Bond, for the first time in what seems like a very long time, is actually a handsome, young, glib, charming man. Effortlessly capable, he carries the most absurdly difficult tasks with the easy heft of a favorite old backpack. The one-liners don’t feel forced or leaden and one can imagine that women may actually be attracted to him.

Okay, listen. I’m a married man with two children, I’m secure enough in my sexuality that I think I can post this on my blog for all the world to see and not worry about what people will think:

when this movie came out, I hadn’t seen a Bond movie since Moonraker. I hadn’t seen a Bond movie since Moonraker because the last Bond movie I saw was Moonraker. So I was greatly reluctant to see Goldeneye and I didn’t know Pierce Brosnan from a hole in the ground (in fact, I routinely confuse the two even to this day). Then I saw a trailer for Goldeneye and there was one moment, perhaps 12 frames long, where they showed Bond leaning up against a concrete pillar, trying to set a timer or something, whilst a squadron of goons shoot machine-guns at him. And a bullet hits the concrete about an inch from his face and Brosnan makes this face like, like, well how to describe it? He looks annoyed, as though a kid just shot a spitwad at him. He’s not cold, he’s not angry, he’s not emotionless, he’s just…annoyed that a squadron of goons are shooting machine-guns at him. And that one split-second moment made me think: “hm, I want to know more about this guy.” Even then it took me a number of weeks and a dead-end evening in Los Angeles (are there other kinds?) to get me into a theater showing Goldeneye.

And I had the time of my life.

When Connery appeared as Bond, he owned the part in a second. When Lazenby came along it was “Thank you, we’ll call you,” when Moore came along he was great in Live and Let Die but took the character in such broadly comic directions that it was hard to care about him any more, and then Dalton went in the opposite direction and made him driven, dour and grim. Now Brosnan comes along and, for the first time since Dr. No, he waltzes right in and immediately owns the part as much as Connery ever did. He looks great, he easily sells the pithy lines, he moves with grace and dignity, and there’s something going on behind his eyes.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT? There seems to be a common flaw with Bond Villains, which is that they have at least two too many motivations for their crimes. Here, the bad guy wants revenge on Bond, wants a whole pile of money, and wants to plunge Britain into the stone age, because he’s the son of a guy who was something called a Lienz Cossack. That’s just too damn many motivations. Goldfinger is a great Bond Villain because his motivation is pure and simple and his plot is ingeniously demented and evil. The bad guy in Goldeneye has three motivations (Bond abandoned him on a mission, he wants money, he hates Britain for what they did to his parents) and it makes for a complicated mystery to solve, which is good, but it weakens the guy.

I mean, look here — the guy is agent 006, which is a great idea, and Bond left him for dead on a mission. So he becomes a Russian gangster and pledges to one day have his revenge on Bond. There, that’s a great idea for a Bond Villain right there. But no, he also wants hundreds of millions of dollars, which he plans to get by, well, let’s face it, he plans to get it the same way Blofeld tried to get it, by aiming a giant space-laser at a country until they cough up the dough. That would have been a good enough plot right there too (and, in fact, was a plot of at least three earlier Bond movies). But no! In addition, the bad guy wants revenge on Britain for something that happened at the end of World War II (or, that is, well before he was born). My guess is that the guys who wrote the screenplay for Goldeneye (the first new guys since the beginning of the series, thirty-three years earlier) had been waiting a long time to write a Bond movie and wanted to put in every single idea they ever had for a Bond Villain. As a result, the bad-guy plot loses a little focus — we like the revenge part of the plot because we are there when Bond abandons him during the mission, but then the “Lienz Cossacks” thing gets dredged up in the middle of the movie in the worst possible way — a long monologue from the villain in a dark junkyard. And then the money angle gets tossed in in the middle of Act III, like “oh yeah, and we’ll make a lot of money too.”

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD? In spite of the overly-complicated bad-guy plot, I will now aver that Goldeneye is the best script for a Bond movie so far. The mystery is satisfying, the plot is propulsive and compelling, the character work is by far the richest as yet. I believe James Bond is a (rather extraordinary) living human being, with likes and dislikes, friends and enemies. He exists in a richly-imagined fantasy world of spies and gadgets, close-calls and outrageous stunts. He never winks to the audience, although he certainly knows they’re there.

In the pre-title sequence, Bond is on a mission with 006 in Soviet Russia. The mission goes south and Bond leaves his partner, thinking him dead. Nine years later, he’s zipping around Glamorous Forieign Mountainland when he stumbles upon Xenia Onatopp, a zesty, maniacal driver and gambler. He investigates Onatopp and discovers, too late, that she’s also a crack helicopter thief. The helicopter Onatopp is stealing is a new prototype that is not affected by electro-magnetic pulses.

