Bond, James Bond - Goldeneye

James Bond

As part of our look back at the films of James Bond, Stuart Mulrain remembers Goldeneye...

“Back from the dead. No longer just an anonymous star on the memorial wall at MI6”

Licence To Kill marked the end of an era for the James Bond films. The world changed, both politically and within the world of film. Perhaps worst of all, an entire generation of children grew up without a Bond to call their own. There was an oddly satisfying end to the series that came with Licence To Kill and most long time Bond fans came to accept not only the fact that Bond may not actually return, but also that there may not actually be a place for him to return to.

But, as we know, Bond is not a man to leave a job unfinished (unless he needs to go rogue to avenge a friend etc) and if it’s said that he will return, then James Bond will return. And so after 6 long years we were finally given a new Bond for a new world and as much as I would’ve loved to have seen Timothy Dalton come back to the role, it was the right and smart decision for him to step down and let a new Bond take the reins.

It’s a nice touch that the pre-credits scene for Goldeneye is set 9 years before the main body of the film, placing it in the same year that Pierce Brosnan was originally cast as Bond for The Living Daylights, acknowledging Brosnan’s history with the part. It means that Bond keeps the exact same hairstyle and unshaved look for the best part of a decade, but in his defence he was probably busy with spy stuff.

Brosnan was too young for the part in 1986 but he was the perfect man for the job of bringing Bond back for a mid-90s world. There is an ease to his performance that he probably wouldn’t have had in the 80’s. It’s easy to see why Brosnan was so quickly embraced by fans. He looks good in the role and seems to embody the best elements of all of the Bonds that came before him (Sean Connery’s toughness, George Lazenby’s sensitivity, Roger Moore’s humour and Timothy Dalton’s edge).

Again Bond is pitted against a mirror version of himself type villain in former 00 Sean Bean (himself a one-time Bond contender). We’ve seen this type of bad guy many times before in the series, but Bean does a fine job in the role and is responsible for some of the best lines in the film, mainly down to his delivery of them than the actual words he is saying. Sure his grand scheme to destroy the world is a little underwhelming compared to the plans of old, but the nuclear age has gone and this is a plan for the digital age.

The Bond girls follow the traditional format of one to kill and one to keep. On the keep side we have Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya. Despite being one of the better written Bond girls in the series, she is strangely forgettable in the overall canon of Bond girls, although this is probably because she is largely upstaged by Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp. It’s easy to see why Janssen is one of the few actress’ to have a fairly strong post Bond career, relishing every psychotic little nuance of the character, especially when it comes to making a kill – be it suffocating a men with her legs or gunning down a room full of people.

The true stand out Bond girl of this film though is Judi Dench as M. It’s fair to say that there was probably as much pressure on Dench as there was on Brosnan. Not only did she have to fill the chair of Robert Brown and the great Bernard Lee, she is also the first female M. It’s a pressure that doesn’t show and she handles the role with her usual brilliance. Her scenes with Brosnan and Michael Kitchen’s Tanner are expertly played and (particularly the scene in her office with Bond) are real standouts in the film.

As well as M, the rest of the Bond family is back, with Miss Moneypenny finally getting the kind of performance and scenes she deserves. Moneypenny has finally left behind the image of the doe eyed secretary, waiting for Bond to respond to her advances. Lois Maxwell was great in the role, but was very much a Moneypenny for her time but Samantha Bond is given the chance to really make the character something more and she excels in doing so, truly shining in her scenes with Bond. It’s a shame that by the time of Die Another Day, she has largely been returned to the sexually frustrated secretary of old.

Desmond Llewelyn is back as Q and as with the rest of the series he provides the film with a touch of class and wit. Llewelyn clearly relishes his scene with Bond and as good as it was to see him out in the field in Licence, it’s great to see him back in Q branch amongst the chaos of gadgets being tested. You can see why they kept Llewelyn in the role for as long as he was willing to play him as he is one of the staples of the series that – to date – has not been replaceable by another actor.

It’s also good to see The Living Daylights bad guy Joe Don Baker back in the Bond universe, this time working as an ally to Bond instead of an enemy. Clearly being crushed by a statue is just the thing to knock the evil out of you! He is perfectly cast as C.I.A. agent Jack Wade, a character who seems to be a mixture of Felix Leiter and Sheriff J.W. Pepper (minus the offensiveness). He is very much there to provide some comic relief and does it well, if a little overplayed, popping up at the right points in the film.

This film marked the first Bond film to be produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, with poor health forcing Cubby Broccoli to step down to a consultation role. Given that the responsibility was largely theirs to make Bonds comeback film a success, it is surprising just how underwhelming the script actually is, with the film largely held together by some great performances and expertly handled direction.

Deciding to end their system of using the same director, EON decided to bring in Edge Of Darkness director Martin Campbell. Although not the greatest director in the world, Campbell has an eye for this genre and puts more of a stamp on a Bond film than any of the directors that have gone before. You can see why he was chosen to relaunch the franchise again a decade later, even if his second turn in the director’s chair is the better of his two efforts, but that’s a different review for another time.

It could be that it was more subtly done in past Bond films, but this seems to be the first Bond film in which the product placement is really in your face. The worst offender of this is the BMW that we spend a long time focusing on while Q explains all of the gadgets it contains, only for the car to briefly appear later on and with none of the aforementioned gadgets getting used. I’m just thankful that as I sit writing this with my Parker Pen, drinking Perrier Water and checking the time on my Omega watch that I have never really been susceptible to product placement.

The biggest thing that lets the film down however, is the score. Naturally John Barry is a tough act to follow, but if you have a basic understanding of how a Bond score should be, you should be able to do a half decent job. Despite offering up some pretty good signature themes (Run, Jump, Shoot being the standout) Eric Serra really doesn’t seem to understand what makes a Bond score a Bond score. Aside from the score being incredibly intrusive in places, it plays at times like the score of a 90’s soft core porno.

The opening credits, depicting the end of the cold war, are a nice nod to Maurice Binder‘s work and are probably the most memorable of the more recent Bond films. This is aided by the continuation of the Shirley Bassey type theme of old that had been brought back with Gladys Knight’s Licence To Kill and (although I’m generally not a fan) Tina Turner is the right choice of singer to pull that sort of song off.

But the big question is whether or not, in retrospect, Goldeneye was the great comeback film that the hype at the time had us believing it was. Truth be told it isn’t. There is a lot wrong with the film, not least a strange smugness that the film projects, that seems to make it think that it is better than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be thankful to Goldeneye for. It did its job in giving the world James Bond again and it spawned one of the best computer games of all time, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the second coming we deserved. Nor is it for that matter the best of Brosnan’s Bonds; that was waiting just around the corner...

Image - IMDb.