a fantastic job of providing a microcosmic look at the series as a whole. But crucially, the sequence is fun – directed with a great sense of energy and with an escalating scale of ridiculous set-pieces (the section ends with Bond jumping from motorbike to falling plane…whilst falling off a cliff) which pushes the audience so far into non-belief that if you can make it through the opening, you’ll let the filmmakers get away with anything. It’s as if this movie is saying – ‘this is Bond. It’s silly. But you love it. And look how well we’ve put the silliness together!’ which is refreshing after the glumness of Licence to Kill. Goldeneye is a silly Bond, but rarely camp and put together so well that the audience is more forgiving here than they would be with say, a Moore film. The bombastic approach of the opening also serves to bring in new audiences who are unfamiliar with Bond movies, by plying them with accomplished action.goldeneye10The pre-credits is followed by a brilliant credits segment which sums up the movie as a whole – it’s completely indebted to the past – with its girls, guns, and Tina Turner’s big bold brassy vocals – but at the same time, updated and tweaked for a modern 90s audience. It’s slicker than previous openings, the changes reflecting how 80s music videos look compared to those of the 90s, yet it retains the 60s Maurice Binder theme. This is in contrast to Casino Royale – a more extreme reboot, which completely removes the Binder influence from its credits; Goldeneye‘s opening doesn’t do anything different or new, but it’s aware of its heritage and almost self-consciously constructed to both reflect the past and update it at the same time. It’s a knowing opening credits sequence, made by people who’ve watched a lot of Bond movies, and like previous entries, contains elements of the plot too – in this case, the double-faced villain and the fall of the USSR.goldeneyeAt the time of its release, Goldeneye was easily the best Bond in terms of action sequences, and easily the best looking and slickest film in the franchise. The team were clearly trying to capture Bond and everyone throws themselves into it here – Martin Campbell is a god when combined with a camera and this character and directs all of the action amazingly; from the taunt fist-fights to the tank chase and train explosions, the movie constantly ups the ante on the action front and moves at a breathless pace. The highlight is of course the tank chase – which is absurd and rousing at the same time, and full of great visual gags; Bond fixing his tie, the horse on the roof – it sums up the movie’s sense of fun and its energy. Whilst Goldeneye doesn’t do much new, it reignites familiar tropes and sets them ablaze with directorial energy. For many of a certain generation, Goldeneye was their first Bond movie, and it holds a great deal of nostalgia with certain fans.goldeneye4The movie’s job was to appease the old fan base, but also impress newcomers, and so the film becomes a strange mix of the past meeting the present; it’s strange to watch, the loud, 90s blockbuster approach combining with the 60s story of stolen space weapons and shifty faceless villains. The odd mixture of old-versus-new gives the film a 90s element of postmodernism. This is a self-aware Bond movie, more tongue in cheek than any previous entries in the series, in which everyone is in on the joke. Bond is called a ‘sexiest misogynistic dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War’ by his superior, M, the thoughts reflecting those of critics at the time, and there’s a satirical take on everything Bond stands for throughout. Villains mock his drinking habits and womanising, and MI6’s cloak and dagger style is laughed at as being last century. Everything about Bond is mocked, with the fall of the Soviet Union providing a great basis for Bond dealing with a world which has changed around him.goldeneye8The movie addresses that the world has changed but remains firm that the character hasn’t, and neither has the series. Bond can be reshaped for a modern world, through comedic distancing of the past. However, Goldeneye as a Bond film is a very familiar affair – it updates the older cogs of the series but doesn’t even reshuffle them, and everything – from Bond, to the girls, the villains, henchmen, chases, climax – has been done before. This is what’s strange about Goldeneye, as structurally, it seems to have been made from a template, as if the producers looked at the previous sixteen movies and isolated the tropes which worked, before distilling them into a single movie. If this approach sounds a little bit cold and formulaic, it’s because it is. Goldeneye, more than any previous Bond in the series, was put together with by a committee with success in mind; it ticks boxes and is very deliberate, which means it lacks the heart of some of better Bonds. Luckily, the directing is so energetic and lively that the formulaic elements fall into the background; compare Goldeneye with its follow-up, Tomorrow Never Dies, to see what happens when a standard plot isn’t supported by strong directing – you’re left with a limp feeling of going through the motions.goldeney2The strong directing is backed up a wonderful performance as Pierce Brosnan as Bond. He’s sexy, smooth and charming, and a wonderful anchor for any new audience members. As a Bond, and in keeping with Goldeneye‘s self-aware, past-referencing style, Brosnan takes elements of all previous Bond’s before him and distils them into a definitive form – so we’ve got the sexiness of Connery, the violence of Dalton, and the comedy of Moore. Darker elements of Bond’s personality are teased out here – what does he fight for, how does he feel about the killing, why all the women? – which are addressed in more detail in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Brosnan gives his best performance here, mainly because the material gives him more to work with – unfortunately, whilst Brosnan was always great in the role, his movies with the exception of this one, were a little sub-standard.goldeneye3It’s helped that everyone else is on top form. Goldeneye is one of the best Bond’s for both women and villains. Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan, previously 006, represents the road not taken – a darker version of what Bond could have been. It’s surprising that it took the series this long to come up with an evil ex coworker, but Trevelyan really works – cutting to the core of what makes Bond tick and able to predict his every move. The friendship between him and Bond creates more tension than with most previous villains and it helps that Trevelyan is able to both physically and mentally take on our hero. Bean was rumoured to play Bond for awhile so his casting here is perfect – he’s the perfect anti-reflection and Bean plays him with smarmy relish. His henchwoman, ex-fighter pilot Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) is one of the best in the series. She’s sexy and deranged and Janssen plays her with wonderful scenery chewing relish; she lights up the screen and represents the movie at its most energetic and wild. It’s fitting, that with a 90s reboot which questions Bond’s misogyny, that he’d be faced with a sexually-dominant, violent female villain, who can hold her own against him. As the girl, Izabella Scorupco is a sparky and fiery presence with the benefit of a brain. By this point in the franchise, women were in a stronger position in the Bond movies, and Natalya is more of her own person than past Bond girls. Judi Dench makes her first appearance as M, the lady leader of MI6, and comes across as tough but caring; in terms of strong female figures, Goldeneye is a balanced Bond movie.goldeneye7Goldeneye is almost too well put together for its own good, and is slightly too formulaic to be considered the best in the franchise, but its certainly up there, and a great Bond movie regardless. Its importance in the canon cannot be overstated – it brought Bond back to the modern age, and kept the character alive to the present day. It’s a hugely energetic and fun 90s Bond movie and the best of the Brosnan Bonds.


Also, the Bond retrospectives may jump around a little bit! Eventually I’ll go back and cover Thunderball, but for now I’ll be picking them up as they interest me.


5 thoughts on “James Bond Retrospective: Goldeneye

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