09 August 2009


GoldenEye One of the Best Bond Pictures

By Kristin Battestella

Even though I liked Timothy Dalton’s duo of Bond pictures in the late eighties, I had all but forgotten about 007 by time 1995’s GoldenEye came around. After a six-year delay, Pierce Brosnan finally debuted as our man James, resulting in one of the finest films in nearly fifty years of Bond onscreen.

Ten years after 007 James Bond (Brosnan) loses his friend and fellow MI6 agent 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) during a mission in Russia, Bond once again finds himself in the former Soviet Union. The control keys to a powerful satellite codenamed GoldenEye have been stolen, and a reluctant M (Judi Dench) puts Bond on the case. 007 rescues Russian computer analyst Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and uses the kinky Soviet pilot Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) to find Janus-the crime syndicate secretly operated by the scarred Alec Trevelyan. Bond must stop his former comrade from using GoldenEye’s electromagnetic pulse to steal millions and decimate England’s infrastructure.

When the press about GoldenEye began in 1994, I wasn’t very interested. After License to Kill, I was hoping for another Dalton picture. Sure, I like Pierce Brosnan, but I knew and loved him in the television show Remington Steele and in some ways still prefer his role there to his Bond. After GoldenEye, Brosnan’s tenure slowly moves downhill. By time we get to his fourth picture Die Another Day, Brosnan is a smirky, quipping parody. Here, however, Brosnan adds another dimension to Bond. He’s almost the perfect blend between his predecessors. Brosnan has the dark edge of Dalton, the humor of Moore, and the strength and suave of Connery. GoldenEye isn’t a pure action and gadget vehicle thanks to Brosnan. His 007 has history and issues-grudges from the past and a current world that has no need for old time spies. Through his swagger, smarts, and style, we believe Brosnan’s Bond can endure the past, present, and future. Of course, this James isn’t all dark and dreary. Brosnan’s mannerisms and vocal delivery add just the right touch of humor and wit. It’s really a shame that half of his reign is cheap. These young folks that grew up on Brosnan’s Jimmy have the best bits of the franchise- and yet some of the worst. Still, after another viewing of GoldenEye, I can forgive Brosnan The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. His debut is that good.

Not only do we have a fine 007, but GoldenEye also has the extra bonus of Sean Bean (Patriot Games, Sharpe) as former MI6 Agent 006 Alec Trevelyan. In the film’s opening sequence, we meet this pair of agents infiltrating a hidden Russian base. It may seem silly, but this duo is one of the franchise’s best notions. As a kid, I didn’t care about plot references to 002 or 009; I thought James Bond was THE one and only big man in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The fact that there are really badass agents like 006 out there brings new cool to GoldenEye. So, MI6 has skeletons in the closet, eh? Things aren’t always as cut and dry as previous Bonds would have us think, are they? Bean begins the picture as a cool and tragic agent too close to the edge and becomes the bane of Bond’s existence. Sometimes we like a Bond picture purely for the villain, and Bean delivers one of the series’ slickest and most memorable bad guys.

006 has all the charm, suave, gadgets, and babes as 007-what’s not to love? The fact that he is blonde and bad against dark haired, good guy Bond is also a subtle visual trick against our ‘black hat’ bad cowboy motifs. Once upon a time, we can believe Trevelyan was a good guy. 006 has some great lines in GoldenEye; he tends to get the last word on Bond, and his punch lines are dry and memorable. I’m sure there are other instances in the franchise, but his ‘Bond. Only Bond’ is as close to 007’s famous introduction as one can get. It’s not just the cheeky script, but Bean’s slick delivery that make 006 so bad it’s good. We believe Sean Bean could have been Bond, and as he says, ‘I was always better!’ We’re supposed to root for Bond, but Bean doesn’t make it easy. I wish it were possible for him to return to the franchise in someway, but his perfection here is tough to beat. Imagine current Blonde Bond Craig versus Bean as Lago in an updated remake of Thunderball... I can dream, can’t I?

Although we couldn’t have a blonde Bond when Bean auditioned, we can have a woman as the head of MI6. Dame Judi Dench’s (Shakespeare in Love, Notes on A Scandal) debut as M is wonderfully cranky and hard-assed like Bernard Lee and Robert Brown before her. The Berlin Wall is gone, the Soviet Union dissolved-M’s sizing up of Bond as a misogynistic relic of the Cold War is completely accurate. Dench’s delivery and style are akin to the skeptical audience. Why should we still care about Bond? What is he going to do in GoldenEye to warm our hearts again? Against the definitely not Bond Girl M, Samantha Bond’s (Emma, Distant Shores) Miss Moneypenny is charming as the flirtatious secretary with a jest for James. Her talent, look, and age are on par with Brosnan, and her wit has shades of former Penny Lois Maxwell.

