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Should I Watch..? GoldenEye
What's the big deal?
GoldenEye is an action spy thriller film released in 1995 and is the seventeenth entry in the James Bond series. It marked the long-awaited return of 007 after a six year absence due to legal issues and previous star Timothy Dalton quitting the role after Licence To Kill (1). Instead, the film introduces Pierce Brosnan as the new Bond and sees him face off against a former ally against the backdrop of the fall of the Soviet Union. It is also the first film in the Bond series not to use any elements from any of Ian Fleming's source material but despite this, it became a box office smash when it grossed over $350 million worldwide, considerably better than either of Dalton's two films. It also became the first time that Judi Dench played M, a role she would continue to hold until 2012's Skyfall (2).
What's it about?
The film opens in 1986 where British secret agent James Bond is on a mission with fellow 00-agent Alec Trevelyan to destroy a Soviet chemical weapons facility. During the mission, Alec is taken hostage by Colonel Arkady Ourumov and eventually killed whilst Bond makes his escape. The film then leaps to the present where Bond and MI6's new M observe strange occurances around a remote Russian satellite dish in Siberia where it appears that a previously undetected satellite weapons system called GoldenEye has obliterated the base, leaving sole survivor Natalya Simonova.
Bond is sent to apprehend Ms Simonova but is caught up with the crime syndicate Janus in St Peterburg. Working alongside veteran CIA agent Jack Wade, Bond soon finds that Janus holds the key to GoldenEye and they are led by sadistic henchwoman Xenia Onatopp, Ourumov who is now a general and head of Russia's Space Program and the last man James expected to see... Alec, back from the dead...
James Bond, 007
Alec Trevelyan, 006
Joe Don Baker
General Arkady Ourumov
Defence Minister Dmitri Mishkin
Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein *
Release Date (UK)
24th November, 1995
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to like?
It was crucial that this film feels new, otherwise the Bond series would be dead in the water. And sure enough, everything and the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix. Funky electronica replaces the traditional orchestra (although it returns in time for Tomorrow Never Dies (3)). The new cast are enthusiastic without falling into self-parody, Dench's M being a fantastic cross between cruel schoolmistress and Mother Hen-type. The story was wise to follow current events, the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War being constantly referenced - and best of all, it's easy to follow as well. No getting lost and confused like we were with Dalton's films.
However, there is enough there for traditionalist to enjoy as well. Desmond Llewelyn was hanging in there as Q dispensing the gadgets (and he has a genuinely brilliant scene with Brosnan as well). One Bond girl has a silly name, as they should. Bean's gravel-voiced villain is one of the better opponents Bond he has faced for a while and he even has an underground lair. And best of all, the action is top-notch - from the amazing bungee jump at the very start to the explosive finale in Cuba (yep, a proper exotic location), the film really delivers on the action front. The temptation to do everything in a CG fashion is avoided, meaning that Derek Medding's brilliant model work is a fitting tribute to the man who wouldn't live to see it on the big screen.
- Bond kills a total of 47 people in the movie, making this his bloodiest mission ever. The Man With The Golden Gun (4), by contrast, only had a total of six kills throughout the entire picture.
- The film features the highest bungee jump from a structure in cinema history - some 722 feet down the side of the dam in the opening scene. The stuntman who did it later has a cameo as one of the two murdered helicopter pilots.
- Long-time model expert Derek Meddings, who worked extensively on the film, died shortly before its release. The movie is dedicated to him.
What's not to like?
There are enough of the old problems to persist, however. While Brosnan's Bond is certainly well-suited to the action scenes, a tiny part of me died when he picked up an AK47 and started gunning down random baddies in a fevered bloodlust. Since when did Bond ever resort to such mindless violence? As a spy supposedly trying to avoid detection, he couldn't have been more obvious if he wore a hi-visibility jacket and wore a one-man band's orchestra. He is still an English version of The Terminator (5) and it robs the film of any real tension.
The product placement was also totally out of control here - BMW's nice-looking car appears for a few seconds and then disappears, never to be seen again while the tank chase through St Peterburg crashes through an enormous lorry with Perrier's logo on the side. I was almost surprised during the casino scene that Bond's tuxedo wasn't covered in slogans like a snooker player. I also would have liked a bit more about Bond himself - there are the briefest of moments when his very persona is called into question by Natalya and for once, he almost feels like an actual person. But before you can register this, the moment is lost in another PG-rated sex scene and it's back to business. Can't we understand Bond's history, his character, his motivations? What drives him to such destructive acts? What made him so reckless? Or... am I looking too deeply? GoldenEye never stops to ask...
Should I watch it?
It would never compete with the best Bonds but it's enough of a return to form to suggest that Brosnan might have been the man to make Bond relevant again. GoldenEye is a slick and enjoyable blast through the familiar Bond routine but with enough spit and polish to cover up the cracks. Compared to the likes of Daniel Craig's all-action tenure, it does look a little old-school but the film is a great action thriller in its own right and an acceptable Bond film...
Great For: people glad to see Bond back, erasing the memory of Roger Moore's time as 007, action fans, video game veterans
Not So Great For: fans of the Bond books, younger viewers used to CG stunts, computer programmers
What else should I watch?
Brosnan's next film as 007 would be Tomorrow Never Dies which would redress the balance a little bit between explosive action and genuine spying. It also has Michelle Yeoh as a great Bond girl who wouldn't just be a romantic interest either and perennial baddie actor Jonathon Pryce as... err, the baddie.
The action in GoldenEye is impressive but much bigger in scale to the likes of Speed (6), also released in the mid-90s. With its amazing action sequences, hair-brained plot and Dennis Hopper going completely insane, it's one of the defining pictures of the genre. But if you want a proper Bond film without all that action malarkey and product-placement flim-flam then check out From Russia With Love (7) which is probably the closest the films ever got to the books until Craig's first outing as 007, Casino Royale (8).
© 2015 Benjamin Cox