Friday, May 23, 2014

Goldeneye (1995)

The 80s closed with Licence to Kill and Timothy Dalton. It was a dark movie that left many viewers feeling that the James Bond franchise turned a corner away from the tried and true James Bond formula. But hope was on the horizon. In the mid 90s UA announced a new Bond film and a new actor in the role: Pierce Brosnan. For many hopes were rekindled. Brosnan was a favorite for the role before Dalton took over. Would Brosnan prove that he was right man for the job?

British secret agent, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is keeping a close eye on the Tiger helicopter, a vehicle impervious to electromagnetic attacks. He encounters the sexy Xenia Onatopp (Famke Jannsen), and manages to flirt with her quite a bit. But before he can do much more the helicopter is stolen. A few days later the helicopter is used to steal a secret Russian weapon, code named Goldeneye. This satellite based weapon can target a city and destroy all the electronic devices in a matter of seconds. 

With such a dangerous weapon in unknown hands, M (Judy Dench) orders Bond to track down the Goldeneye, and stop whoever took it. His search take him into Russia where he meets lovely computer analyst Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), Valentin Zukovsky(Robbie Coltrane) and the mysterious Janus (Sean Bean). Bond will have to use all his wits, skills, gadgets (and tank driving abilities) to stop the villainous mastermind from using Goldeneye.

Good Points
  • Pierce Brosnan embodies all the qualities viewers look for in a James Bond.
  • Brings humor and a lightness back to the Bond franchise.
  • The script brings Bond into the 90’s but keeps to the familiar Bond formula.
Bad Points
  • The story has a lot of set up and the first hour feels slow
  • Not as much action as later Brosnan era films
  • Eric Serra’s score rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
When it comes to first films for a Bond actor, Goldeneye is one of the best. Brosnan nails the part, and is given a solid and entertaining adventure. The movie reestablishes the tried and true 007 formula and gives it a fresh coat of paint. A fine supporting cast and one of the best chase scenes in the entire franchise make this the most entertaining film of Brosnan's tenure. 

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Music: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Final Grade: 5

In Depth Review
Bond. James Bond. - 1995
It is no secret that I’m a fan Timothy Dalton as James Bond. I don't think folks gave him a fair shot, and the scripts to his two films could have been a bit better all the way around. These days, public opinion seems to be a lot kinder to Dalton and his work as 007. But in the 90s, that was not the case at all. Most people I knew thought he was too stuffy, too serious and his films were just not James Bond adventures. Where were the megalomaniacal villains, the crazy gadgets, the multitude of quips. Coming after Roger Moore, Dalton's take was just too different. Whenever people talked about another Bond film, it was usually followed by, "but get someone else other than Dalton". I think they all really wanted Pierce Brosnan.

A lot of people felt Brosnan got snubbed by not getting the role back in 1987. When Goldeneye was announced Brosnan was ready to take the role.  The script for Goldeneye had been percolating for a while now (originally penned with Dalton in mind) and was reworked to fit Brosnan’s style. But what style would he bring to series? Would he follow Dalton’s lead and attempt to create a more nuanced Bond. Or would he follow in Moore’s footsteps and bring humor and lightness back to the series?
"Half of everything is luck." "And the other half?"

The creative team behind Goldeneye had two goals with this movie. The first was to assure the audience that this was a James Bond movie. All the classic elements first pioneered in Dr. No and perfected in Goldfinger were going to be on the screen. The second element was to show that the world around Bond has changed. The creators acknowledged that with a script that deals firmly with a post Cold War world. During the 1980s as Bond waned in popularity critics asked if James Bond could be relevant in a world that passed him and his 1960s origins by. The answer was captured in one of the tag-lines for the film: "The world has changed, he hasn't." 

One of the best ways to capture the classic Bond feel is to provide plenty of globe trotting settings for bond to explore. Keeping in line with the more realistic look of films like For Your Eyes Only  and The Living Daylights, much of the location shooting grounds the film. Shooting took place in Monte Carlo, Puerto Rico (doubling for Cuba) and St. Petersburg for the exterior scenes in Russia. These Russian scenes are some of my favorite in the film, and whenever I think about Goldeneye, that grey overcast sky always pops into my mind. 