Stalwart Desmond Llewelyn continues as Bond’s gadget wizard Q, and the banter with Brosnan is on form. There’s just enough tongue in cheek and dry Brit wit to keep things funny, not stupid. The gadget debriefing scene packs in a lot of quips and bits- and all of it works. As opposed to some older Bond pictures where everyone is dubbed, unnamed, or well, weak; GoldenEye has a healthy supporting cast. From The Living Daylights veteran Joe Don Baker returning to the series as CIA ally Jack Wade to Alan Cumming (X-2: X-Men United) as quirky Janus henchman Boris Grishenko, each has a moment of charm. Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), and TchĂ©ky Karyo (The Patriot) shine as well.

GoldenEye of course continues the Bond tradition of hot international babes. Now very well known, Dutch model and actress Famke Janssen (X-Men, Don’t Say A Word) steals almost all of her scenes here. Her Xenia Onatopp not only has a name worthy of her vile henchwomen predecessors, but she gets off on killing-literally. It’s so twisted it’s cool. Again, you would think a woman who can kill people by crushing them between her legs would laugh folks right out of the theater; but this kitschy Bond Babe works. Janssen doesn’t speak very much, but she holds her own against the Brosnan and Bean big boys. Equally feisty is Polish-Swedish actress Izabella Scorupco (Reign of Fire) as sassy computer tech Natalya Simonova. Scorupco is a little too pretty to be a simple computer programmer, but she’s intelligent and spunky. Moreover, in a series infamous for its dubbing, her Russian accent is a-okay. Not only does Natalya get some Bond loving, but she’s got some fun dialogue. Rather than being a woman merely there for looks, she figures into the plot to disarm the GoldenEye weapon. It’s serious and realistic, too- not like flaky, buxom scientists before and after.

Perhaps the mid nineties styles and computers are out of date now, but GoldenEye has an intelligent, scientific plot to go along with all the gadgets, action, and effects. Actually, there aren’t many obvious effects to speak of-satellite shots and some blue screen work-but nothing as ridiculous as the invisible car from Die Another Day. The action here is where it’s at. In some ways director Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) adheres to several Bond standards-the obligatory planes, chases, and fights, of course. However, GoldenEye’s post-Iron Curtain St. Petersburg setting allows for some cool twists on the action. Snow, communist relics, armored trains, and tanks through old world city streets give homage to the franchise and real life history while upping the ante onscreen. To go along with it all, we have an updated Bond Theme; an edgy title song from U2 and Tina Turner; and sweet opening titles with plenty of babes bashing the hammer and sickle.

I have to say, my husband is not a fan of GoldenEye. He finds it too slow. Perhaps some of technobabble talking scenes do drag in the first hour of the picture, but by the finale, writers Michael France (The Punisher), Bruce Ferstein (Tomorrow Never Dies) and Jeffrey Caine (The Chief) balance the intelligence and action nicely. GoldenEye isn’t just one of the best Bond pictures; it’s meaty enough for generic action and adventure audiences. You want chases and explosions-it’s there with all the smarts and excellent performances. I would however, caution a casual fan from taking in a television viewing of GoldenEye. Though tame in that Bond only bags two babes, networks edit for time and content in all the wrong places. I was so angry that BBC America cut most of Trevelyan’s scene with Natalya-even the ‘tastes like strawberries’ zinger. How dare they!

Several DVD editions of GoldenEye can be found at very affordable prices. Mine was under $7- a fairly risk free commitment for the hesitant Bond viewer. Collectors will of course own the special edition and package sets with extensive features, but it looks like we’re still waiting on GoldenEye’s blu-ray release. I’m trying to wait for all the Bond films to be released on blu-ray before I pick up any. What if they pull out another super special ultimate blu-ray pack of the entire series like they did with the DVDs? Nevertheless, I probably won’t be able to wait once this blu-ray set comes out. I can always pass along my DVD to my dad. I’ve made him watch this one so often, now he likes Brosnan’s Bond. Even if you aren’t a Bond fan, GoldenEye should be enough to convert you.


Ciaran Statham said...

Love your review, and especially your thoughts on Famke as Xenia. I think she's easily one of the finest Bond Girls in the series, and the best henchman!

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Onatopp! Thanks for stopping by.

I'm glad you enjoyed us and Xenia. Goldeneye had to 'wait its turn' ;0) in my review queue, but it was well worth it!

Kristin Battestella said...

Hey folks.

Like my other Sean Bean reviews, you'll find this essay simulcast at The Mighty Bean website