The cold open for GoldenEye is one of the most memorable in the franchise. It takes place in 1986, neck deep in the Cold War. Bond’s mission is to destroy a USSR chemical weapons plant hidden deep in the Siberian desert. To get there, Bond needs to bungee jump (It was all the rage in the ’90s) off of a large Hoover dam like structure. Just as the cord is about to snap him back up, Bond uses the correct amount of cheese, a grapple gun to ease to a safe landing. We’re off to a good start. Bond’s old tricks are still working.
After the opening sequence, the rest of the film takes place in present day. Bond is driving to his next assignment in a 1964 Aston Martin DB5, when he is challenged by the beautiful Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) in a Ferrari to race down a mountain road. Sitting next to him in the car is a female psychiatrist who is assigned by MI6 to evaluate his mental state. The dangerous race nearly ends with a deadly collision before the psychiatrist demands Bond to stop. He obliges, comforts her, and charms her into giving him a positive analysis with some expensive wine and a kiss. Bond’s old tricks are still working here too, but they are about to run out.
Later in the film we meet with Bond’s superior at MI6, “M” who is now played by Dame Judi Dench. Previously, “M” was a simple character. The man behind a desk who gave Bond assignments while telling him the same thing in every film. “Get the job done”, “Don’t sleep with any ladies”, “stop flirting with Moneypenny”, and “don’t give Q a hard time”. Now, she is a no-nonsense woman who has to rise above Bond’s male chauvinism. She nails Bond on skirting past the psychiatrist, calling him “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and a “relic of the Cold War”. Woah. I don’t think anyone saw that dynamic coming.
Some might morn the passing of Bond’s innocence here, but I embrace this level of self awareness. There is a mix of old standards with new ideas throughout the film and Brosnan did an excellent job of keeping up with both. Bond’s visible resistance to change while evolving is a natural step for the character.
The hook for the main villain, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) is as a former “00” agent who knows all of Bond’s tricks. Bond can normally rely on deception early on to get close to his target. Not this time. Alec is already one step ahead of him.
As for the “Bond Girl”, I appreciate how Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) is given a genuine personality. There have been “smart” Bond Girls before, but they are usually portrayed as foolish or overly naive. Natalya has a genuine head on her shoulders. Her relationship with Bond felt unnecessary and more like a box that needed to be checked if film makers wanted to get a green light from the studio. On the other side of the coin, you have Xenia Onatopp. With her “Pussy Galore-ish” name and ability to crush her victims with her thighs, she is a leftover from the old guard. Again, Brosnan plays it perfectly as he struggles to speak her name by setting it up with an uncomfortable pause.
While the characters in GoldenEye emote as if they are in a serious thriller, this is still a Bond film where the action is in the driver seat. The plot is very familiar territory, a weapon/satellite named GoldenEye that can send a massive EMP blast to earth which renders all technology within its footprint useless for a period of time falls into the wrong hands. It is an invaluable tool for robbing banks, overthrowing governments, etc.
Director Martin Campell (The Foreigner, Casino Royal) has a great sense of style for even the most basic scene. One will call for Bond to move through a stair well and his lighting technique is reminiscent of Film Noir from the ’50s. This effort is apparent during the action sequences as well. The hand to hand combat scene flow without a hint of chorography, which leads to a great finale one between Bond and Alec. The over the top moments, like Bond driving a tank through the streets of St. Petersburg are grounded in reality by practical effects. Well, maybe not for the average human but grounded in Bond’s reality.
Now for the continuing competition with my wife, Sarah to guess how long it would take Bond to first get laid during each of these films. With it being my turn to role the dice, I rolled a *four* and a *three*. Now it was up to Sarah to choose if Bond would seal the deal “over” or “under” 43 minutes. With the series switching to Brosnan, Sarah choose “under”. There is the questionable interaction Bond has with the female psychiatrist at the 11 minute mark, but the umpires in New York reviewed the play and concluded that only a kiss took place. This meant Bond did not officially seal and deals until 57 minutes in.
Mars 🙌 is 🙌 Catching 🙌 Up 🙌 !
Sarah – 8
Mars – 5
GoldenEye has Bond firing on all cylinders. My only complaint is the avant-garde soundtrack. It is is distracting at times, especially during that mountain road race. Otherwise, all the important pieces come together nicely. I have seen this one a few times before and this was my first Bond experience in the theatre. Going in this time with the context of the previous films fresh in my mind, I wasn’t sure how I would feel it. So, I’m happy to report that it remains a personal fav.