GoldenEye: New ways but Bond stays
By Nicolás Suszczyk: Guest Contributor
Pierce Brosnan had his worldwide debut as James Bond twenty years ago with the 1995 film GoldenEye.
The film was not only a financial success, but a highly acclaimed thriller that remains in the top five of many Bond fans around the world. With a high class international cast that would include many familiar faces from TV series and film sagas like Famke Janssen, Sean Bean, Alan Cumming or Robbie Coltrane; and a disciplined crew led by a solid director like Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Edge of Darkness), GoldenEye resurrected James Bond from his uncertain fate after Licence to Kill’s bad box office numbers in 1989.
The world has changed, Bond didn’t. That simple directive was followed by screenwriter Michael France, whose work was then followed by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, in order to achieve the inclusion of a secret agent penned in the 1950s by Ian Fleming and popularized in the 1960s by Sean Connery into this new era where a New World Order was being established with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the appearance of new technologies like Internet and cell phones.
And this is the main reason why GoldenEye held the winning hand: it works perfectly as both a 1990s action movie and as a Bond film with all the classic elements this film should have.
There are beautiful women like a sexy innocent girl in Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and a black-clad femme fatale in Famke Janssen’s character Xenia Onatopp, a former KGB agent who kills her victims with her tights during lovemaking. And Bond, while he isn’t as macho as in the Connery times, manages to please them both during the 132 minutes the film lasts.
We have an interesting twist in the plot, with a former double-0 agent betraying Bond and planning to financially ruin England. Sean Bean’s character Alec Trevelyan begins life as agent 006, sent with his teammate and friend agent 007 to blow away a Chemical Warfare facility in the USSR, where he loses his life to reappear, nine years later, as Janus: the Roman God with the Two Faces. He reveals his parents were Cossacks betrayed by the British at Lienz during World War II and deported to Russia where Stalin executed them, hence his revenge desire towards England.
Bean succeeds as one of the best villains of the series by putting Bond into complex emotional and death-defying situations, mocking him for his loyalty for Queen and Country in an era where loyalty depends on money and values seem old fashioned. “In less than 48 hours you and I we’ll have more money than God and Mr. Bond here will have a small memorial service,” he tells one of his accomplices, who is none other than General Ourumov (Gottfried John), the one who “shot” him during the chemical facility mission in 1986.
Past and future is one of the most relevant topics in this film and is precisely Ourumov that marks this in the story. In 1986 we see him as a Soviet Colonel in charge of the chemical facility in Archangel, then in the present day the new political power in Russia “made him a general” and he sees himself as “the next iron man in Russia”. Back in 1995, Gottfried John said his idea was to represent the rise and fall of an empire in the same character.
The Good Wife’s Alan Cumming, portraying computer programmer Boris Grishenko, represents purely and exclusively the 90s. Scruffy, dressed in t-shirts and shorts, he has fun while hacking the US Department of Justice web site, decades before the appearance of WikiLeaks and the names of Julian Assange or Edward Snowden on the newspapers. “Yes, I am invincible!” he shouts in front of everyone as he succeeds on his task.
Pierce Brosnan kicks it off as James Bond, succeeding in being a well-balanced combination of all his four predecessors and adding a slight touch of the Remington Steele charisma he donned in the TV series that prevented him to star in 1987’s The Living Daylights, where Timothy Dalton landed on the role of Bond.
The Bond of the 1990s lets a girl shout him “Don’t be standing still, get us out of here!” as they’re locked up in a train carriage with a bomb about to be detonated, he lets his female superior (Judi Dench’s first of seven appaerances as M) and her secretary Moneypenny call him a “sexist misogynist dinosaur” or a “sexual harasser”, and he is humiliated by the KGB agent turned arms dealer Valentin Zukovsky (splendid performance of Robbie Coltrane, who returned for one last time in The World is not Enough) who ask him is he’s still working for MI6 or has “decided to join the 21st century”, as he dangerously fires some gunshots close to his crotch.
Nevertheless, he can still be deathly at a fistfight and handling his faithful Walther PPK handgun or even a Kalashnikov machine gun while evading the Russian troops as he escapes from his cell after being captured, an escape that goes on with a spectacular tank chase through St Petersburg where Second Unit director Ian Sharp, stuntman Gary Powell and editor Terry Rawlings shot a memorable, thrilling and graceful action sequence hard to be topped down, with a orchestration of the James Bond Theme by composer John Altman.
The new Bond can also knock people out with his tongue: “Russia may have changed, but the penalty for terrorism is still death,” menaces the formal Defence Minister Dimitri Mishkin (Tcheky Karyo) as he interrogates a captive 007, which gives the opportunity to Brosnan to show off his charm and provide us with one of the wittiest lines in the franchise: “That’s the trouble with the world today, no-one takes the time to do a really sinister interrogation anymore. It’s a lost art”.
A special mention in this film goes to Martin Campbell’s regular DoP Phil Méheux, beautifully shooting the Monaco skyline giving us a sense of richness, the Carribbean beaches from Cuba (shot in Los Tortugueros, Puerto Rico) with warm and passional golden tones, and the scenes of the Soviet gas plant in a black, grey and blue palette with a striking use of chiaroscuro, a resort that comes back during Bond’s encounter with Trevelyan on an abandoned statue park.
What to say about Eric Serra’s music? Well, it can’t certainly reach the standards of John Barry or David Arnold and has been one of the film’s weak points pointed out by many moviegoers. Still, it works perfectly to bring a modern atmosphere to the film and features a beautiful romantic theme for Bond and Natalya that is heard very often during the soundtrack. Let’s not forget Tina Turner’s explosive GoldenEye theme tune written by U2’s Bono and The Edge, beautifully sounding during Daniel Kleinman’s artistic main title sequence where bikini-clad girls destroy Soviet icons.
The world has changed, Bond didn’t. Heroes wear tight t-shirts showing up his muscles, but Bond still wears his tailored Brioni suits and Turnbull and Asser shirts designed by Lindy Hemming. Money rules everything, but 007 is still “Her Majesty’s Loyal Terrier”, in the words of his nemesis.
To answer Valentin Zukovsky’s question about James Bond finally joining the 21st century, yes, he successfully did in GoldenEye: adapting himself to the new times but maintaining his personality and debonair tastes untouched.
At the end of GoldenEye, James Bond won two battles: first, the fictional battle against Janus; then, the real life battle against the box office and those who thought there was no place for him in the 1990s.
Nicolás Suszczyk runs the website The GoldenEye Dossier and has been a Bond fan since 1998, shortly after watching GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. He studies Communication and Journalism in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he currently lives.