Bond is back! After a long, long break, I finally dove into Pierce Brosnan’s first turn as Bond, GoldenEye, Tuesday night. Strangely, as I got deeper and deeper into the flick, I realized that I had never seen the entire movie. I’ve seen the beginning many times, and parts of the rest, but there were parts I’m sure I never saw. Weird, because I remember being pretty excited about the new era of Bond back in 1995.
After a lengthy delay due to various legal issues, Timothy Dalton jumped ship before serving as Bond for the third time. Which gave the production team a chance to finally get the man they’d coveted for 15 years, Brosnan. Fair or not, the failure to get Brosnan when Roger Moore retired doomed Dalton’s run before it began. So it’s safe to say there was a fair amount of pressure on Brosnan to deliver. For the most part, he did.
We open in the Soviet Union, in the mid-80s. Bond fearlessly runs across the top of a massive dam, hooks a line to the railing, and leaps over the side. Soon he is crawling around the interior of a chemical weapons plant, where he meets up with his partner, 006. They are placing explosives to blow the joint when they are discovered. 006 is murdered but 007, of course, makes a daring escape. On his way out, he chases a runaway aircraft, which hurtles over a cliff into the massive valley below. He leaps, somehow catches up, pulls himself in, takes the stick, and pulls the plane up at the last second.
We’re in good Bond territory here, with three levels of unrealism going on. 1) His single-handed escape from a heavily armed weapons plant. 2) The whole catching/saving the plane thing. 3) How he manages to get home safely from deep inside the Soviet Union in just a single propellor plane. Which is all fine. It feels like home again.
Brosnan isn’t the only big change, though. Soon we meet the new M, Judi Dench. She’s not just a new actor in the role, M has been redefined for the age. Where the old M came from the world of spooks, the new M is an accountant and pours through the numbers to justify missions. As with baseball today, the British intelligence service was split between the numbers people and the tools people in 1995. Maybe that’s where Michael Lewis got the inspiration for Moneyball!
Good old Q is still around and Bond drives a gorgeous Aston Martin DB5 early on. Joe Don Baker, who was evil guy Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights, returns as CIA agent Jake Wade this time. I like him better as a good guy than a bad guy, unless he’s being Chief Karlin. So we’ve got some solid connections to the past as well.
Bond is off to France and then St. Petersburg, chasing the bad guys, unwrapping the mystery, and eventually saving the day. As well as Brosnan does as Bond, the movie as a whole feels uneven. There are a few high points, but through much of the movie, I was wondering how the hell the pieces were supposed to fit together.
Sean Bean is forgettable as Alec Trevelyan/006. For all the areas where this movie pushes the franchise forward, it got a pretty boring villain.
Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova. We need more computer programers like her. Beautiful, modern, and fearless. A solid addition to the Bond Girl world.
Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp. From the Wikipedia: “A sadist, she enjoys torturing her enemies between her strong thights.” Awwww yeah! Onatopp is just the latest update on the psycho villain Bond Girl archetype. As our culture was beginning to become hyper-sexualized with the rise of the Internet, Onatopp is a perfect woman for the times. Her overt sexuality and brutality is way beyond what we’ve ever seen from an evil Bond girl in the past. For that alone, she’s one of the most memorable ones in the franchise’s history.
And for that, she deserved a better ending. Her demise is far too quick and easy.
Also a cameo by an about-to-breakout Minnie Driver as a singer in a St. Petersburg strip club. I hate to be that guy, but I was disappointed she kept her top on for the scene.
So what did I think about the movie? I like Brosnan as Bond quite a bit. He certainly looks the part and has a nice blend of suave sophistication and believability as a physical actor. That said, his performance feels a little forced at times. Not as in it being a stretch for him, but more than he’s playing the shit out of Bond to make up for lost time.
The supporting cast is mostly good. But there are a few gaps in the movie that distract quite a bit. The most notable is that explanation for how 006 made it from 1986 to 1995. There are other smaller ones though that kept making me think, “Wait, what?”
When the problems with the movie are in the story rather than the actor, that’s progress for the series though. Dalton tried hard but just wasn’t right for the job. Brosnan was the perfect man.
A couple other things:
There are two notable references to other movies. When Bond tells 006 that he’s nothing more than a common thief, that’s a straight pull from Die Hard. And the scene where 006 and 007 hang from the antenna support in Cuba is clearly cribbed from The Empire Strikes Back.
How many Bond movies have ended with an evil lair in flames? A lot, I bet.
There were a couple mentions of the Internet, which I bet a lot of people still knew nothing about in 1995.
Surely an evil genius computer programmer would use passwords more difficult to crack than “knackers” and “seat” for his most important programs, right?
Finally, remember when you could talk about Guantanamo Bay and it meant safety and freedom?