The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – GoldenEye
OUT WITH the young, in with the slightly younger. Legal issues forced Timothy Dalton to step aside for Pierce Brosnan’s turn in the lead role, but could Bond enter a new decade with a smash or a SMERSH? Niamh and Truan debate GoldenEye.
Niamh Keoghan: This is it, you guys; the Bond film that boldly announced itself into the 90s with the usual bombastic flair and style. The first and best of the Brosnan run, and one that has the unenviable task of bridging 007 from his Cold War context to the new post-Soviet world stage, as well as introducing to audience a new Bond and a radial retool of M with the introduction of a female incarnation. It was a tall order for any film to draw together on all these challenges and come out watchable, and it succeeds.
The stunts by now are iconic: a leap off the Hoover dam and a tank ride through St. Petersburg are the stand-out set pieces of GoldenEye. It’s a little bittersweet to now look back at some of the final practical effects the series would see for a long time in all their glory. They cap off a fine legacy in the series that the Craig bonds have tried to recapture with mixed success.
The cast are dependable and as 90s as they come. A Russian Bridget Jones-esque computer technician takes the role of our Bond girl, whilst our bad lady is a psychopath who enjoys crushing men to death with her thighs. That’s awesome. Ned Stark Boromir himself Sean Bean portrays an old ally turned enemy of Bond’s in one of the series’ best twist turns. Judi Dench is icily impressive as the new face of M, and Pierce Brosnan plugs his best turn as the spy; just the right balance of charm, smarm, and a tiny touch of the darkness that Dalton had injected into the character.
With a thumping techno soundtrack and a painfully of-the-time cyberpunk plot featuring a Soviet superweapon, personal vendettas and disgruntled communists, this was the Bond we needed to bridge the gap. The world of 1989 and 1995 were radically different. To carry on the series with a deft side step into the 90s carrying over all the intrigue, charm and camp that the defines a Bond film.
This was the Bond film of the 1990s, and it wouldn’t be topped until 2006 with the Casino Royale reboot. Alongside the iconic N64 adaption, this was the film that solidified James Bond in the consciousness of the next generation – our generation.
This movie is awesome, okay? You know it in your heart. It has stunts, it has satellites, it has badass nerd hackers and a tank ride through a Russian city. It has silly accents, over the top baddies and all the thrills you could have asked for. It’s awesome you guys. No contest, no debate. Roll on, it’s awesome.
Truan Evans: Pierce Brosnan was not just the worst thing that happened to Bond in the 90s, he was probably the worst thing that happened to the Bond franchise, period. Yeah, J. W. Pepper was pretty fecking annoying, but at least we weren’t stuck with that bastard for the duration of four films. Perhaps I’m not quite fair – it takes more than the work of one man to make the Brosnan series the snide, sarky and overblown affair they pretty much all are, but Brosnan personifies the relapse to cheese-ridden stupidity, moral redundancy and wild inconsistency in Bond after the series had made such progressive leaps in style and direction with Timothy Dalton at the helm.
That said, the opening segment of GoldenEye is certainly visually impressive, as Bond bungee jumps off a dam (shot at Archangel, Alaska) before rendezvousing with 006 (Sean Bean) at a Russian chemical plant, where Bean, true to form, appears to be summarily executed. It quickly takes a turn for the silly as Bond guns down hundreds of hapless Ruskies like so many bowling pins, jumps off a mountain ridge and manages to aerially enter a falling plane and pilot it to safety before it can hit the ground. Yeah, scriptwriters, no. That’s not how terminal velocity works. Or gravity.
The opening theme segue isn’t much better, with overwrought pseudo-communist imagery being attacked by models with sledge hammers, while Bono and The Edge’s (sigh) theme sounds similarly overblown and bombastic despite Tina Turner applying her considerable range to it. In fact, the music throughout is pretty jarring, as the new electronic sound system jangles and jitters comically throughout, making it even harder to take anything seriously. Of course, nothing in the film’s style is really meant to be taken seriously, since it endlessly farts-out terrible puns and double-entendres like an Adam West Batman: “Don’t worry James, I’m sure you’ll stay Onatopp of things…”
It’s not that light-hearted scenes and gags can’t work in Bond, but Brosnan’s are terrible, unrelenting and constantly delivered with an insufferable degree of smugness. I’ve heard from plenty of people that Brosnan is the perfect suave Bond, but I just find him irritating and reptilian. It’s true he’s not as disengaged or thuggish as Connery could be, or as worn-out and camp as Moore would become, but he’s far more plastic and lacking in emotiveness.
I should add, however, that GoldenEye is easily the best film of the Brosnan era. Many of the film’s aspects do at least show improvement upon the series’ norms and the pacing is kept pretty steady throughout. There’s also strong performances from the supporting cast such as Izabella Scorupco as Natalya, a love interest of Bond’s who actually plays a vital role in the plot! Scurupco even manages to build a strong chemistry with Brosnan, with scenes that almost make him appear… vulnerable…? The plot is also far less bloated than usual and Bean makes for a surprising, but solid and committed villain, even if his backstory isn’t the strongest.
It’s also noteworthy that this film marks the first appearance of Judi Dench as M, and though she only has two short scenes she nevertheless manages to make a striking impression as the cold, driven, and almost motherly taskmaster of MI6, even if her scenes with Brosnan come across more as a series of monologues and retorting quips than discourse. Though I still think Brosnan would ultimately run the character into the ground, here he’s fresh enough here to breathe some new life into a series which had been on the brink of collapse during the prior legal disputes between its parent companies.