90s Movie Challenge Week 34: GoldenEye (1995)

Come in, 90s friends; we’ve been expecting you! This week, as the school holidays are drawing to a close we thought we’d ask our resident schoolteacher Stuart Ball to make the most of the peace and quiet before the kids return to look at a classic spy adventure from 1995 – a film that also heralded someone’s return after a long break away…

Bond, James Bond in GoldenEye!

Spoilers follow…

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Some of the early words spoken by Xenia to Bond might well sum up the whole of the Brosnan era. GoldenEye is, by some distance, the best of the films featuring Pierce Brosnan in the role, close to a decade after he was initially supposed to take over the assignment from Roger Moore.

Having seen every Bond film in the cinema since A View To A Kill and having become a huge Bond fan in the process, catching up, when possible, with the earlier films on television, it was to be a long six years between Licence to Kill and the eventual release of GoldenEye. Timothy Dalton was an excellent Bond and his films remain underrated to this day; he captured the essence of Fleming’s Bond more than any of the other actors to fill the role. However, in the late 80s and early 90s, Bond’s producers had to be more aware of the social and political aspects of what was going on in the world and this led to (and I would say it was welcome) somewhat of a change in Bond’s womanising. By the time legal disputes had been settled, Dalton’s six-year contract had expired, and after reading the initial script for what would become GoldenEye, he decided that he would not return to the role.

In the post-cold war environment, Bond needed to be seen in a modern context, making sure he too (as noted by M) did not become a relic of the Cold War. Bond required a new type of story and a new type of villain. With GoldenEye, he got both. While stories of theft (although this is almost a by-product of Alec’s wish for the United Kingdom to “re-enter the Stone Age”), as opposed to megalomania, weren’t new to Bond (see Goldfinger), new technology allowed the story to take a different twist. Sean Bean puts in a fine performance as Bond’s former colleague and friend, appearing to have great fun into the bargain. Having a former Double-O as the villain also allowed an insight into the mind of a special agent who had given so much for his country but ultimately ended up feeling betrayed and thinking about how he might aim to gain his revenge.

The change of Bond, the change of politics of the time and the change of style was also the perfect time for a change of M. Judi Dench brings a freshness to the role that fits brilliantly with the film. She brings an almost maternal aspect to the role (although this may well be more noticeable due to how this element came to fruition during the films with Daniel Craig) as while she admonishes Bond for his outdated behaviour and approach to life, she tells him to “come back alive” in a moment of true tenderness.

The depth of the supporting cast also makes this one of the best ensemble pieces of any Bond film. Onatopp (while ridiculous in name – to me an opportunity missed to move away from such titles) is a good henchwoman and Famke Janssen dives headlong into the role. Robbie Coltrane’s Zukovksy adds some great humour and would, of course, return again in The World Is Not Enough, while Natalya is a far cry from the Bond girls from films such as A View To A Kill or even The Living Daylights. She has an important role in the story in her own right, therefore, making a mark for Bond girls which was taken further in Tomorrow Never Dies.

From a production point of view, Martin Campbell does an exceptional job pacing the film, presenting a more modern look for the character and drawing great performances from all those involved. The stunning opening shot of the Verzasca (Contra) Dam in Switzerland is one of the best of any Bond film, as is the first amazing stunt (performed by Wayne Michaels in one take) when Bond bungee jumps down to the chemical weapons facility. Beyond the pre-credit sequence, there are several excellent set-pieces, not least the tank chase through St. Petersburg which does not feel out of place despite the chaos that it brings to the city. Add to this a strong theme song, the moment where Bond drops Alec “for me” and some genuine tension as Bond escapes from the train and you have a recipe for a most satisfying film. It’s not just a good Bond film; it’s a good film overall. Campbell would return to the world of 007 again when he helmed the first of Daniel Craig’s films (and in my opinion the best Bond film of them all) – Casino Royale.

However, while GoldenEye is one of the most enjoyable Bonds of any period, it is not without fault. Even at the time, the music by Eric Serra (John Barry turned down the opportunity to score the film) really didn’t work and it now sounds horribly outdated including the terrible song at the end of the film which wouldn’t be welcome in most rom-coms let alone a Bond film. The music works best when it uses more traditional motifs (such as during the aforementioned tank chase) and it mustn’t have been a difficult decision to return to a much more established way of scoring the film for Tomorrow Never Dies by approaching Bond and Barry fan, David Arnold.

Some of the one-liners (mostly absent in the Dalton films) were beyond corny and lazy in an otherwise good script (although as we know, GoldenEye doesn’t contain the worst one-liner of the Brosnan era – that “gem” would be saved for the end of TWINE).

Looking back (and watching this film for the umpteenth time while writing this review), GoldenEye stands up well to any Bond film and sits comfortably within my top ten and while I enjoyed Tomorrow Never Dies, it is a shame that Brosnan’s Bond would never be quite as good again and in the case of Die Another Day, would be a hell of lot worse.

Join us again for more #90sMC fun! Although the future’s not set, we can guarantee that next week We’ll Be Back! Our brilliant guest poster Chris Warrington will need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle as he fires up the time machine and travels back to the summer of 1991 to look at Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

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