Nine years after a mission saw the death of a fellow agent, James is called to investigate the use of a defunct Soviet satellite that sends out a strong electromagnetic pulse to destroy a Siberian research base.
Bond, James Bond:
For the second straight introduction of a new Bond actor, I feel inclined to discuss a good chunk of context before talking about the actor. The seventeenth Bond film was intended to be led by Timothy Dalton, allowing him to finish his three film contract. In fact, a poster for a third Dalton film was even placed on a hotel during the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, intended for a 1991 release. And then, more legal trouble for the franchise. The main issue surrounding this one involves producers selling their rights and then production companies being bought by other production companies, leading to some confusion as to who would actually be able to release the next movie. Despite having some kind of story in place (read about it here and realize that maybe this was all for the best, because this movie sounds awful and included a female robot assassin), the drama about the film rights went on for so long that Dalton finally parted ways with the franchise and everything started from scratch.
Finally, after the previous false start several years prior discussed in my write up of The Living Daylights, Pierce Brosnan officially became James Bond. And, at least to start, he is a perfect fit for the role. Although he may lack the killer instinct that really carried Dalton through his two films, everything else really seems to work for Brosnan. He looks suave in a suit and looks like he could be a competent spy (something that Moore lacked in the back half of his tenure). Additionally, this film marks the return of a believably witty Bond. Brosnan doesn’t deliver his jokes with a knowing smile like Dalton did, allowing his jokes to really breathe and work. His first line, as he drops from the ceiling and hangs in front of a man using the bathroom, snarking, “Beg your pardon, forgot to knock.” The wit and humor continues as he responds to Natalya’s inquiry about if all of his vehicles explode with “Standard operating procedure.” The comedy works at making him seem more threatening as well, as he fixes his tie while driving a tank down a Russian road, and responds to Alec telling him to “be a good boy and die” with “You first.” Really the only knock on Brosnan’s performance is his tendency to over act his displays of pain with intense teeth gritting. It’s a small critique, but one I want to point out to show that this is not a perfect performance. But it’s pretty close.
The one knock on the character of Bond this time around is as he grabs a retreating Natalya’s arm, spins her around and force kisses her. The two of them have already had their first romantic interaction at this point, and I think the moment is intended to show that Bond isn’t the cold, emotionless robot that Natalya has just accused him of being, but it still feels uncomfortable. The fact that the villain had done something similar, and had it played nefariously, only a few scenes prior makes it play even more strangely. It’s clearly not the worst that Bond has been, but it’s a moment that detracts from an otherwise excellently written version of Bond.
In order to make up for the several years without a James Bond song, the producers went back to someone who could call back to the sound of Shirley Bassey with Tina Turner (with a song written by Bono and The Edge). The lyrics again go to the idea that the woman has a power over Bond and can make him do whatever she wants, with the added creepiness of a refrain that includes the line “You’ll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child.” Although this could apply to a romantic interest, it could actually be connected to MI6 having a tendency to recruit orphans (both Bond and 006 lose their parents at a young age). This feels interesting, and adds a little bit more depth to this song, and makes that line a little less creepy (still creepy). Turner’s vocals really do callback to Bassey in a wonderful way, but the music itself doesn’t do much for her. “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds are Forever” work because of Bassey’s vocals, combined with strong horns and an amazing bass line, respectively. This song skates by on Turner’s vocals alone. This is also the high point of the Brosnan years, song wise, which includes two songs I straight up dislike/hate.
Former MI6 agent Alec Trevelyan, believed to be dead, is revealed to be the central villain of the film about a third of the way into the movie. Portrayed by Sean Bean, the idea of the villain having a prior history with Bond, to the point of being trained by the same organization, and even working on missions together, is an interesting one, and Bean and Brosnan play off of each other in a believable and tense way. Their shared history also shines as Alec is able to predict Bond’s decisions, to the point of being able to disarm an explosive that Bond had planted.
