007 Marathon: GoldenEye

Blog, Film

Timothy Dalton’s short tenure as 007 is (unfortunately) over, which means that it’s time for Pierce Brosnan (who was wanted for the role in The Living Daylights but couldn’t take it because of a commitment to Remington Steele) to take over. This is the point in my 007 Marathon when things start to feel familiar, as Brosnan was the Bond I grew up with, though I don’t remember much from his films.

I remember thinking that Brosnan was the perfect James Bond when I was a kid, and though he does a fine job in the role, he certainly has a lower spot on my list of Bond actors now.

GoldenEye marks yet another reboot of the franchise, which had a six year hiatus following Licence to Kill (the longest gap in the series’ history). As such, it marks another new era for Bond, one that finds a place, tonally, between the Roger Moore run and Brosnan’s predecessor. Bond still isn’t as campy as he was in the Moore years, but the series’ isn’t quite as grounded as it was during Dalton’s run either. Brosnan, in many ways, reminds a lot of Moore, though he’s far better in the role. He’s charming, and I actually believe it when he’s kicking ass and taking names.

The big difference between Brosnan and Dalton’s performances is that Brosnan’s Bond feels more like a playboy. Being a super spy is more of a lifestyle for him, while Dalton’s Bond was far more conflicted about his job. Brosnan looks like the kind of guy who would happily delay an assignment if it meant that he could sip vodka martinis all day instead.

That’s not to say that I don’t like Brosnan in the role – he does a good job here, and doesn’t get truly campy until his later films. In GoldenEye, he provides a pretty good balance between Bond’s playful and deadly aspects.

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GoldenEye is a fun Bond adventure, but I’d argue that it’s not a great one. I liked Sean Bean as the villain, a fellow 00 agent who goes rogue, but the film never does enough with the concept. His character quickly devolves into your run-of-the-mill Bond villain, and despite his ability to go toe to toe with James in a fist fight, there’s nothing about him or his past that truly make him unique.

This, in turn, makes the film itself equally disappointing in some aspects. What could have been a great character story featuring Bond going up against a former ally ends up becoming just another generic globetrotting adventure for the secret agent. There are small hints of a better story here, like the idea that the entire 00 program may be obsolete (something that would come back around in Daniel Craig’s run), are introduced but never fully explored, which is a shame.

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Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen star as the new Bond Girls, Natalya Simonova and Xenia Onatopp, respectively, and are adequate but ultimately not very memorable in their roles. Scorupco does well with what she’s given, but she’s not given much. And Janssen, while clearly having a hell of a lot of fun with her role, is playing a bizarre, sexist character who literally has orgasms while squeezing men to death with her legs. To say it’s problematic and cheap is a huge understatement.

The true shining star of the film is Judi Dench, who makes her debut as M. She’s not in many scenes, but steals each one she’s in. Martin Campbell really deserves a lot of credit for that casting, and for keeping her around when he rebooted the series again with Casino Royale. 

GoldenEye, at times, feels like a schizophrenic film, and that kept me from truly loving it. On one hand, it wants to be a modern, grounded take on the character, with big set pieces (a tank chase through Russian streets being the most memorable) and fewer wacky gadgetry. But then it throws in weird comic relief like Alan Cummings’ computer hacker Boris, or Joe Don Baker as CIA agent Jack Wade, and gives its potentially-intriguing villain a rather boring, generic endgame.

All in all, I had fun with GoldenEye, and look back on it as one of Bond’s better adventures, but its problems truncate its potential.

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