My James Bond Retrospective: GoldenEye

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Following Licence to Kill, Timothy Dalton was getting ready for a third stint as Agent 007. Despite this, he was quoted in Bondage Magazine with the following: “My feeling is this will be the last one. I don`t mean my last one. I mean the end of the whole lot. I don`t speak with any real authority, but it`s sort of a feeling I have. Sorry!”

Dalton knew more than he let on. The franchise was plagued with legal problems since he had first started playing Bond in 1987. There were company mergers, sales of distribution rights, shifts in production rights, and far more. One thing after another pushed the next Bond film back further and further. Production was supposed to begin in 1990, and a film was supposed to be released in 1991. But as problem after problem arose, the years went on without a new Bond film.

In 1994, Dalton resigned, breaking his three-film contract. It seemed like Bond was no more.

Between all the legal battles taking place and the search for a new Bond (not to mention new screenwriters, a new director, and a whole new cast), the task of getting a new Bond film out seemed impossible.

Pierce BrosnanBut with Dalton now out of the picture, Barbara Broccoli (Albert Broccoli’s daughter and new head at EON Productions) turned to Pierce Brosnan, who had been announced as the man to succeed Roger Moore as Bond back in 1986. Since Brosnan was no longer tied to Remington Steele, it appeared he would, after nine years of waiting, finally take on the mantle of James Bond, Agent 007.

Brosnan had it all: the charm, the looks, the bravado, the stage presence. To everyone around him, he was James Bond.

But Broccoli didn’t stop at a new Bond. With all the shakeup that had taken place in the last five years, EON Productions took this opportunity to introduce a number of new elements to the Bond franchise: a new M, a new Moneypenny, a whole new set of recurring characters, a completely new creative team, and even a new 007 logo—marking a new era for Bond and the start of the modern age of James Bond filmmaking. The 007 family was getting ready to say goodbye to the 20th Century and hello to the 21st.

What started as a foreboding moment in Bond history and the possible end of the franchise turned into an exciting run that breathed new life into the dying film series. This new look was essentially a “reboot” of the series (though not officially as the term hadn’t been applied to films just yet, and the idea of reestablishing the Bond franchise was too risky a move for the time period).

In 1995, audiences were introduced to a whole new era of James Bond 007.

1995_goldeneyeGoldenEye debuted on November 13, 1995, at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The film was the most successful and highly anticipated Bond film since Moonraker, and was the fourth highest grossing among all films in 1995. Critical reception was positive, and audiences praised the new direction the Bond franchise was headed. Roger Ebert praised Brosnan’s performance, saying that he was “somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete” than the previous ones.

The film begins in 1986, where Agents 006 and 007 are infiltrating a Soviet military installation. While setting explosive charges, 006 is shot and seemingly killed as 007 escapes, destroying the facility.

After the opening titles, the story jumps to 1995. The Cold War is over, the Iron Curtain has been torn down, and Bond finds himself in a world wherein he may not belong.

Elsewhere, a Russian general steals control of a powerful satellite weapon known as GoldenEye and sets in motion a plan to control the world through electromagnetically destroying major cities throughout the world. He starts by destroying the satellite control station in Siberia.

Sean Bean and Pierce Brosnan as 006 and 007MI6 discovers that the general isn’t working for the Russian government at all; instead, he’s working for a crime syndicate known simply as Janus. Bond investigates, and over the course of his investigation he discovers that the man behind Janus is none other than his old friend Alec Trevelyan, Agent 006.

GoldenEye launches the Bond franchise into the modern era of filmmaking. Computer imagery is incorporated in the film, tighter cutting techniques are employed, and the dialogue is more focused than ever before. The film is well written and takes itself much more seriously than any Bond film before while at the same time poking fun and criticizing at the franchise as a whole. Nowhere is this attitude clearer than in the new M’s description of Bond as “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,” and “a relic of the Cold War.”

The movie elevates believable acting over good looks, providing a realism that hasn’t existed in a Bond film before. Every cast member is memorable, from the new Moneypenny (who proves that she is far wittier and more independent than Bond had ever given her credit for) to the film’s villain, Alec Trevelyan, played masterfully by Sean Bean. While not as sadistic as some other villains in the Bond series, Trevelyan proves he can be the most dangerous villain for Bond as a former partner and best friend. An outstanding performance, but then again, it’s Sean Bean. He never delivers a subpar performance.

Both Bond girls in the film are well played and carry the story in powerful—yet very different—ways. Famke Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp, a twisted and frightening Russian soldier working for Janus who gets some bizarre sexual gratification from murdering people.

Izabella Scorupco plays Natalya Simonova, a Russian computer programmer who helps Bond complete his mission. Scorupco connects well with the audience, and her character is very believable. I found myself often rooting for her throughout the movie. She’s smart, sexy, and strong, challenging Bond almost every step of the way and proving that she can outwit him.

Brosnan’s performance is stellar. Easily the best performance of Bond to date. Now, I’m not saying he’s the best Bond, but his portrayal of Bond in GoldenEye far outshines anything Connery, Lazenby, Moore, and even Dalton had done before. Brosnan brings a weightiness to the role and opens a window into what makes Bond tick. We see hints of emotional connection, allowing us to feel for the character more than we ever have before while also getting a sense for that armor that he puts up to protect himself emotionally.

On the other hand, Brosnan also has the opportunity to do something unprecedented. He has the opportunity to take the best out of what the other actors had done and create a Bond that has flashes of both Connery and Moore. He’s harsh and blunt like Connery, but he’s witty and dashing like Moore. We also see hints of the cold and calculating version of Bond that Dalton had begun to develop.

Brosnan also does the best job of delivering two of Bond’s most iconic lines. Check it out below.

If there’s one complaint I have with the film, it’s the casting of Joe Don Baker. While his character in GoldenEye is a much better role for him than Brad Whittaker was in The Living Daylights, I still don’t like the idea of reusing actors for different roles in the same movie franchise. Don’t get me wrong; I like Wade. I just wish he weren’t the same person who played another character in the Bond universe.

Overall, GoldenEye is my favorite Bond film so far. It’s realistic, tightly cut, well written, and well executed. I have to admit that it’s the film I’ve seen the most number of times, and I watched it this time with a sense of nostalgia (as it was the Bond film of my childhood; I was 11 years old when it debuted). I tried to remain as objective as possible, but it’s difficult when so much of my childhood is wrapped up in this film.

I like Brosnan as Bond. I think he suffers from some bad scripts, but I’ve always loved his portrayal of the character. But that’s getting ahead of myself. For now, Bond is back, and he’s gotten an upgrade.

Next up, Tomorrow Never Dies.

(Click to go back to the list.)

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