BOND: Revisiting GOLDENEYE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal is ready to save the world again.

With the release of Licence To Kill in the summer of 1989, finding box-office success worldwide, if muted in the United States, 007 looked set to enter the new decade. Legal issues involving Eon/Danjaq on the one hand and MGM/UA on the other locked the series' future, derailing plans for a third Timothy Dalton outing planned for a 1991 release, eventually leading to Dalton's exit from the series in 1994. With the end of the Cold War, the conflict that had helped birth the character, many assumed 007's days of world-saving were over.

Goldeneye, released in the closing months of 1995, would prove them wrong.

Its success was owed, in no small part, to Pierce Brosnan's successful debut as James Bond. His characterization is, to a certain extent, an amalgamation of what others had brought to the role previously. He has the sleek and dangerous shark quality of Connery, the charm of Moore, yet also brought the sensitive and coldblooded elements that Dalton brought to the role. The latter can be seen in the last act, such as in the scene between Bond and Natalya on the beach, and in the final line he delivers before dispatching the villain to his death. Brosnan proves to be more than just the sum of his predecessors' parts, making the role all his own with the film's opening half-hour or so. It's an electric debut and one that sold him to a new generation in the winter of 1995-96.

Surrounding Brosnan was a cast equally up to the task. With Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova, the leading ladies of the series likewise moved into the Nineties, creating a character that felt like something akin to a real person thrown into the extraordinary world of Bond. Someone who goes from terrified survivor to capable ally, and a character with something to contribute to the plot instead of being eye-candy damsel in distress (I'm looking at you, Stacy Sutton). That Scorupco makes that journey both watchable and believable, is all the more to her credit as an actress.

No Bond film is complete without its villain, and Goldeneye featured an interesting one in the form of Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan, one-time 006. A former 00 gone rogue was a brilliant idea for the series, especially heading into the post-Cold War world, and the film's handling of it was first-rate, from his appearance in the teaser sequence to his re-introduction mid-way through. While Bean was (and looked) too young for his backstory to quite work, he makes the successful transition from ally to villain in one incredible scene. Bean is, just as importantly believable, in the gritty climactic fight that pits two former friends against each other with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. While lacking all the three-dimensional characterization of his immediate predecessor, Bean's Trevelyan comes across as one of the better villains of the series and a legitimate threat to Bond.

The supporting cast also serves the film well for the most part. Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp has become one of the film’s most iconic elements, though, sadly, the character rides the thin line between good and cringe-worthy a bit too much, at least for this reviewer's liking. The rest of the supporting cast suits the film much better, including Joe Don Baker as CIA agent Jack Wade, Gottfried John as General Ourumov, Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky, and Alan Cumming as Boris Grishenko. Goldeneye also introduces several new members to the MI6 staff, including a female M played to perfection by Judi Dench, a more combative Miss Moneypenny in the form of Samantha Bond and MI6 chief of staff Bill Tanner played by Michael Kitchen. The icing on the cake, offering a link to the past, was the ever welcomed return of Desmond Llewelyn as Q.

Goldeneye also boasts some of the best action sequences of the franchise, something that was all-important for it to bring Bond into the 1990s. The teaser sequence features not one but two impressive stunts, including the iconic dam jump, as well as some impressive gun-play. The best action sequences though come in its back half, from the running gun battle through a government archive and the still incredibly impressive tank chase through the streets of St Petersburg, a sequence that has lost none of its punch. The film's climax, especially in the aforementioned fight between 00 agents, hearkens back nicely to the Bob Simmons staged sequences of the early Connery films. It's easy to see why Goldeneye resonated so much with audiences at the time, and since, for that matter.

Yet, looking at the film after nearly twenty-five years, it feels oddly dated. The plot hinges heavily on the computer technology of the early/mid-1990s, leaving it with a sense of being "of its time," that the best Bond outings generally avoid. It isn’t just technology though that has dated the film, certain aspects of its plot as well. The reveal of Alec Trevelyan being a Lienz Cossack and the setting in the early post-Soviet era Russia also serves to date the film, rooting it firmly in the time in which it was made. While that's true of all the Bonds (and works of art, in general for that matter), it's something which feels oddly apparent in watching Goldeneye in particular.

Which might be a good time to mention Eric Serra's score. Perhaps nothing else about Goldeneye has been as controversial as this one element. Serra’s score is admittedly a significant departure from the John Barry style of Bond scores, particularly with the heavy use of synthesizer tracks, especially in the action sequences. As much as the technology and plot, it's the score that roots the film very much as a piece of nineties pop culture. Which isn't to write it off, as it has its moments, such as the romantic theme Sierra employs for Bond and Natalya, or the suspenseful but mournful cue used for Tevalyn's reveal. That said, it's perhaps telling that the film’s best musical moment, the tank chase, wasn’t composed by Serra at all but by composer John Altman. The one other musical element that works beyond any doubt is the main title song performed by Tina Turner, which, because of it not being composed by Serra, never appears anywhere else in the film. The score has, and will certainly continue, to remain the single most controversial element of Goldeneye among fans as a misfire at bringing the series into a new decade.

Though parts of it have aged less well than others, there can be no doubt that Goldeneye re-launched Bond. It was a box-office smash, and received its share of good reviews, though perhaps due to absence making the heart grow fonder. While not the instant classic suggested by some at the time, and indeed since, Goldeneye remains one of the better Bond films thanks to Brosnan’s excellent debut, a cast of memorable characters, and action sequences that stand up years later. Bond was back in action and here to stay.

Previous "BOND: Revisiting..." articles
Dr. No - From Russia With Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - You Only Live Twice - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Diamonds Are Forever - Live And Let Die - The Man With The Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy - A View To A Kill - The Living Daylights - Licence To Kill -

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Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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