As far as motive for why he turned against MI6, this film uses history well, informing the audience of the Cossacks, a group of Russians who sided with the Nazis during World War II. As the war ended, the Cossacks surrendered to the British, in order to avoid Russian punishment, only to have the British turn them over to the Russians anyways. The Cossacks were murdered, except Trevelyan’s parents, who somehow escaped death. However, the guilt was something Alec’s father couldn’t take, as he killed his wife and himself, leaving Alec orphaned. Alec never forgot the British betrayal and joined MI6 in order to get close enough to them that he his betrayal would be devastating to the nation. Bean’s performance shines as he tells us about his parents, and continues to shine as he expresses his frustration with Bond’s excessive dedication to the British government, even calling him “her majesty’s loyal terrier.” He mocks the dedication throughout the film, constantly asking James if his intentions are “For England?” He even tries to use this as Bond grabs ahold of Trevelyan before he can plummet to his death. As he asks “For England?” James responds with “No. For me,” and releases his grip, allowing Alec to plumet several stories into a concrete basin. And, because it’s Sean Bean, a man who almost always dies in his films, that wasn’t enough. As his base explodes, a satellite is released from its holding, causing it to fall and crush him. Although it feels like an unnecessary addition, it’s still a memorable death, one that such a great villain deserves.
After Dalton was given two strong female foils, the Brosnan years were going to have a lot to live up to, and the films get off to a strong start with Izabella Scorupco’s programmer Natalya Simonova. Although her character takes some time to really get going, after she spends the first portion of her time just trying to survive the attack on her research base, she quickly moves herself to be one of the franchise’s best as she begins to interact with James. She puts both Bond and the Russian Defense Minister in their place as they both play the blame game about the attack on the research base, and she yells at both of them to stop talking and acting like “boys with toys.” From there, she is able to defend herself against attacks, as well as essential in Trevelyan’s eventual defeat. Her programming skills are used to gain the upper hand on her former coworker Boris, which brings Trevelyan’s plan to destroy the British government to a crashing halt, even if Boris thinks she is a second rate programmer. Watching her physically attack and mock Boris before she gains the upper hand makes her defeat of him all the sweeter. As for her interactions with Bond, she is the one to make the first romantic move, and calls him out for being overly cold when it comes to the lives that he takes. She even gets to rescue him after she puts a helicopter pilot at gunpoint in order to save James from a suspended platform before the base above him explodes. The fact that Scorupco’s performance lives up to the character, selling every emotional beat with Bond, and even getting to throw a satisfying smirk at Boris after she gains the upper hand, makes this character all the better.
The film’s primary henchperson in this film is one of the more interesting and memorable female characters this franchise has given us. Famke Janssen portrays the excellently over-the-toply named Xenia Onatopp. Her character’s quirk is that she kills people by crushing them with her thighs during sex, and that, in general, she seems to get off on violence in general, to the point that she moans after shooting a machine gun. Janssen plays her with an appropriate weird intensity, allowing her to stand out amongst other strong henchpeople. The fact that she gets an excellent kill line, as a man sees her and claims that “he’s in heaven,” and she quips back “not yet” as she shoots him in the chest. She’s great.
Desmond Llewelyn returns as Q, but in his typical, more limited role, only showing James new gadgets while in MI6. He makes good use of the time, apologizing to a dummy before blowing it up, and claiming that, with the invention of an exploding pen, the phrase “pen is mightier than the word” is true, thanks to him.
This film introduces a new Moneypenny as well, and the franchise keeps it in the family by casting Samantha Bond (Yeah, I’ll show myself out). She makes good use of the one scene that she is really featured in, bringing back to the flirty repartay with Bond that Connery and Maxwell mastered so well. After James asks what he would do without her, Moneypenny recalls with an excellently delivered “As I recall, James, you’ve never had me.” I again wish that the character had more to do, but Samantha Bond delivers her flirtatious lines well enough that it’s at least already a more memorable version of the character than Caroline Bliss was able to give with her limited time.