Looks like James saw him in "Mitchell"
Most of the sets and interiors have that flashy James Bond version of reality. The most impressive sets being the two Goldeneye bases. These have an almost Ken Adam (the designer of classic Bond flicks like Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me) inspired look to them. The one in Cuba is all glass, railings, metal and view screens. Very cool looking, but not very functional (why are there random drums of gasoline inside the base near the computers?).

Goldeneye  was probably the last of the James Bond films to be made in the pre-digital effects era. Most of what you see here is model work, blue screen and actual stunt work. Taking a page from John Glen’s direction (he filmed all the Bond adventures in the 80’s) all the action is done for real, unless there was particular danger to the cast or stuntmen. For example the bungee jump off the dam in the pre-credit sequence is done for real. However Bond’s freefall to the plummeting plane was done in blue screen (and is obvious with its mat lines and physics breaking maneuvers). Still the overall good outweighs the bad in the visual department.

Hanging out with Xenia is the real gamble.
For the sound effects, Bond films have always been excellent. Gunshots and explosions are top notch. Fight scenes without guns are also handled well; my favorite being the final vicious hand-to-hand fight between Bond and Trevelyan. It sounds painful as both men throw each other at walls, slam chains into each other and do their best to smash the other fella's face in. It’s a great scene made better by the sound. Atmospheric sounds, like in the casino, also work well to set mood and scene.

I also have to mention the opening credits. 14 James Bond movies featured opening credits designed and shot by Maurice Binder. His iconic work on Dr. NoThunderball and You Only Live Twice created the look of what James Bond opening titles should look like. These mini music videos managed to give you a taste of the movie while being visual exciting at the same time. His work inspired so many other artists, not just other folks who create opening titles. Heck, his influence even spread to anime. Check out the opening credits to Gunsmith Cats or Cowboy Bebop to see Binder's influence.

The goldeneye watches us watching the action.
Binder died in 1991, and so the creators of Goldeneye had to find someone else to handle the opening credits. Daniel Kleinman came on board and has worked on all the opening credits ever since (with the exception of Quantum of Solace). Kleinman took Binder's style, but modernized it. His work on Goldeneye is my favorite, with it's smashing statues, women with two faces (a reference to Janus) and of course, a golden eye.

Often considered one of the worst Bond scores, and even one of the worst movie scores of all time, Goldeneye took a real chance. Eric Serra was not an unknown composer. His work could be found in the films of French Director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, la Femme Nikita). At the time Serra focused on electronic scoring, with a minimalist technique. There is a lot of rhythmic sound design in his score, especially for the action and suspense scenes. There is not a drop of jazzy to be found in those cues. It is literally the opposite of what John Barry used when he scored all the early James Bond films. 

Yes, Bond is still smooth with the ladies.
However Serra also creates some wonderful romantic scoring especially when Bond interacts with the ladies. This music would actually fit right into a typical Bond score. Sadly most film score fans don't focus on that good material. The result is a score that James Bond fans and film score fans both really dislike. I actually think it gives the film it's own personality and works fairly well in the film. David Arnold would do a better job of bridging the gap with the jazzy sound and electronica. But I don't think Goldeneye is the colossal failure that some James Bond fans will declare. 

The main song Goldeneye sung by Tina Turner is excellent. It’s one of my favorite Bond themes, and really harkens back to the Shirley Bassy sound but updated for the 90’s. It’s a real shame that Serra didn’t use the music of this theme in his score. It might have helped it. However, the main theme was not written by Serra, but by Bono and The Edge (of U2 fame). The tune that Serra did write, The Experience of Loving is worked into the score and functions as the love theme. Without lyrics it works pretty well. But then we are treated to Mr. Serra singing the song himself during the end credits. This is not a good thing. It brings down the music grade by a whole point. Bad Serra.

