Ah yes, Goldeneye, the film that’s really hard to review without making constant references to a teenhood-defining N64 game. I’ll try my best! Anyway, it’s also the debut on Pierce Bronsnan as Bond and has a great villain in Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan, among other fun cast members. Let’s take a look, and see how, much like his successor, Bronsnan’s best film was his first…
When a powerful satellite system falls into the hands of former ally-turned-enemy Alec Trevelyan, James Bond is selected as the agent to put a stop to plans that could irreparably damage England, and the world’s economy as a whole.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
“No wonder Dalton wanted me to take over, this is hard work!” “Who? What?” “Never mind.”
Brosnan has that Moore-like quality with his Bond, able to be funny and charming, but struggles to look genuinely tough. That’s fine though, his predecessor and successor both have the opposite problem, so he serves as a nice break in between. His first line is one of the funnier moments, appearing out of a vent above someone on the bog, simply saying “Sorry, I forgot to knock” before knocking the poor guy out. That’s after having bungee jumped down the side of a dam to get there. It’s quite the opener! I also love the Q scene, where among lots of silly gadgets Bond picks up a sandwich, leading to the classic “Don’t touch that!” scream from Q (still faithfully played by Desmond Llewelyn) who then continues with “… that’s my lunch.” Perfectly played, and nice to have a little bit of humour back, but also nice to see it not reach Moore-levels…
This leads me to my personal highlight of the film: the villain, Alec Trevelyan. Sean Bean is great as both Bond’s 006 partner, and as a smug villain trying to destroy the British economy and become mega rich all based on a grudge after what happened to his parents (they were Lienz Cossacks, Cossacks who sided with the Nazis but later betrayed them and joined the British effort, only to be sent back to Russia and get executed. Alex’s parents survived, but his father killed his mother and himself out of shame, so… not much better, really…) Alec’s calm demeanour and outright fury in several scenes are great, and the final fist fight taking place while they’re dangling over the edge of a large radar dish is spectacular. My only complaint is Alec should have clearly died when he fell all that way to the bottom, but instead he lived long enough to get the large satellite array land on his face. I guess they thought his original death wasn’t spectacular enough?
The two lead females hold their own as well. Izabella Scorupco as originally helpless but eventually helpful Natalya is great, and Famke Janssen as one of the most intentionally on-the-nose named Bond characters of all time, Xenia Onatopp, was also perfect for the role. A female villain using sex as a weapon, why wasn’t that thought of before? Her arousal, even at the thought of the train she was on derailing, was good fun. In case you haven’t noticed, Bond and Natalya, and Alec and Xenia are mirror images of themselves. As close to the old sci-fi cliché of a mirror universe as Bond will ever get, and its great fun.
“Oooo yes, I love a good train level. Lots of tight corridors and cubbyholes for enemies to pop out of.”
The rest of the cast holds up their end of the bargain as well. Gottfried John as General Ourumov was a great mid-way villain, Boris Grishenko (played to comic perfection by Alan Cumming) was the first Bond “geeky hacker” character, and Robbie Coltrane manages to do a convincing Russian accent as mafia head Valentin, the tense scene between him and Bond in a nightclub being a highlight of the film. All this and the rather low-key debut of Judi Dench as M, it’s a top cast.
Then we get to the set pieces: the aforementioned Dam bungee jump into a Facility, the gunfight and aeroplane escape from said Facility, Natalya having to survive not only her colleagues being gunned down but the whole radar station she was working in being blown up, the shootout in the Archives that ends in a car chase… with Bond’s car being a tank! Great stuff, all round. The finale, alongside the Alec / Bond showdown, also includes a fun final showdown with Xenia in a forest and some good moments with some Q gadgets, especially a pen that’s also a grenade. Throw in some great face-offs between Bond and Alec leading to the finale, and some fun scenes with previously mentioned characters like Valentin and Boris (who has that old 90s cliché of his “hacking” being typing a password in a box and then seeing a line go towards a “server in another country”. Nostalgic!) and it really is great fun.
Oh, look at that cheeky face. Ourumov’s done something naughty again!
The only real bad that comes to mind is reusing Joe Don Baker, this time as CIA agent Jack Wade rather than the dangerous arms dealer he was just two films ago. I know “The Living Daylights” and “GoldenEye” were nearly 10 years apart, but its still an odd choice given, you know, there are other American actors available…
Bond gets a glimpse of his future and is shocked to see himself surf a tsunami…
GoldenEye is one of those Bond films I could stick on whenever and not get bored. The interplay between Alec and Bond, the cast of oddball characters, the great set pieces. It’s enjoyable for its entire runtime, something you can’t say for his next three films, which slowly get worse, sadly…
… Also the game was, and still is, amazing. There, I felt like I had to say it.