The last member of our typical MI6 triumvirate represents a major change to the franchise, in an amazing way. The head of MI6, played previously by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, is portrayed here by Dame Judi Dench, and she is exquisite. She’s only in a couple of scenes, but she constantly puts Bond and fellow agent Tanner on their heels as they try to mansplain the GoldenEye satellite systems to her, only to have her have even more in-depth knowledge than they do. And then, her biggest scene, and one of my favorite scenes of dialogue in any James Bond film, is when she dresses Bond down in a significant way. It’s clear that Bond doesn’t like the new head of MI6, whether it because she focuses more on numbers than on more typical spywork, or, more likely, that he doesn’t like reporting to a woman, and she knows it. When she confirms his distaste for her, she gives one of my favorite film speeches. It’s below. The fact that she is in the franchise for six more films after this one is enough to raise my excitement levels.
Jon Don Baker, who you may remember was one of the villains of The Living Daylights, pulls a Maud Adams and returns to the franchise, this time playing CIA Agent Jack Wade. He’s basically playing a non-evil, less arrogant version of Whitaker, an over confident American. Although I like him here more than I liked him in Dalton’s film, he feels like an unnecessary character, who easily could have just been Felix Leiter. At least we got to see him call Bond “Jimbo” which might be my favorite name for anyone in this franchise.
Where Trevelyan is a former friend turned foe, Bond meets up with a former foe turned reluctant friend with former KGB officer Valentin Zukovsky, played by Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid in the house!) Again, the film’s script makes good use of a shared history between Bond and another character, as the two men play off each other well, simultaneously threateningly and humorously. For Zukovsky to hear Bond arm his gun from behind him and be able to deduce who is holding it because “I only know three men who have used that gun; I’ve killed two of them” is such a remarkable introduction to the character, and the scene plays well from there. Coltrane is an immense talent, and the film uses it well here.
The other henchperson in this film is Natalya’s former coworker turned villain’s programmer Boris, played by Tony Award Winner Alan Cumming. This character is remarkably over the top, which I’m honestly fine with here, because it feels intentionally and entertainingly done, unlike other similar performances in the franchise. With his shouts of “I’m invincible” to and overall misogynist attitude, Cumming plays the character with enough excess that it’s all the more satisfying to see Natalya get the upper hand on his programming. Unsurprisingly Boris meets his demise, but he should know better than to trust someone with a family history of Nazi sympathizers, since he’s the former Emcee of the Kit Kat Club (I’ve stretched further for a Broadway reference in my life, let me have this.)
The film’s most important gadget is an exploding pen, that is armed with three clicks, and then disarmed with another three clicks. This is taken from Bond, and given to Cumming’s Boris, who clicks it at random. As he clicks, the film constantly cuts to Brosnan, who seems to be doing the math in his head to ensure what status the explosive device currently rests in, with expressions of stress and relief crossing across his face. He is able to hit the pen out of Boris’ hand in time for it to create the explosion that he was hoping for before Trevelyan smartly disarmed it. Watching Brosnan doing the mental math is an excellent moment for his introductory film.
I only want to include this one because the website that I use to remind of the film’s gadgets included it, and I belly laughed at it for a solid couple of minutes. During the “here are all of our new gadgets, James” scene, Bond grabs a footlong deli sandwhich, and looks at it, as if it he is trying to find how it is used to kill someone. Q grabs it from him and says “Don’t touch that! That’s my lunch.” Why it’s included amongst the official gadgets of this film, I do not understand, but I’m very happy that it was. Below is the actual screenshot from the site.
This is one of the easier to follow plotlines of a Bond film, with the villain’s motives and plans both being pretty straight forward, which is not something that I am used to in this franchise. He wants revenge and has a logical way of going about it. Beyond that, even the want for revenge makes sense. It was a negative moment in British history, and the film even does the work to clarify how the MI6 would allow an agent with this kind of past into their group (they hoped that he was too young to remember the betrayal). The added level of James and Alec having a past with each other makes the conflict even more interesting. James has to fight someone he once believed to be a friend, and now has the deep sense of betrayal to go along with it. The additional fact that these two men both had the same level of training means that when they do inevitably have a physical altercation, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that James has the upperhand (I mean, outside of the fact that they aren’t going to kill the hero). It’s tense and easy to follow and there is little else that you can really ask for in a James Bond story.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-Even before Tina Turner kicks in, this movie has too incredible stunts. The first is Bond bungee jumping from the top of a giant reservoir, and then Bond driving a motorcycle off of a cliff, behind a pilotless plane. He lets go of the helicopter and free falls into the plane, which he is able to pull up just before it crashes. He flies off as the base explodes. This movie’s first five minutes is such a promising start, and the movie lives up to it.
