1994. After years of legal problems that delayed any third Timothy Dalton film (As well as the subpar performance of Dalton’s second film, License to Kill) , and Dalton deciding not to return to the role, it was decided that they’d cast the man who was to originally star in “The Living Daylights”-Pierce Brosnan-in a new Bond thriller, “Goldeneye”.
Although at first glance, the name “Goldeneye” might seem to be a nod to past Bond films with the word “Gold” in the title (most notably the classic Bond film “Goldfinger”), it’s actually the name of Ian Fleming’s estate in Jamaica where he wrote some of the novels (Indeed, many Bond novels and films are set in the Caribbean-including part of this one!)
It was also the name of an operation Fleming worked on (but ultimately never executed) during his World War II days.
The movie reintroduces Bond with a spectacular bungee jump that Bond uses to infiltrate a chemical weapons plant in 1986 Russia. Having the movie start in 1986 and featuring Brosnan as Bond is an interesting decision, perhaps hinting that they wanted to ignore the Dalton era altogether, or maybe the fact that this mission went sour is part of the reason Bond was so grumpy in Dalton’s films. But that’s kind of looking too much into the film’s continuity or motives behind the writing, so I’ll just move on.
Bond then meets up with fellow 00 Alec Trevalyn (006). While we’ve seen other 00’s in the films-with various fates-we’ve never really seen them work directly with Bond, and there seems to be a friendship and exchange of wit between the two. Curiously, Sean also read for the role of 007, before they decided on using Brosnan.
Unfortunately Alec is “captured” and “killed” by the base commander Col. Ouromov, forcing Bond to rush the countdown for the explosives to destroy the facility, and work out an escape. Here we get one of the more wackier Bond physics. While the initial stunt of Bond jumping from a bike to get a descending plane is pretty cool, Bond’s mid-air catch and ability to right the plane in the nick of time is kind of implausible.
The opening titles by Tina Turner are pretty good, using CG for pretty much the first time, showing girls hammering away at various USSR symbols while also featuring some of the film’s symbolism-the two-faced girl representing Janus, the Golden ‘eye’ of course, and the usual Bond tropes of girls and guns.
Turner’s song is kind of a throwback to the Shirley Bassey type of Bond song, complete with slightly suggestive lyrics.
After the action-heavy and stunt-heavy opener we open up in the “present day” of 1995 Monaco, where Brosnan gets to display his charm in a somewhat goofy car chase with Famke Jannsen’s Xenia Onatopp and a frightened psychologist sent to evaluate him. The music is a bit campy here, but while some of Eric Serra’s score is a bit dated, I find it’s kind of industrial tune works with the setting of the movie.
Here Brosnan gets his first casino scene, where he gets to pretty much get two of the Bond catchphrases out of the way quickly-Shaken not stirred and Bond, James Bond, as well as a bunch of cheesy one-liners.
We learn that Bond has pretty much been observing Xenia for her links to the Janus Corporation, but Xenia-who is able to strangle men with her hips/thighs and derives pleasure from killing-is in fact out to steal a prototype Helicopter, for what remains unclear, but Bond is unable to prevent the theft in time.
We then go to the facility in Severneya, near Siberia, where we’re introduced to another Bond girl, computer programmer Natayla and fellow programmer Boris. Natayla is sort of the sensitive love-interest we kind of feel sympathetic for, similar in some ways to Kara in The Living Daylights but much more intelligent and proactive. Boris kind of functions as the film’s comic relief, with Xenia and Ouromov-who then enter the base, kills everyone except Boris and Natayla, take the Goldeneye ‘keys’ and then activate one Goldeneye satellite to bury the evidence-as the ‘muscle’.
Bond, along with the new M and Tanner, watch the drama unfold from the situation room in MI6. Here we’re introduced to the new Moneypenny, Samantha Bond, who is somewhat more similar to the Lois Maxwell Moneypenny than the short-lived Caroline Bliss one, and has more of a 90’s woman attitude, which will sort of carry over to the next two films (although not so much “Die Another Day”).
And of course we get this even more with the new M, played by Judi Dench, who of course would play the role until 2012’s Skyfall (although she has a brief cameo in 2015’s Spectre) despite the Craig films pretty much taking place in a separate continuity. Although she’s just as tough as her male predecessors tend to be, and is very critical of Bond’s sexism and methods, (as he is of her reliance on analytical date) she still seems to have confidence that Bond will do the mission correctly.
We get a nice Q scene as well. Although they have relatively short screen time together, I actually think the chemistry between Brosnan and Llewellyn-especially in this film and his final appearance in “The World Is Not Enough”-is actually better than his scenes with Connery and Moore, with a sort of mutual respect between the two. It’s also got one of the best gadget-related gags in the series, with Bond inspecting a submarine sandwich, believing it to be some gadget, but Q stating this it is, in fact, just his lunch.
While Natayla makes her way to St. Petersburg-but unwittingly tips off the bad guys to her location-Bond meets with CIA agent Jack Wade (played by Joe Don Baker), who sort of replaces Felix Leiter. Wade here is much more tolerable than in the next film, Tomorrow Never Dies, and thankfully neither he or Joe Don Baker in another role are seen after that.
