Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"GoldenEye" (1995)

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean and Izabella Scorupco
Written by Michael France, Jeffrey Caine, Kevin Wade and Bruce Feirstein
Directed by Martin Campbell
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, sex
Running Time: 130 Minutes

Just before the fall of the Soviet Union, 007 James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrate a Soviet chemical weapons plant, tasked with destroying it.  When 006 is captured by the Soviet colonel Ourumov (Gottfried John), Bond destroys the building with him inside it, and makes a daring escape.

Years later, the mysterious leader of a terrorist organization known as Janus sends Ouromov and sexpot assassin Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) to steal a new stealth helicopter from the French navy.  The two then use the helicopter to breach a Russian satellite weapons facility where they steal a secret weapon codenamed GoldenEye.  The only survivors are a lovely young computer programmer, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and the traitorous Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming), who helped Ouromov and Onatopp steal the weapon.

M (Judi Dench) sets Bond on the trail of the missing GoldenEye, which takes him deep in to the heart of Russian territory.  But when Bond discovers that Janus is none other than his long thought dead friend and former partner, Alec Trevelyan, who knows all of Bond's moves and has all the same training but none of the rules and ethics, Bond realizes this is one enemy that will not be so simple to defeat.  Bond must take on his friend with the fate of the world's economy and civilization hanging in the balance.

After a six-year absence from theatres due to a great deal of legal wrangling over control of the franchise, James Bond exploded back onto the scene with "GoldenEye," which became a big hit in its own right and a legend within the franchise not just because it's one of the best Bond films out there, but because of the huge marketing and merchandising push that came with it.

"GoldenEye", despite featuring a space weapon, isn't nearly as outlandish or ridiculous as "Moonraker" or "Die Another Day."  In fact, the down to earth tone of the proceedings is one of its strengths.  Sure, ridiculous things happen - this is a James Bond film, after all - but the film never jumps the shark.  The action sequences are taught and fun, especially the opening assault on the chemical weapons facility and a raucous centerpiece tank chase through St. Petersburg that is pricelessly Bond.

Pierce Brosnan makes his long-awaited debut here as 007.  He'd been offered the role years earlier, but his commitment to the "Remington Steele" TV series meant the role went to Timothy Dalton instead.  But Brosnan proves right off the bat that he's got what it takes to fill 007's suave shoes.  His Bond is a bit warmer, smoother than Dalton was, and he can handle the quips and one-liners a lot better.

Sean Bean is always a pleasure to have around, and he makes a fine villain here.  He presents a number of challenges for Bond, in that he knows both the training and the man.  There are some great scenes between 006 and 007 where Trevelyan is able to easily get under Bond's skin, and both actors play it well.

Famke Janssen is hilarious and sexy as the seductive murderess Xenia Onatopp, who likes to kill people by squeezing them between her thighs.  It's one of the film's most absurd concepts, but somehow it all works.  It helps that the film itself seems to know that she's kind of ridiculous, and pokes a little fun at it.  In one scene, when Xenia appears to be getting off after slaughtering the crew of the GoldenEye research station, Ouromov gives her a look that's absolutely priceless.  And later, when she finally gets those legs around Bond himself, Bond almost seems unsure whether he should fight her or screw her and the results are pretty hilarious.

Judi Dench makes her first appearance as M here, as well, the first time the character was played by a woman.  She's harsh and funny at the same time, and her open distaste for Bond's methods while still approving of his successes, is an intriguing take on the character.  It also allows for some welcome commentary on the Bond character himself, who with his hard drinking and womanizing ways is rather old-fashioned and in some circles even quite offensive.  Here, it seems as though the series is saying, "Look, we get that this guy is kind of a dinosaur... but he's also pretty awesome, so why don't you just roll with it?"

Indeed, Bond's behavior toward women has softened up a great deal since Sean Connery was slapping women on the behind in the 1960s or awkwardly bringing lesbians around to his way of thinking.  Bond no longer forces himself on these women who ultimately relent after a few moments of closed-mouth kissing; no, he beds them purely on his charms alone, which is considerable.  The women that surround him are typically more capable of joining in the action these days, as well.  But theres no mistaking that Bond as a character is old-fashioned and an almost entirely a male wish-fulfillment fantasy.

If "GoldenEye" has one fault, it's that Eric Serra's musical score for the film is pretty bad.  There are some moments where the use of percussion to adapt the famous James Bond theme is pretty cool, but for the most part, this collection of odd synthetic moans and whistles is just crappy.  The producers would rectify the situation in "Tomorrow Never Dies" by hiring David Arnold to give the franchise one of its best scores, and Arnold continues with the series to this day.  It's too bad he can't go back and re-score "GoldenEye" because I'd love to hear this movie with some proper music.

"GoldenEye" is not just Pierce Brosnan's best Bond film, but it's also one of the best Bond films period.  It spawned a videogame for the Nintendo 64 that has become legendary, which has been remade twice for modern systems.  "GoldenEye" is worth all the hype, full of great dialogue, fun characters and great action.

See Also
James Bond