Gold is in the Eye of the Beholder
GoldenEye is directed by Martin Campbell and is the first James Bond film to star Pierce Brosnan as Agent 007. The film also stars Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, and Joe Don Baker. The movie is also the first film in the series to not utilize any story elements from the works of Ian Fleming.
I feel the need to point out that GoldenEye is the third title in the James Bond film series to have the word gold in its title. Unlike Goldfinger and The Man with the Golden Gun, GoldenEye has basically nothing to do with the physical substance that is gold, though I can't help but remark upon how Ian Fleming and as a result the Bond film series seems to have a special fondness for the world gold if no other word has been used as many times. In the case of GoldenEye, it was a homage to Fleming, who took part in an operation codenamed Operation GoldenEye while working as a naval officer during World War II. Though I suppose that a future Bond film will be called something like GoldBomb or GoldRocket, because, y'know, the word gold just oozes enticement on everything it happens to be slapped onto.
But enough about that. After Timothy Dalton vacated the role of Bond following Licence to Kill, Irish man Pierce Brosnan was brought in as a replacement. Brosnan was unable to grab the torch from Roger Moore in 1986 due to his commitment to the TV series, Remington Steele, with other actors like Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant, and even Liam Neeson turning down the role of Bond. The mini casting carousel was not the primary issue for GoldenEye, however; this was the first James Bond film to be released following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the definitive end of the Cold War, putting the character's relevance into question. Given how so many previous Bond films tapped into various Cold War fears, it'd make sense that many in the film industry thought it'd be best to leave the character in the past. What else was there for Bond to do? Where else could he go?
Turns out, GoldenEye was successful enough in revitalizing Bond instead of sending him to his permanent grave, as well as adapting the series into the 1990's. And while the movie can be appropriately look at as moving Bond beyond the Cold War, I can't help but think that it still has a Cold War vibe to it. This leads me to the plot. MI6 agents James Bond and Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) are infiltrating a Soviet chemical weapons facility in Arkhangelsk. As the two are planting explosives, Trevelyan is captured by Soviet troops, led by Colonel Arkady Ourumov (Gottfried John). Ourumov shoots Trevelayn and seemingly kills him, though Bond is able to escape before the facility explodes.
Nine years later, Bond follows organized crime member Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), who has a suspicious relationship with Canadian Navy admiral Charles Farrel (Billy J. Mitchell). Onatopp kills Farrel during sex and his credentials are stolen by Ourumov. Onatopp and Ourumov then steal a new, stealth Tiger helicopter and fly it to a bunker in Severnaya, Siberia. The bunker is home to the control disk of the GoldenEye satellites, two Soviet EMP weapons used during the Cold War. Onatopp and Ourumov kill the bunker staff and steal the control disk. They program the first GoldenEye satellite to destroy the bunker and escape with programmer Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming). One other staff member survives, however, a woman named Natalya Simonova. Bond is assigned by M (Judi Dench) to investigate the attack and travels to Saint Petersburg, where he discovers that Trevelyan, having faked his death in Arkhangelsk, has now gone rogue. Trevelyan now plans to use the GoldenEye satellites to send the world into financial chaos.
So with GoldenEye largely taking place in Russia and involving the use of Soviet Cold War weapons to threaten the world, there is some striking situational irony going on here. I would think that a reminder of the Soviets and the Cold War would have people staying as far away from theaters as possible, because those scary Cold War times are over and the last thing we'd want in the mid 1990's is a reminder of those grim times. But at the same time, I would also think that director Martin Campbell would want perhaps want to give James Bond a last Cold War hurrah, since the character has been placed in a Cold War setting many times before, and this was the last chance to do it again. Given how no other Bond film since GoldenEye has had a plot revolving around anything specific to the Cold War, I'm willing to believe a last hurrah was Martin Campbell's intention.
- It is unfair to compare the action and stunts of older James Bond films to newer ones, but oh my what eye popping action GoldenEye has. It's fast, cohesive, and above all else, energetic. The best action scene is when Bond takes over a tank to chase a fleeing Ourumov who has taken Simonova captive. The scene is kind of funny because no matter what escape route that Ourumov tries to take, Bond casually follows behind him, with the tank obliterating everything in its path. All of the action scenes come in relatively smaller dosages, though they remain well-balanced across the 130 minute span.
- Sean Bean makes a great villain, and Alec Trevelyan is no exception. He's given a backstory and motivations that makes his reasonings more understandable, and you can easily tell that Bean is giving a wholehearted effort in making the role as wonderfully villainous as can be, at times looking as if he's trying to repress a big grin that is the result of an actor clearly enjoying their role. He also gets a lot of great bad guy one-liners ("It's insulting to think I haven't anticipated your every move").
- Nothing in GoldenEye I found to be misguided or anger-inducing, except the setup of Trevelyan as the central villain. When you watch him get shot in the opening scene, it clearly appears that he gets shot square in the face. "He got shot with a blank!" yells the defender of this scene. Right, because all of those Soviet troops had blanks in their guns. We then later see that Trevelyan has a massive scar on his face, but he explains that the scar came from the fire when Bond blew up the weapons facility. As villainous-ly delightful as Trevelyan is, there is no sign of him until around 70 minutes in, and that's a disappointment more than anything.
In conclusion, GoldenEye isn't a masterpiece, but it does just about everything right with its execution of the 007 formula, with a suave performance by Pierce Brosnan, a great villain performance by Sean Bean, and plenty of dazzling action scenes. There's gadgetry, humorous Bond one-liners, and an ambition to bring Bond into the post Cold War decade with fervor and a desire to improve upon some of the shortcomings of the 1980 Bond films. The other Brosnan Bond films never reached the level of success of GoldenEye, an overall successful entry in the series and a pleasant experience for Bond fans of all ages.
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