Country: United Kingdom
Directed by Martin Cambell
Pierce Brosnan, Isabella Scorupco, Judi Dench, Famke Jansen, Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Joe Don Baker, Gottfried John
Music By Eric Serra
Title song performed by Tina Turner
Legal problems had stalled the James Bond series. There hadn’t been a film in six years, and during that time Timothy Dalton had moved on. This finally gave Pierce Brosnan the chance to claim the role of James Bond; a role he had been offered before. He was cast as Bond in The Living Daylights but had to give up the role at the last minute because he was contracted to the Remington Steele television series. You can read more about that by checking out The Living Daylights review.
New Zealand director, Martin Campbell may have seemed like an odd choice to helm the film, after all he had directed the diabolical Escape From Absolom the preceding year, but he too had worked on Reilly: Ace Of Spies and the BBC drama Edge Of Darkness. Campbell had solid espionage credentials.
Together, Brosnan and Campbell had to re-invent the franchise. It ws a make or break film, and they were successful in relaunching the series. Goldeneye, at the time of release was one of the most successful films in the series.
A lot was made of how much the world had changed since the last film. Russia was no longer a villain, and ‘political correctness’ had swept the world. Was there a place for Bond’s sexism and womanising in the modern world? Thankfully a clever script by Michael France and Jeffery Caine answered all these questions. As Russia was no longer the enemy, Bond was sent over the dismantled Iron Curtain, and took on an evil organisation called Janus (Incidentally, Janus is also the name of the villain in The Return Of The Man From UNCLE: The Fifteen Years Later Affair).
Bond’s sexism and womanising was also addressed head on. Dame Judi Dench was cast as ‘M’, replacing Robert Brown, who played the role in the previous four films. Making Bond’s superior a woman certainly stirred things up. At one point she refers to him as ’a sexist misogynist dinosaur’. To Bond, she is the ‘Evil Queen of numbers’ – a politician with no inkling of what happens out there in the field. The repartee between ‘M’ and Bond provides some of the highlights of the film.
The basic premise of the film works pretty well too. That premise is, rather than have Bond go up against another megalomaniac, this time the villain is 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). That’s right, one of the Double ‘O’s has gone bad, and obviously Trevelyan has the same skill set as Bond. Adding another layer to the drama, it seems that Bond and Trevelyan were once close friends. In the pre-title sequence we see the two men carrying out a mission together. Where did it all go wrong?
The pre-title sequence in Goldeneye stirs up mixed emotions in me. Firstly I am elated because it answers the question I’d wanted to know for years – does James Bond enjoy a beer? And I am pleased to say that the answer is YES!
In the opening scene at the Archangel Chemical Facility, as a swarm of Russian troops storm Bond and Alec Trevalyn’s position, Alec yell’s out “Closing time, James…last call!” Bond’s response is simple, but to the point: “Buy me a pint!” But I have leapt ahead of myself again. Let’s go back to the start. In Russia, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) bungee jumps off the top of a dam, down the wall to the Archangel Chemical Facility. Inside the facility, Bond meets Alec Trevelyan, Agent 006 (Sean Bean). Together they intend to destroy the chemical weapon stockpiles that the Soviets have been hording away. As they enter the store room, troops under the orders of General Ouromov (Gottfried John) surround Bond and Trevelyan’s position. Ouromov captures Trevelyan and shoots him. Bond is left on his own to complete the mission and escape – which he does.
But this brings me to my gripe with Goldeneye’s pre-title sequence. It is one of the silliest and piss-poor stunts ever envisaged for a Bond film. In the scene, a pilotless plane, with the engine running drives (not flies) off the edge of a cliff. The plane starts plummeting down towards the valley below. To make his escape, Bond, on a motorcycle, chases the plane. He drives off the edge of the cliff, leaps off the bike and in free-fall catches up with the plane. As both man and machine head towards certain doom on the rocks below, Bond climbs into the cockpit, pulls back on the controls, and, and, and at the last second the plane begins to climb. Death is averted once again. The scene is bullshit!
