Martin Campbell, 1995
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench
GoldenEye is the first film to star Pierce Brosnan as Bond and the first to use a completely original plot, without any elements from Fleming’s stories. The title is a reference to Fleming's estate in Jamaica and a naval intelligence operation he was involved in during WWII. Agents 006, Alec Trevelyan, and 007 attempt to infiltrate a Soviet facility that produces chemical weapons. 006 is shot and killed by Colonel Ourumov, but Bond manages to escape. Almost a decade later, Bond crosses paths with the shadowy Russian crime syndicate, Janus. One of its members, the sexy Xenia Onatopp, kills a Canadian admiral and steals a new, prototype helicopter resistant to electromagnetic pulses. She murders the staff of a satellite base in Severnaya, Russia, and steals the control disk for a satellite weapons system, which she and General Ouromov use to destroy the bunker at Severnaya. Two of Severnaya programmer’s escape - Boris Grishenko, who is secretly working with Janus and Natalya Simonova, who has escaped, but is soon captured. M sends Bond to St. Petersburg to investigate the attack and track down the mysterious head of the Janus syndicate, who turns out to be none other than Alec Trevelyan. He faked his death to get revenge against the British government for their involvement in the deaths of his parents and other Cossacks during WWII. Bond teams up with Natalya and they follow Trevelyan to Cuba to try to stop him from using the satellite weapons system to destroy the British economy.
I really dislike Pierce Brosnan. I’m sure he’s a delightful gentleman, but his appearance in two films in particular have made me forever cringe when I see him on screen. First, he starred in my least favorite film of all time, Nomads. The less said about that the better. Second, Dante’s Peak. I already hate disaster films (with animal disaster movies being the exception) and this sums up everything I loathe about them. Brosnan’s greatest role was undoubtedly in Mrs. Doubtfire (he’s also very good in The Ghost Writer, but that’s arguably a role that anyone with a permanently smug facial expression could have played).
I’m not sure why I specifically dislike him as Bond. I think part of it has to do with the fact that he is incapable of exuding intelligence and his charm seems tired and forced. He can pull off action and espionage scenes, but most of his dialogue is pretty rough. Not his fault, I know, but a better actor could have made certain scenes more appealing. It’s also a strike against him that the other three films in his run as Bond - Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Die - are all terrible. While I really dislike Brosnan, I can’t deny that this is the finest entry in his run as Bond and is, overall, an excellent action film.
Even though it recycles elements from many other Bond films, I particularly enjoy the script. To a certain extent, GoldenEye attempts to deal with the changing world. This is the first Bond film after the fall of Soviet Russia and it does a reasonable job reflecting the political confusion that resulted from such a major change. It is also refreshing to finally see another 00 have a major role in a Bond film. Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan is absolutely the reason to see this film. In addition to being a very talented actor, he is given a plausible storyline and some of the best dialogue in the series.
The worst thing about GoldenEye is that it feels more like a Hollywood action blockbuster than a Bond film. This is bolstered by a switch from Aston Martin to BMW, an ineffectual score from Eric Serra and a bad opening song written by Bono and The Edge, but sung by Tina Turner. “Goldfinger” it is not. Between these elements and the onslaught of product placement throughout the film, there is something very un-Bond about GoldenEye. This is probably due to a new writer (Licence to Kill was Richard Maibum’s last film of the series), a new Bond and a new director, Martin Campbell. Don’t get me wrong - there are some wonderful action sequences. The trustworthy visual effects supervisor, Chris Cobould, began work on the series in Moonraker (though he is uncredited) and his work shines throughout the latter half of the series.
There is an annoying emphasis on female characters trying to prove their supremacy over Bond. I understand and agree with the need to refresh the series’ depictions of women, but here it is so ham-fisted that they might as well have put a disclaimer after the film like that annoying smoking warning at the end of The Living Daylights. Natalya (played by beautiful and competent Polish actress Izabella Scorupco) is self-reliant and smart; Bond would be unable to save the day without her help, but she is given some unfortunate dialogue about how he is not gentlemanly enough. M (Judi Dench) and Moneypenny (the aptly named Samantha Bond) are both irritatingly smug and self-congratulatory about their dismissals of Bond as sexist and out-dated. Yet they remain in the office. Judi Dench grew into her character and I think she is an excellent M, but here she is not quite there yet. The decision to cast M as a woman was supposedly inspired by Stella Rimington’s role as the first female head of MI5 (British military intelligence).
Famke Janssen, on the other hand, is a major reason to watch this film. Her over-the-top villainess, Xenia Onatopp, is completely unhinged. Out of everyone in the film, her character most closely approaches a comic book feel, as she strangles men to death with her legs during sex and has orgasms when she kills people with a machine gun. She races cars, gambles, smokes cigars and wears sexy evening gowns as easily as a fighter pilot’s uniform. Onatopp represents the heart of the series and keeps GoldenEye from totally wading into Blockbuster Land. Unfortunately the female characters who followed her in the Brosnan run (and there a high number of female villains and henchmen compared to the series overall) would be unable to compete with her or Natalya.
The side characters are played by accomplished actors, such as Robbie Coltrane’s Russian gangster Zukovsky and Alan Cumming’s arrogant computer programmer, Boris. Both actors enliven what are essentially flat, poorly written roles. Joe Don Baker is great in a small part as an unconcerned CIA agent. There is also a welcome return from Desmond Llewelyn as Q, who provides the film’s only real comic relief.
Regardless of its flaws, GoldenEye comes highly recommended and is a high point in the later Bond films. It is available on a variety of DVD releases, though I’m reviewing the 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 3. As with the rest of the Ultimate series, there are a ton of extras, including a commentary from Michael G. Wilson and Martin Campbell, a documentary, The World of 007, and many more featurettes. Most of these extras are also included on the Blu-ray, which has the sexiest cover of any Bond film. Not that that’s really a challenge.