After legal wrangles that could have cost ‘Cubby’ Broccoli the continuation of the Bond film series, Bond did eventually return in 1995- after a six-year hiatus. Timothy Dalton stepped down from the role some time before, which was quite a loss for some fans that had warmed to his more Fleming friendly interpretation. Enter Pierce Brosnan, who had almost been Bond some years before until his contract for TV series Remington Steele got in the way. Finally he had his chance to make the role his own.
Goldeneye (named after Ian Fleming’s Jamaican retreat) is another original story; with enough nods to Bond’s creator to make it feel like a genuine Fleming based 007. Where Goldeneye is radically different to previous films is that is transplants James Bond into the (then) modern world in a way which had never been done before. All aspects of the cold war exist only in past tense, as this had to be a Bond of the new ‘Glasnost’ age. In many ways it feels like a brand new series, a luxury granted by the passing of so many years since Dalton’s second outing. The style has been refined and updated. How much you like this depends on how much you believe the Bond series has a place as a current franchise. ‘M’ is now a woman, played rather marvellously by Dame Judi Dench, and there is a new charming Moneypenny in Samantha Bond (the best name for the job perhaps). Desmond Llewelyn, looking far more aged, is a nice link to the ‘classic’ Bonds, as he reprises his role of gadget master ‘Q’. There is no Felix Leiter, however, despite the film having a role that could well have been Felix. Even if the films don’t directly carry on from each other, Felix was still alive and well (just) at the end of Licence to kill.
The story is engaging but not totally original for the genre. The Russian mafia obtains a space- based weapons system called Goldeneye that works by exploding a nuclear device in orbit, which cripples a ground location with the resulting electromagnetic pulse. It’s Bond’s job to save London from this year’s megalomaniac. To add a bit of romantic interest there is a beautiful computer programmer (Izabella Scorupco), a former ’00’ partner Alex Trevelyn (Sean Bean), a Leiter-esque CIA agent called Wade (Joe Don Baker), an ex-KGB officer with a chip on his shoulder (Robbie Coltrane on top form), and a nymphomaniac who likes squeezing men to death between her legs (Femke Janssen). The focus is always on Brosnan though, and his does a good enough job. He combines the more lightweight aspects of Connery and Lazenby with Roger Moore’s more serious moments. Of course, he is his own man, and has a laid back wit and charm all of his own. But he’s not as earnest as Dalton, which was surely the point, although he manages to make Bond a more considered character. But it’s interesting that after Goldeneye the series crept back to the kind of OTT spectacle and double entendres last seen in the Moore era. He fills the shoes of 007 adequately, but never quite makes you forget the other stronger interpretations before him.
The film has some glorious set pieces, and is probably the best all round Bond picture since The spy who loved me. The presentation has a lot of panache and Bean is a very effective villain, full of bitterness. Martin Campbell directs his first Bond film and he does an exceptional job at relaunching the franchise, meaning he returned to stage a similar feat for Casino Royale, 11 years later. Not altogether keen on Eric Serra’s score though, which is largely unmemorable, and the absence of the James Bond theme was probably a mistake.
Like Spy it pushes the boundaries to the almost ridiculous, with an opening series of stunts that had me and my mates laughing out loud in the theatre, such was their audacity. But Goldeneye attempts to lend the character of Bond some extra depth. While Fleming achieved this, to a certain extent, in the novels, the films were more often concerned with fantasy spectacle and glamour over substance. Nothing at all wrong with that of course, but it sets a precedent. When Trevelyn mocks Bond in an atmospheric scene set in a dumping ground of old Soviet statues, he calls our attention to the finer details of Bond’s persona. We’re asked to imagine what a man like Bond would be like if he did exist. Suddenly we’re no longer in the world of pussy innuendos and diamond powered laser guns. In some ways this is welcome, although Brosnan never quite lets this more serious approach dominate too much. It makes its point, and it’s back in with the action. This had been done before of course, but here it seems to carry more sincerity. So it’s all the more odd that the adventure is as outlandish as ever. Perhaps, by not trying to occupy some uneasy middle ground, Timothy Dalton’s films were more successful at this more analytical approach. Of course, that was at the expense of the humour and the outrageous plots.
Whatever the matter, here there is a good mixture of humour, interesting locales, high-speed chases, explosions, and action, while rejuvenating the series for a new generation of filmgoers. Goldeneye has all the bases covered, and the fact it manages to do it without being a truly awful Bond film is no mean feat.