Here we get a funny scene with Valentin Zuchovsky (Robbie Coltrane of later “Harry Potter” fame) playing an ex-KGB agent turned Russian mobster and nightclub owner, who still has a grudge with Bond for a leg injury. We even get a funny cameo by actress Minnie Driver as Valentin’s mistress and bad nightclub lead singer, Irina.
Valentin’s a fun character, and thankfully was brought back for “The World Is Not Enough” in a larger role. We then get one of the film’s ‘sexier’ scenes, and probably the most awkward to watch with anybody else, where Xenia tries to kill Bond in a spa/sauna area, but Bond gets the upper hand and gets her to take her to Janus’s lead man.
Janus of course turns out to be Alec/006, who wants revenge on the British for a World War II injustice (Trevalyn it turns out is part Russian), and has created this criminal empire and stolen the Goldeneye-an orbital nuke that creates an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that could fry all electronics in it’s blast zone-to be the instrument of that revenge. Sean Bean sort of gives an air of sophisticated menace, with a touch of sympathy. Kind of a ‘dark side’ of Bond, which makes sense considering he’s a 00.
He tries to kill off Bond and Natayla by destroying the helicopter with them inside, but Bond is able to trigger the ejection just in time. The blast however alerts the soviet authorities.
Bond and Natayla is almost able to convince them they’ve had, when Ouromov messes things up, and eventually snatches Natayla. This leads to the film’s main cool chase scene-where Bond takes a tank through St. Petersburg in order to rescue Natayla.
It’s a fantastic scene, with lots of destruction, some funny bits such, the Bond theme at full blast and of course the famous bit where Bond straightens his tie after all of this.
We then get a series of tense scenes outside-and later onboard-the train, as Bond stops the train with the last of the tank’s power, has a stand-off with Alec and Xenia that he has to bluff his way out of, and then get out of the train-wired to explode with the same amount of time Bond left Trevalyn at the beginning of the film- while Natayla attempts to discover where Alec has gotten to while Bond desperately tries to escape using his laser watch (one of the film’s niftier gadgets although slightly pre-empted by a similar device in the unofficial Connery film Never Say Never Again).
Next it’s off to Cuba where the film slows down a bit, with Bond trying to justify doing his job to Natayla, and then there’s of course a romance. This is kind of where the film tries to go to ‘deeper’ levels but it comes off as a bit awkward.
Next, there’s of course the big final showdown at Janus’s satellite dish in Cuba. After taking care of Xenia, It’s an interesting confrontation with Bond and 006 trying to outdo each other with insults and quips (006’s knowledge of MI6’s watch technology also undoes Bond’s initial plan to use mines to destroy the base), and then of course leads to another tense scene where Boris kind of fidgets with Bond’s pen grenade.
After the grenade goes off-knocked out of Boris’s hands in the nick of time and destroying much of the base, Bond and Alec have a brutal final showdown, one of the more nasty confrontations between Bond a villain since his showdown with Red Grant in “From Russia With Love”. It would of course later be surpassed by Craig’s bloody fights in the later films (including Casino Royale, also directed by Martin Campbell).
It ends with Bond dropping Alec to the bottom of the Dish’s pit (although 006 is still partially alive when the whole thing comes crashing down). The blue-screen is a little rough here, but hey, it’s 1995, and it’s certainly better than the slightly similar “A View To A Kill” scene I criticized three reviews ago.
Although Boris’s death via liquid nitrogen is kind of goofy:
The movie then ends with another “Bond gets interrupted in the middle of lovemaking” ending (although in a less embarrassing position than say, the Moore films), as Bond and Natayla are recovered by the marines. We then get a pretty bad ending song, “Alchemy of Love”, which doesn’t quite match up to the strong Dalton ending songs.
Overall, Brosnan’s opener is perhaps his best Bond film, although in some parts he seems to be adjusting to the role of Bond, at times playing him a bit too cool and unemotional, especially compared to his predecessor who was perhaps a bit too emotional at times. Brosnan’s portrayal would mellow a bit in his later films, but unfortunately, the films-despite packing impressive action-would get somewhat worse as time went on, although with some pretty good elements (I feel, for instance, “The World Is Not Enough” is underrated in many respects). Some aspects are a bit dated and overly 90’s, but that really could be said of many Bond films, especially Roger Moore’s early 70’s films.
Goldeneye of course was also popular for spawning a popular Nintendo 64 title, one of the best movie-adapted games ever.
Although it took several liberties with the film’s plot, it was mostly true to it (including the industrial sounding score) and of course had a cool multiplayer function that was pretty revolutionary at the time, and incorporated elements from the other Bond films such as the Moonraker lasers and the Golden Gun, as well as characters such as Mayday and Oddjob.
The game was rebooted years later, and released on the Wii and PS3. This game version has a largely modified story to reflect more current technology and events, but most notably replaces Brosnan with his successor, Daniel Craig. But for many, nothing beats the original game.