Ah, Moneypenny. Still bantering with Bond.
In some ways we all knew how Brosnan would play Bond. Anyone familiar with his role in Remington Steele had an idea of what to expect. In a lot of ways, his take on James Bond is an extension of that role, but with a dark side. He's suave and cool. He's quick with a quip and manages to see humor in unlikely situations. But when he talks about his job, you can see that he doesn't take pleasure in killing. Saving the world, getting the girls is all well and good. But the blood does seem to haunt him a bit. It is something Brosnan developed further in the later films, especially The World is Not Enough.  The final result is a James Bond for everyone. And unlike Dalton, Brosnan seems approachable and fun, much closer to Moore's take on the character.

There is a bit of holding back in Brosnan’s performance, and it’s not immediately recognizable until you see the later Bond films. Goldeneye showed off the potential of Brosnan’s Bond. It opened the doors to what we’d see later. While I think that Dalton and Craig topped him in their first outing (they start the movie and you believe that they are James Bond), Brosnan is very good here and he’d only get better.

"I'm not listening. I saw how you treated Frodo."
The new Bond girl is Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova. Scorupco gets a pretty juicy part to play in this film. She’s not super tough, but she’s no push over either. She’s out to save herself and Bond is her best bet to keeping her alive. Sure she’s attracted to him, but you also get the sense (especially early in the movie) that Scorupco’s character wouldn’t take anything lying down. She’s definitely a step forward from the more passive Bond girls, and still a believable character (something that has marred the tougher girls pared with Brosnan in the later films).

As far as villains go 006 or Trevelyan is one of my favorites. Sean Bean is very skilled at playing a hero, villain or flawed hero. He was excellent as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. But it was his role in Goldeneye that made me a fan. His work in the pre-credit sequence does it all. He has camaraderie with James, one that comes from working together. He also has a strange darkness to him, a brutality that James seems to be missing. He kills unarmed scientists. He doesn’t flinch while mowing down Russian soldiers, or when he’s captured and telling James to “blow them all to hell”. Right here we know all about 006, and when he is revealed as the villain later in the film, we know this is going to be tough. It doesn’t hurt that Bean was considered for the role of Bond, and probably would have been great. Here, he takes on the role of the villain perfectly and makes it click.

M is about to give Bond a nice telling off.
Back in London, things have changed… big time. Judy Dench is now M, the head of the British secret service. For some people this was a horrible idea, one that they have never warmed to. I thought it was brilliant. Her performance defines her character; tough, no nonsense, and ready to do what she has to to keep the world safe. Her dialogue is some  of the most memorable. In my mind Dench makes a great M, as good as Bernard Lee in the 60’s and 70’s films. Also new to the London cast is Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. Her character has been revamped: a little more playful and now smolderingly sexy in a bookish way. I have to say that Samantha Bond is my favorite Moneypenny. Her chemistry with Brosnan is tangible and really makes her short scene sizzle. Rounding out the cast is Desmond Llewelyn as Q. He’s still going strong in his delightful scene in the lab.

Bond doesn't mind death my muscular thighs.
Supporting cast for Goldeneye also includes Famke Janssen in her breakout role as Xenia Onatopp. Not since the alluring and deadly Fiona Volpe of Thunderball have we has such a great female villain. She’s over the top, but Famke is having so much fun and steams up the screen so effortlessly it works. She gives one of the more memorable performances in the film. Also worth mentioning is Alan Cummings as Boris, the nerdy, slimy, computer programmer. We also get Robbie Coltrane (pre Hagrid) as Valentin Zukovsky, the Russian crime boss. He has so much charisma in his short scene with Brosnan that he was asked to reprise the role in The World is Not Enough.

There's also Joe Don Baker as CIA agent Jack Wade. His performance has actually grown on me a bit over the years. He's no Felix Leiter, but that's the point. He's the ugly American stereotype, but it makes for a fun change of pace. I like him more in this role than I did as the villain of  The Living Daylights.

The noire lighting of the final confrontation.
For the most part Goldeneye has a solid script. You can tell it was written for Dalton, with the concept of betrayal that drives 007 against 006. But the theme carries over into the rest of the film. Trevelyn is driven by the betrayal of the British government that caused his parents demise. On a larger scale, the world has betrayed both of these secret agents. All the training, the deaths they've caused, the risks they've taken - it was all for nothing. The cold war ended, and both men are struggling to determine their futures.  For 006 it is very much a betrayal, but 007 does his best to carry on. Throughout the film Bond is reminded that he is outmoded, old fashioned and as M so succinctly says, "...a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the cold war." But Bond proves his worth time and again. His gut instincts, ability to think on his feet, and knowledge of 006 are what keeps the world safe this time. This same concept and many of the same plot points were borrowed for Daniel Craig's film Skyfall.

