After a couple years off to lick wounds inflicted upon him by the somewhat unfair critical mauling of Licence To Kill, James Bond returned to cinemas with renewed vigour – what else would you expect from a man who periodically gets younger every time he gets older?
But this comeback was different. The old guard had gone and the new owners of Eon Productions wanted to make sure that this new Bond would fit in these new times while still remaining the womanizing, glib, bastard he’s always been.
Enter Pierce Brosnan, a man who’d been courted for the role as far back as 1986 and who’s wife had turned up as an ill-fated Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only, as the fifth official actor to portray the spy and who’d previously portrayed the lead in Remington Steele, a show about a dashing thief hired to portray the fictional boss of a struggling P.I firm. Surely the man was destined for this role and in 1995 he proved it once Goldeneye burst, Phoenix-like, into cinemas…
It’s a strange new world for super spy James Bond. The Soviet Union is no more, the Berlin Wall has fallen and old villains are now new allies and the political landscape is virtually unrecognisable in the aftermath of the Cold War. Refusing to allow him to forget it is the new M, a woman who goes by numbers and facts rather than the hunches of antiquated spies but when an experimental helicopter that is impervious to EMP is stolen, Bond feels there’s more at play and when it’s utilised as a getaway vehicle in the theft of a secret Russian weapon codenamed: Goldeneye he’s sent off to sort things out. However, a shadowy figure from his past is the one pulling the strings and he’s carrying a chip on his shoulder the size of a manatee that’s focus on Bond and England in general. Can Bond and the only witness to the violent theft, a Russian computer programmer, manage to survive a huge amount of exploding vehicles in order to crash Goldeneye for good?
Goldeneye is a perfect, textbook example of how you take something that’s over 30 years old, blow the dust off it and present it as something utterly relevant yet while somehow keeping all the classic stuff intact. This is actually the exact point where I finally bought into the Bond franchise after years of treating it as a crusty old curiosity that only popped up on TV on bank holidays. The experience was so inspiring that not only did view Bond in a whole new light but it made me hungry to explore the other movies too and therefore opening up a quintessential history lesson of the action/spy genre and by God, I wasn’t disappointed.
Gifted by a very savvy script which forces Bond to confront such alien concepts as a female boss and women who (gasp!) might not actually want to sleep with him (even Bond superfan Miss Moneypenny brings up the notion of sexual harassment – jokingly, of course. It’s still 1995), it also suggests that with the Cold War over, the world may not even need 007 and his ilk and that James is very much the “sexist, misogynist, dinosaur” that M scathingly names him during a briefing session.
Oh M… Quite possibly the biggest Bond casting coup in history, the choice of Dame Judi Dench as James’ superior is a masterstroke because you genuinely believe that this tiny little woman is the only person around with enough balls to could corral the bed hopping, agent and garner his respect. Also this movie’s Bond girl, on the run Russian computer programmer, Natalya Somova (played by Izabella Scorupco) is far from a shy retiring damsel in distress (although she does need rescuing once or twice) who actually can handle herself despite not being an agent of any kind and her relationship with Bond actually progresses in more of a form of burgeoning mutual respect rather than James simply notching up another conquest. As for the villains of the piece, casting Sean Bean as a double-oh agent, whose alligences is as shaky as Bean’s ability to restrain his northern accent, is genius – could you imagine the Bond-type adventures HE would’ve gotten up to? Dr. Nay? Licence t’Kill? Golden-Aye? Famke Janssen also excels as orgasming assasin Xenia Onatopp who’s trademark fatality is to crush the breath out of her victims with her iron thighs during love making – frankly, I’m amazed it’s taken this long for a series so obsessed with it’s lead’s heat-seeking member to finally introduce someone who actually fucks people to death but finally, here we are.
Entertaining supporting roles are filled out by Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cumming both expertly molding their Scots brogue into a Russian dialect, but the final kudos have to go to Brosnan as quite possibly the best “all round” Bond there’s ever been – a single performance that compiles all the best bits of past actors to create a walking, talking greatest hits package that feels fresh yet familiar and breaks the Connery/Moore deadlock that’s had fans debating for decades.
Finally, all hail director Martin Campbell for rising up from a career directing low rent B-movies (hello, Ray Liotta in No Escape) and compiling fantastically solid action sequences that begin with the first of a superlative string of pre credit action sequences (Brosnan consistently had the best pre credits scenes hands down) to a hugely destructive and very inventive tank chase that flattens roughly a third of St Petersburg to a bruising final showdown between Bond and his opposite number in the framework of a massive satellite dish.
Thanks to all involved, Bond’s popularity sky rocketed and ,since his rebirth, has been pretty much going from strength to strength all the way through to the Daniel Craig era and it can all be attributed to this single movie.
24 carat Goldeneye.