After the titles, we are back in the present and on the Cote d’ Azure. Secret agent 007, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is being evaluated by Caroline (Serena Gordon). She has been sent by the new ‘M’ (Judi Dench) to see if he measures up. This evaluation is being done in the field, and she is settled beside him as he races his Aston Martin along the coast road. As he drives, rather recklessly, a red Ferrari flies past him. Behind the wheel is Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). Bond’s first reaction is to pursue this woman, but his assessor soon dissuades him.
Later that evening, Bond alone now, spies Onatopp seated at the baccarat table at the casino where he is staying. He attempts one of his usual pick up lines, but it fails. Onatopp already has a partner for the evening – an Admiral in the British Navy.
The next day, with much pomp and ceremony, the French are unveiling their latest hi-tech weapon, the Tigre helicopter. What makes this chopper so special is that it has been built to withstand an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP). During the ceremony, before the demonstration flight, the two pilots are distracted and then replaced by members of a Russian criminal organization called Janus. Janus, in plain sight, steal the Tigre helicopter and fly off.
The helicopter was stolen with a direct purpose in mind, and the two Janus pilots happen to be Xenia Onatopp and Bond’s sparring partner from Arch Angel, General Ouromov. These two fly the chopper to a Russian satellite tracking station in Sevrenaya. In this facility they control the ‘Goldeneye’ satellite which circles the globe armed with EMP weapons. The staff at the facility don’t realise that Ouromov is selling out his country, and now working for Janus, and obey his every command. They in turn hand over the controls for the Goldeneye satellite to him. Once he has control, he orders Onatopp to kill everyone in the complex, which she does with relish – and, of course, a machine gun. While Onatopp is quite thorough in her murderous rampage, she does miss one employee, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco).
To cover his tracks, Ouromov fires Goldeneye at the facility. The EMP blacks out everything in the surrounding area, except the Tigre, which Ouromov and Onatopp use to escape.
Firing a weapon of this kind from space does not go un-noticed, and M wants answers. She sends her best man, James Bond to Russia to find out who has stolen the Goldeneye satellite and what they intend to do with it.
For Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as Bond, he is partnered with some beautiful Bond girls. The first is Serena Gordon, who plays the agent who is sent out to evaluate Bond in the field. Bond’s boyish charm and a bottle of chilled champagne win her over. Next we have Dutch actress Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp. Janssen portrays one of the best villainesses in the series. Not only is she lethal but she is lovely. The good girl, Natalya Simonova, is played by gorgeous Polish born Izabella Scorupco. Simonova is an interesting character because she is bright, but not a genius. As the Bond fans reading this would know, with the release of each Bond film, there is a publicity blurb that says ‘this Bond girl is different to the bimbos of the past. She is intelligent and every bit Bond’s equal’. Well Simonova isn’t an agent. She is simply a computer programmer – and not even a high level one at that. In essence, she plays an every-woman, who gets caught up in the tangled adventure. How often in a Bond film do we encounter a normal person?
Eric Serra’s score is the weak link in the film. At the time he was riding high on the popularity of his soundtrack to The Fifth Element, and may have seemed like a progressive choice. But his score for Goldeneye does not follow the story. He simply finds an empty space to go ‘bip’ into. Another shortcoming is Serra’s reluctance to use Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. I can understand why a composer would want to create something uniquely all their own, but when you are working on a franchise film, and that franchise just happens to have one of the most recognisable signature tunes in all cinema history, it makes sense to use that theme. It’s what the fans and I want, and have come to expect.
The film features a few gadgets but overall the film isn’t too reliant on ‘dirty tricks’ to get Bond out of a jam. I guess with a villain who used to be in M.I.6, he’d be prepared and familiar with all of Q’s gadgets. On display there is belt-buckle that can fire out a piton and a line, and an explosive pen.
After such a long wait, Goldeneye had to be a hit or the Bond franchise would have gone down the drain. Thankfully, on the whole, the film-makers have presented us with a film that is pretty good. It does have its flaws – I have already singled out the music – but there are a few lazy plot points too – those who have read John Gardner’s novelisation, where the story is a little more fleshed out at the beginning will know exactly what I mean. But quibbles aside, Goldeneye is a great addition to the Bond legacy and a particularly enjoyable film.