SPOILER WARNING: Just a note to specify that these reviews reveal plot twists. I wasn’t too fussed with the older ones, but over the last 20 years or so the movies have more often used definite surprises in their storytelling. I love these films, so wouldn’t like to spoil them for anyone.
Bond is back, after a six-year hiatus. At the time, that felt like an eternity – but it was only the same distance we now are from Quantum of Solace! We have a new 007, a new M, a new Moneypenny; we’re in a new decade and a new post-Cold War world, and this was a big roll of the dice. It came up double-sixes. What strikes me most about GoldenEye – aside from just how blinking entertaining it is – is how ‘knowing’ the whole thing manages to be. It’s having its cake and eating it: it’s able to be a full-bloodied, full-on Bond movie *and* slyly wink at the audience. It’s an audacious achievement. GoldenEye is very 1990s – there’s talk of sexual harassment and the break-up of the USSR, jokes about safe sex, and the use of the embryonic internet. It’s aware of cliché too: “I might as well ask you,” says the bad guy to Bond, “if all the vodka martinis ever silenced the screams of all the men you’ve killed. Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all these willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” But this is no spoof or undercut of the series. The story is involving and the character stuff very good; the action is superb throughout, and there’s some really excellent model work. A total triumph. 10 “I am invincible!”s out of 10.
Bond: Pierce Brosnan is terrific – instantly at ease in the role. He handles action, comedy and drama with aplomb and plenty of charisma. One of his best moments, which I mention because Robert Dick reminded me of it, is a nonchalant tilt of the head to avoid the backlash of an explosion: effortless cool. The opening sequence is set ‘nine years earlier’ – ie, 1986, the year Brosnan was originally cast as James Bond.
Villains: Sean Bean plays 006-turned-villain Alec Trevelyn. The public-school accent might be a bit distracting, but he’s an effective enough bad guy. He’s in league with off-his-trolley Russian general Ourumov (an earnest Gottfried John) and recruits cyber-geek traitor Boris Grishenko (a fun Alan Cumming). The diabolical highlight of GoldenEye, however, is Xenia Onatopp (“Onatopp?” “Onatopp.”), played by the strikingly sexy Famke Janssen. She’s a fantastically perverse creation – she smokes cigars, murders an admiral during sex by squeezing him between her thighs (well, if you have to go…), seemingly takes orgasmic pleasure in machine-gunning innocent people, and licks Bond’s face as she tries to kill him.
Girls: Brosnan’s first conquest is Caroline, a psychologist sent by M to appraise Bond. He darts around in his Aston Martin with her nervously in the passenger seat, then pops open the champers and moves in for the kill. The female lead is Natalya Simonova, played by the gorgeous Izabella Scorupco. She might have a Secret Squirrel job, working in a satellite control bunker, but she feels like a real woman, a believable human being. She’s no pushover, but is not a spy or agent – she gets scared, she acts tough, she’s clever and resourceful. She actually carries her own subplot for over half the movie, not teaming up with Bond until the 68-minute mark, and then vitally helps with the mission. We’ve come a long way since Britt Ekland. Natalya’s one of the best.
Regulars: Moneypenny’s been recast again, much more successfully this time. Samantha Bond is instantly attractive, classy and interesting, giving as good as she gets in a well-written flirting scene with Bond. Q gets a deliberately old-school gadget show-and-tell that’s played for all it’s worth. MI6 man Tanner crops up, this time played by Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. In a series first, the real MI6 HQ in Vauxhall is used for establishing shots. Most significantly, M is now played by Judi Dench. It seems natural now, but was a bold decision at the time. Making her a woman, and casting such a good actress, adds a new energy to the Bond-M dynamic. The often-shown ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ scene is just knockout. Dench is easily in charge, Bond’s boss and a ballbreaker – but she’s also concerned, fair and empathetic. Seeing how Felix had his leg bitten off in the last film, we get a replacement character: Bond’s CIA pal is now Jack Wade, played with sparkle by The Living Daylights’ Joe Don Baker. Robbie Coltrane appears in a semi-comic role as Russian gangster Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky.
Action: The famous opening bungee jump is a mission statement for the whole film – leaping into new territory. The subsequent sequence sees Bond and 006 break into a nerve-gas plant, then James has a physics-defying stunt when he rides his bike off a cliff and catches up with a falling plane. There’s a playful car chase in the hills above Monte Carlo (see ‘Music’). The destruction of the Severnaya base is very well directed. Bond fights Xenia at a posh swimming pool in a scene more like rough sex than a punch-up. Bond uses an ejector seat to flee an exploding helicopter. His and Natalya’s escape from the Russian jail is great, and is followed by the outrageous tank-through-the-streets-of-St Petersburg stuff. Bond derails the bad guys’ train by parking the tank on the tracks – quite how he got ahead of a speeding train to do this is best not questioned. 007 and Natalya’s plane is shot down over Cuba; Xenia then shows up and Bond kills her. We end with a massive run of fine action at the secret base, which includes Bond and Trevelyan’s scrap on top of the massive radar dish.
Comedy: In the pre-titles scene, a squeaky wheel on a trolley gets a good laugh. There are a few old-style sight gags, such as a peloton of cyclists being knocked over like dominoes, and the punning quota is at its highest in a while. Bond and Xenia have some innuendo-heavy banter over the card table. James flirts stylishly with Moneypenny. There’s also M reprimanding a sarcastic Tanner, Jack Wade’s knackered car (and his sledgehammer approach to restarting it), and Minnie Driver as a tone-deaf club singer.
Music: The score is by Eric Serra. Oh, dear. Although not a total disaster – some action cues are quite good – it has sections of staggeringly awful music. It’s charmless, badly dated nonsense, sometimes sounding more like the theme to The Krypton Factor than a movie score. Check out, if you can bear, this inane piece from early on in the movie:
The theme is written by Bono and The Edge (how is the drummer?), and sung by Tina Turner. I find it very difficult to have any kind of opinion either way on it. It’s just *there*. Over the end credits is an awful, slushy number called The Experience of Love from Eric Serra.
Personal connection: This was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema. It was in December 1995 and I went to the UCI Derby with my old pal Stuart Oultram.