Despite the Berlin Wall coming down 6 years previous, and the end of the cold war, the intro credits leave us in no doubt that it is a traditional foe who are the enemy here. What is surprising is that Bono and The Edge wrote the title song, performed with typical gusto by Tina Turner. No Shirley Bassey, but far better than the 80s cheesefest that was Gladys Knight’s Licence to Kill.
The film’s opening scenes are all pretty dramatic; 007 bungee jumps down a dam, 006 is callously shot in the head, and then Bond drives a motorbike off a cliff to escape in a nose-diving plane. It’s a fair statement of intent for the series now featuring many new faces both in front and behind the camera. Pierce Brosnan is the most obvious newbie; and after the hard-hitting Dalton performances, Brosnan’s Bond is more of a return to the suave Sean Connery days. However, when Brosnan tries too hard to be suave, I think he often comes across as arrogant. No doubt that 007 is arrogant, but Brosnan’s Bond almost has an arrogant arrogance!
Judi Dench is making sure she carves her own M, and during her brief screen time is very hard-nosed. Introduced as an accountant (I’m not actually sure what the ideal qualifications would be to direct MI6) she does have great banter with 007. I thought it interesting that following Licence To Kill, M specifically tells 007 not to go off on a personal vendetta to avenge the death of 006. I guess this is as close as we get to continuity of stories from film to film, other than the same actors recurring as different characters, or the occasional nod to the fact that Bond was married once.
Sean Bean is, well, Sean Bean; but he is good as long as he’s not trying to do a plummy accent. Of course his “death” at the beginning sets alarm bells ringing, and within the first 5 minutes of the film we know there will be a reveal later on showing him as the villain of the piece. It is Sean that has the best line in the film “I might as well ask if all the vodka martinis ever silenced the screams of all the men you killed; or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women, for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” Ouch baby!
In fact 007 comes in for quite a few reality checks. Alec (Sean's character) also refers to him as “Her Majesty’s loyal terrier” (good dog), and M calls him a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur!" Then Natalya tells him that being a hero and being so cold is what keeps him alone. Brosnan can’t portray his emotion the same way that Dalton could, but he has to deal with a lot of criticism of his character here.
Famke Janssen is a pretty good henchwoman. OK, she has a fairly ludicrous name, and an over-the-top way of dispatching people(!); but I liked her Zorin-like glee in the way she killed people. Now here’s a nugget of information that has been lodged in my brain for years. The woman who stunt-doubled Famke was Eunice Huthart, and I remember that she was a champion of Gladiators! Yes, that! For some reason I must have caught the show when she returned as a champion or something, and she mentioned how she’d had to wrap her legs around Pierce Brosnan! Now I’ve told that story maybe I can mercifully forget it!
In term of action, there are some pretty impressive set pieces. The first is the stunt at the beginning involving the bungee jump (at the time the world’s highest from a fixed position) and 007 launching himself off a cliff on a motorbike so that he can freefall and climb into a crashing plane. The other spectacular scene is 007 tearing up St Petersburg with a tank. With a budget over twice that of any other Bond film (presumably not inflation-adjusted) the sets that the tank charges through are tremendous, if indeed lacking some mortar.
Director Martin Campbell successfully managed to take 007 in a new direction. By concentrating on the story Goldeneye is a solid entry into the franchise. Indeed Campbell focuses on the plot so much that there are noticeable swathes of the film without 007 at all. When he does appear, Brosnan’s Bond is very committed and really looks like he cares about finding the Golden McGuffin. At the same time the writers are trying to keep the edge to Bond that characterised the previous two films, by slagging him off a few times and giving in him a slap in the face by having someone he considered a friend to be a two-faced megalomaniac. Let’s see where Brosnan’s hunted 007 goes from here.
Order of Preference so far:
You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldeneye, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, From Russia with Love, Dr No, The Man with the Golden Gun, A View to a Kill, Octopussy, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, Thunderball