-The score in this movie is done by Eric Serra, and it’s tremendously awful. There is a car chase that is scored with synth music that feels like it would fit better in either the 80s or like a 90s skateboarder movie produced by Disney, not a James Bond film.
-I think every Bond plays baccarat at some point, and I still do not understand this card game. But I am very supportive of any game that needlessly includes a paddle.
-The first time we see Xenia use her thigh strength, the film’s captions give us (he cries in pain, she in pleasure). I’m so used to seeing non-dialogue sounds just be a verb, that seeing one that is basically a sentence struck me as odd, and to have it be that sentence was even weirder.
-Zukovsky’s mistress is played by Minnie Driver, who would later go on to a wonderful performance in Matt Damon’s Good Will Hunting and is now leading the excellent ABC sitcom Speechless. Her scene is weird here, as she screeches “Stand By Your Man,” but her presence does lead to some entertaining exchanges between Zukovsky and Bond.
-Shortly after Natalya calls him out for being cold around death, Bond quips after Xenia is crushed against a tree that “she always did deserve a good squeeze.” It’s a fairly solid pun, and it’s delivered well, but after someone actually calls him out for not caring enough about killing people, for him to say that joke in front of her fell a bit odd.
-On both sides of it, I can’t believe I’m finally in the final third of this franchise. You don’t realize how long it takes to watch 24 movies until you set out a goal to watch them all. And write about them all. And tweet through them all. Okay, yeah maybe this one’s on me.
After the Roger Moore years, where I so frequently had caveats for my rating of the film (it’s good, but boring; it’s awful, but fun), it’s been nice to just straight up enjoy the last few movies. The caveats are more legitimate and don’t completely counteract the quality of the film itself. That is in full force here, where everything really seems to work. Everything in this movie (except the song) feels like it will be top five quality. Brosnan gives a great performance and feels like a more traditional Bond. Natalya is a strong female character that is able to outsmart her misogynist coworker, and is performed well by Scorupco. Janssen is excellently, and appropriately, over-the-top for a character that’s skill is basically sex-killing people. Sean Bean’s Alex/006/Janus is an excellent adversary for Bond, has a sound plan, and has strong chemistry with Brosnan. You really can’t ask for much more. I guess this is another 0010/0010. These ratings are garbage.
TJ At The Movies Will Return With: Tomorrow Never Dies
References GoldenEye Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GoldenEye "GoldenEye" Lyrics https://genius.com/11112603 GoldenEye Universal Exports Gadgets Page http://www.universalexports.net/Movies/goldeneye-gadgets.shtml Pictures Cover Photo https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/24/GoldenEye_-_UK_cinema_poster.jpg Brosnan http://jbsuits.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/GoldenEye-Suit.jpghttp://jbsuits.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/GoldenEye-Suit.jpghttp://jbsuits.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/GoldenEye-Suit.jpg "GoldenEye" Credits https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGPBFvDz_HM Trevelyan https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/b6ef0-006.jpg Natalya https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/0/01/007_GoldenEye_-_Natalya.png Xenia http://image.wikifoundry.com/image/3/1710ac7db40f01e02203e2b2a001b8e9/GW441H325 M Speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqS9jxruy-A Emcee https://78.media.tumblr.com/d5175158394befe4d1932b42acca0b08/tumblr_o1g3tfBPEp1v20f3xo1_400.gif Sandwich Gadgets Page http://www.universalexports.net/Movies/goldeneye-gadgets.shtml