Bond emerging from the shadows.
In direct contrast to the Dalton films, and especially License to Kill, the writers take great pains to establish the world of James Bond. They want to reassure the audience that this is the same character they used to love. They also need to set up the relationship with 006, the concept of the Goldeneye weapon (in 1995 an EMP weapon was not familiar to most viewers), and drop enough the plot to get things rolling. All these elements make for a slower paced first hour to the film. In fact, most of the complaints I see about the film center around the fact that it it is light on the action set pieces. 

But Martin Campbell’s direction works so well that it pulls us along for the ride. He handles the exposition heavy first half with skill, its still slow, but is entertaining. He takes time introducing the main players and reassuring the audience that James Bond and his world are back. It’s good stuff the first time you see the film, but when you revisit the movie  it does drag a bit. 

Why drive around buildings when you can go
through them?
Campbell knows his way around an action scene, and when Goldeneye delivers the car chases, gun fights and fisticuffs it all works. He does a fine job with the tension of the pre-credit sequence. The final face off between Bond and Travelyn is brutal and the lighting and shadows in the scene give it a noire look. But the scene everyone remembers is the tank chase in St. Petersburg. .Everything clicks in this scene, it is exciting, ridiculous and funny all at the same time. Campbell makes sure all the action is easy to follow and appreciate something he did very well when he helmed Casino Royale

Bond picks the tank over the BMW, this time.
James Bond was back. Audiences and critics really enjoyed Goldeneye and accepted Brosnan immediately as the new James Bond. The movie had something for everyone, it was entertaining, thrilling, fun and brought the franchise roaring back to life. I wrote a whole blog about how this film brought on it's own little mini-spy mania in the 1990s. It was a great way to start a new era for the series. It's a little sad to look back and realize that this first outing for Brosnan would be his best one. 

Yep, this is my favorite film of the Brosnan era, and one of my favorite Bond adventures of all time. So much of it works so well, and I enjoy it every time I watch it. Even flawed moments like the end credits song, or the first half that drags don't hurt the overall film too much. And yeah, there is a lot of nostalgia for me associated with this film. But the movie holds up each time I watch it, and that does count for something. 

"How long is this review!?!"


  1. I like Dalton, too. The screenwriters had lost their way somewhat (after all, it was "the end of history") but Dalton did fine with what he was given.

    The writers regained their footing with this one. Dalton could have handled it, but there was nothing wrong with Brosnan. I like Dench as M too. I'm already wondering who will fill the Bond role when Craig inevitably moves on. Will they opt for a non-dinosaur? Emma Watson perhaps?

    1. They've toyed with the idea of a female Bond since the 70s. Each time there is a transition it comes up. I'm not sure if the creators are that daring, it could be fun, but some fans would unleash their hatred at the idea, even if it was Emma Watson (who would be great!)

      They toyed with the concept by adding Halle Barry in "Die Another Day", but that just didn't take off with anyone. Once again, I blame the writers - that movie was such a mess and they didn't really play to Barry's strengths. The whole Jinx spin off idea just fizzled out right there.

  2. Xenia Onatopp? Ok, I'll buy that. If I've seen this 007 film, I don't remember it at all. I didn't know Dench was playing M by this time either. Sounds pretty interesting, have to give it a spin as time allows.

    I don't know that I'd go for a female Bond. I don't mind other female agents being in the mix, but the character should be male, shouldn't they? I'm not a huge Halle Barry fan either. I'm wondering if her new SF television series will be any good. I'll at least give it a try and hope it's well conceived.

    1. Yeah, the really horrible female character names were going strong in the Brosnan era. Onatopp was one of the silliest, but I still think Christmas Jones was the worst and only around to make really bad sexual puns.

      Barry has her good points, and is good in certain roles. But the tough secret agent was really really not one of them.