Turns out, Onatopp was stealing the helicopter for a guy named General Ouramov. Ouramov, we think, wants to take over Russia. To do this, Ouramov wants to get his hand on this Goldeneye space-laser thingy. The Goldeneye space-laser thingy projects an EMP that blows shit up. Ouramov steals the yellow ball that makes Goldeneye work and blows up the place with the space laser, killing everyone at the Goldeneye station. He and Onatopp get awayin the special anti-EMP helicopter.

After the Goldeneye station goes blooey, Bond goes to St. Petersberg to find out what happened. He hooks up with a Russian Gangster, who hooks him up with Janus, who’s kind of the Darth Sidious of the Russian gangster-world, and who turns out to be 006. 006 tries to kill Bond in a typically inefficient Bond-Villain way, and Bond ends up arrested by the Russian army. Ouramov shows up with Onatopp to kill Bond but Bond gets the drop on him and gets away again. Around the end of Act II, 006, Ouramov and Onatopp trap him and The Girl in a train compartment that’s about to go blooey. Bond and The Girl track the gang to Cuba, where the bad guys have built another Goldeneye station and plan to make their bid for taking-over-the-world-ness.

WOMEN: Xenia Onatopp, as played with ferocious intensity by Famke Janssen, is a cartoon but one you can’t take your eyes off. Like all Second Villains, she has a gimmick (she has, apparently, pneumatic-powered thighs that can crush a man’s ribcage), but Janssen plays her madness and eroticism so over-the-top that her gimmick seems almost an afterthought.

As a countermeasure, the Good Girl, Natalya, is a more-or-less genuine female presence. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, resourceful, and doesn’t take shit from anyone, Bond included. She’s important to the plot and doesn’t ever cede her agenda to Bond’s. She does not whimper or go wide-eyed when in danger and we almost believe Bond’s seduction of her, coming as it does seconds after they have escaped from an exploding train.

HELPFUL ANIMALS: Bond has a CIA contact in Russia, but it’s not Felix Leiter. No, instead it’s Jack Wade, played by the villain of The Living Daylights, Joe Don Baker. Baker is a swell actor and his chemistry with Brosnan is potent, but why couldn’t he be Felix Leiter? What, did the producers really say “Well, people won’t be able to accept him as Felix because Felix got his leg bit off in the last movie?” He’s been a different actor in every single movie and now they’re worried about continuity issues?

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY? Pretty cool I guess. As another 00 agent, he’s got the same understanding of gadgets that Bond has. He hangs out in a spooky junkyard full of broken-down Communist monuments, which is pretty cool. He has overspent on his HQ, of course, as Bond Villains tend to do. I mean, it’s a radar station, you don’t need forty-foot ceilings and grand, winding staircases.

NOTES: The “big idea” of Goldeneye is that James Bond has a past. James Bond’s “past” seems to consist solely of the 17 movies that have been made about him. Everyone seems to know him, but they seem to know him only from his movies. And why not? Everyone does know him from his movies. A six-year-old could tell you what kind of car James Bond drives and how he takes his martinis. This device, meta as it is, serves to both give the character some depth (which he hasn’t really had up til now) and congratulates the audience for staying with the guy long enough to get the jokes (it also proves that, as Stanislavsky said, character is nothing more than habitual action). Brosnan’s blithe, breezy performance creates a tension with all the backstory, so as we fall in love with his devil-may-care aloofness, everyone else keeps dredging up all this stuff he’d prefer not to think about. It’s the most complex imagining of the character yet and a far cry from the Bond of, say, Diamonds Are Forever.

The glamour is back in a big way, and yet doesn’t feel forced or arch. The superb direction by Martin Campbell makes the only-slightly-unbelievable action feel playful, witty, sexy and seductive.

When all this is over, don’t forget to remind me to tell you about the Bond one-act I almost wrote.

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47 Responses to “Goldeneye”
  1. teamwak says:

    Its a great opening too, with the bung jump from the dam (one day!). The tank chase through Moscow is amazing, and Alan Cumming is excellent as a dodgy Russian computer programmer. He gets a good Bond style death too.

    I always thought Sean Bean was a good baddie, with enough swagger for ten men; but I thought his demise was a touch overkill. Surely the fall was enough, but no, drop a giant telescope on him. lol

    • uthuze says:

      Boris always struck me as a comedic rather than a truly evil henchman, and I’ve always found his death gratuitous and kind of unfair. If I had been writing it, I would have had him defect at the last minute, or be humanely foiled in the manner of Knick-Knack. Imagine if Roger Moore had taken Knick-Knack and beaten him to death instead of imprisoning him a suitcase. Boris was the same kind of wimpy, offbeat henchman, and ought to have met a similar, peaceable fate.

