James Bond Retrospective: Review of GOLDENEYE

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

After the Dalton movies, there wasn’t a Bond film for 6 years, which was the longest wait between films in the history of the series.  I’m not sure they knew what to do, since the last 2 films weren’t all that successful.  They finally got Pierce Brosnan, and I remember that there was a huge marketing push for this movie.  By the time it came out, I was already out of High School.  And of course, I saw it opening day.  But something strange happened.  I didn’t like it at all, the first Bond film (at that time) I hated.  Brosnan rubbed me the wrong way and I didn’t like the political correctness stuff in it.  So I haven’t seen it since then, and I was curious to see if my tastes have changed in 17 years (Christ, has it been that long?).

Bond stumbles on a plot involving a stolen Russian satellite.  He finds the lone survivor of a hostile takeover and the two team up to stop the baddies.  This time, the bad guy is a former agent who used to work with Bond, 009.  There’s also a crazy female Russian villain called Onatopp (cute), who gets sexual pleasure from killing people.

The Pre-title sequence is pretty strong as it introduces this new Bond to the world.  007 bungies from a huge dam, enters a secret base with 009, and then they have a shootout with a bunch of Russians.  009 gets caught and (seemingly) killed right in front of James, who eventually escapes.  The escape is pretty cool, as a plane leaps off a cliff into a nose dive (because he killed the Russians in it), James jumps off the cliff to chase it.  In mid-air, he finally catches up to it and gets in, pulling the plane up to safety.  This was the first big action stunt piece in a Bond film to rely on heavy special effects (which were usually practical), but it was a new era.  Either way, it looks pretty cool.  There’s almost enough action in the opening for one movie.  The thrilling sequence ends as Tina Turner sings the title track.  This has got to be my least favorite Bond song.  There’s not an interesting hook, or melody and Turner’s vocals are shrieking and annoying.

The first 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie, due to the lack of story development.  James is driving on a mountain side with some broad who is supposed to be evaluating him (you know he’s going to bone her).  Then a car driven by Onatopp passes him and the two begin some sort of chase.  To me, this sequence is completely random and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Then when he gets to the hotel and plays cards with her, I was still confused.  Why was he there?  Is he on vacation?  A Mission?  It wasn’t so clear to me, probably because there was no briefing scene to set this part up.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie is entertaining.  The best thing about GOLDENEYE is that it introduces Judi Dench as M.  At the time I thought it was an obvious attempt at making the series politically correct, but now I’m so used to her in the role that I can’t picture anyone else doing it.  Her introduction is quite good.  I also liked the briefing scene, complete with some great flirting between Bond and the new Moneypenny.  She has a pretty good comeback for Bond too.  The Q scene is one of his best.  It’s loaded with lots of his inventions being tried out in the background as Q is trying to brief him on the new gadgets.  It’s a very amusing scene.

There’s some great action sequences throughout.  Because technology improved since the 80’s, the set pieces are bigger.  There’s a pretty crazy car chase through St. Petersburg that has Bond driving a tank.  Sure, it’s pretty unbelievable as 007 seems to disregard the city as he plows through buildings and rolls over cars at high speeds, but hey… it was still a blast to watch and put a smile on my face.  There’s also a tense moment when Bond and a girl are stuck in a Copter about to be blown up and he has to activate the ejector seat with his head since his hands are tied.  The finale has some great moments too.  The final confrontation with Onatopp and 009 are both satisfying and exhilarating.  Speaking of Onatopp, I did get a kick out of her sexual pleasures.  Her scene when she tries to kill Bond in a leg grip is amusing stuff.

I didn’t like Brosnan at the time, but now he seems like a good fit.  He still brings some of that humor that Moore had, but not so much that it took over the whole tone of the film.  He’s not as serious as Dalton, but still brings a sense of urgency to the role.  I definitely liked him better watching this a second time, though he’s still not the best.  Sean Bean is convincing as 009.  Famke Janssen got her major start here as Onatopp, and it’s a scene stealing performance.  She plays bad so good that it’s a miracle that she never got type cast.  Izabella Scorupco makes a good Bond girl as she’s both beautiful and intelligent.  She’s a good actress too, so it’s surprising that she never really made it big after this.  Joe Don Baker brings much-needed humor to the movie as Jack Wade, a CIA ally for Bond.   When he starts calling him “Jimbo”, yeah… that was funny to me.  Robbie Coltrane also makes a great impression as a Russian gangster who may or may not help James.  Alan Cumming can also be seen as a sleazy and nerdy computer hacker.

Martin Campbell (coming fresh off of NO ESCAPE) is a great action director.  He knows how to film it.  He also keeps the pacing on high-speed so it never feels long or boring.  It’s pretty high-octane.  The story is also quite good.  This isn’t as dark as the Dalton films, nor silly like the Moore ones.  It strikes a nice balance between the two as Brosnan says his dry, witty one-liners while stacking up a high body count.  The only really thing I hated in this movie is the music score by Eric Sierra.  It’s NOT good.  It has no richness to it.  With its cheap sounding electric keyboard and drum programming, it sounds empty.  Only once does he use the Bond theme (which was good), but the rest of the music just does not feel Bond-like at all.  That was disappointing.

As you can see, GOLDENEYE isn’t perfect.  But besides the underwhelming music and a weak start (after the awesome pre-title sequence), it actually turns out to be a fun popcorn movie, which I think was how the series was originally intended to be.  While I think this new Bond needs some polishing, it definitely shows the potential in which the series could go.  This is a nice, safe, Bond movie that is trying to please the masses.  And it does work as a crowd pleaser.  Not among the best Bond, but a solid debut for Brosnan and a worth entry in the series.   ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Rated PG-13 for a number of sequences of action/violence (mostly bloodless), and for some sexuality (surprisingly more graphic than I remembered).

– Running time: 2hrs. 9min.


Categories: Austin Kennedy, Reviews

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2 replies

  1. Hey, you finally like it! Glad to hear it. I still dig this one and wish the Brosnon ones could have all been this strong instead of going for unintentional camp.

  2. Good review, here are my thoughts.

    I think the title track is fantastic. The chilling violin motif is almost iconic. I can’t help but reflect on the similarities with other U2 songs (Goldeneye was written by Bono and The Edge.) I think the drums, for example, are unmistakably U2. Who better to write the theme for Goldeneye, then Bono, who a few years earlier found himself honeymooning at Ian Fleming’s Jamaican villa of the same name?

    >The first 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie, due to the lack of story development.

    These first few minutes are well placed. Bond is already on location in Monte Carlo for his mission. He happens to be in the middle of a professional evaluation when he encounters Onatopp on the road. Reckless automobile racing through the cliffs, a memorable introduction to the Onatopp character.

    Judi Dench gives a noteworthy performance as M. I’ve never considered the political correctness aspect of the choice to cast Dench. Perhaps because how she dominates her first scene, bringing Bond down a couple notches with a “no bullshit” attitude.

    I think you downplay the St. Petersburg tank scene. This is the first Bond film since the cold war, with an intense scene filmed on location in Russia. Considering that the Bond franchise is 70% based on cold war era conflicts I think this is pretty amazing.

    > The only really thing I hated in this movie is the music score by Eric Sierra.

    Ok, it’s not the strongest soundtrack. But it has plenty of shining moments. The Severnaya Suite theme is very memorable and heartfelt.

    Also, one nitpicky thing, Alec Trevelyan was 006, not 009.

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