      • teamwak says:

        What a shocking image! lol.. James Bond beating Knick-Knack to death. I feel dirty now 🙂

        But Boris has a high death count under his belt. He’s solely responsible for betraying the Russian listening post at the begining. And doesnt he delight in trying to kill Bon in the finale? Chilling!

      • greyaenigma says:

        No way — Boris sealed his fate the first moment he uttered his supremely arrogant catchphrase.

      • papajoemambo says:

        If Moore had been in GOLDENEYE…

        I think that Boris would have been brought back like that Southern sherrif as a re-occurring IT/Ops guy working-for-the-enemy, who would say his catchphrase then slip on oil and fall on his ass again, if GOLDENEYE had been a Moore-era movie.

        Brosnan dealing with him the way he did makes Boris an “Oddjob” rather than a “Jaws”.

      • papajoemambo says:

        Connery-as-Bond would have fed Knick-Knack to a shark… probably by kicking him in the ass into it’s pen. Dalton-As-Bond (or Craig-as-Bond) would have kicked Knick-Knack to death.

  2. uthuze says:

    I found a Goldeneye: 007 N64 cartridge on a school bus floor in 1996, when I was in the third or fourth grade, and became instantly hooked on it. When I finally saw the film on VHS, I was vaguely disappointed that the director had been so unfaithful to the video game. In the intervening years, I have come to love the movie, although I’ve never cared for Brosnan’s era in general.

    The thing about GoldenEye is that it’s wonderfully energetic and self-aware, but not in the silly, tacky way of Die Another Day. GoldenEye modernizes Bond, brings it out of the cheap, Mexico City-filmed eighties, and proves the continuing relevance of the character. Brosnan never topped his first entry, and really should have become Bond earlier. Sean Bean is excellent as Alec Trevelyan, and in my opinion should have been Bond – I would have chosen him over Brosnan, personally.

    In any case, the film is an excellent example of fortuitous coincidences. Everything really works out well. The movie was made at the right time, with the right budget, the right actors, the right writers, the right director, etc. The public had become convinced both that Bond was dead and that Bond was being revived, singlehandedly, by the messianic powers of Pierce Brosnan. As a Tim Dalton fan, I object to that conventional wisdom, but I agree that Brosnan came around at the right time, and that a new actor was necessary to shed the image Bond had acquired during the low-budget eighties.

  3. nom_de_grr says:

    Isn’t this the film where bond jumps off a cliff and falls faster than a dropping airplane because he’s the magical aerodynamic man?

  4. planettom says:

    There are a lot of nice touches in GOLDENEYE… bridging the end of the Cold War by having a flashback before the Wall came down, and then having Bond in post-Cold War Russia.

    And then Bond’s showdown with the bad guy in a junkyard of Soviet statues.

    Bringing in Judi Densch as Bond’s new M is inspired.

    Ms. Moneypenny is played by an actress named Samantha BOND!

    Tina Turner/Bono’s song, while not one of the more rousing Bond tunes, is a nice torch song.

    Still not quite sure why they need Jodie Foster’s extraterrestrial-capable radio telescope from CONTACT to send to a satellite that’s only 200 miles up, but I realize a 12-inch disk would be undramatic.

  5. eronanke says:

    *love* that movie.
    It was the first Bond I saw in theaters, and I finally found a worthy successor to Connery.

  6. craigjclark says:

    Based on this film, it’s no wonder why Martin Campbell was brought back to direct Casino Royale. Too bad his non-Bond films are largely undistinguished.

    This was also the last Bond film before the death of longtime producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, who once said about the character: “I’ve never made up my mind who Bond is. Sometimes I think it’s very dramatic, but mostly it’s comedy. One thing I know for certain – it’s entertainment.”

    • Todd says:

      Too bad his non-Bond films are largely undistinguished.

      Except The Mask of Zorro is one of the most perfectly-executed movies ever made.

      • craigjclark says:

        That bright spot was almost retroactively snuffed out by The Legend of Zorro, though. Woof.

        • mikeyed says:

          Never watch sequels to excellent movies unless 4 reliable movie friends say it’s worth it.

          • craigjclark says:

            Trouble is, I am that reliable movie friend for a lot of people.

            There are times right now that I feel so adrift without Roger Ebert’s weekly input. Sure, I didn’t always agree with his reviews, but I read every single one just in case he had an unexpected recommendation for a film I wouldn’t have given a second glance.

            …And I have no way of checking what he said about The Legend of Zorro because the website is unavailable.

  7. curt_holman says:

    “Baker is a swell actor and his chemistry with Brosnan is potent, but why couldn’t he be Felix Leiter?”

    Maybe because Joe Don Baker has that certain big, beefy JoeDonBakerness that would overwhelm any Felix Leiterness the character has (ephemeral though it may be).

    Your analysis of 006’s multiple motivations might explain why I find ‘GoldenEye’ kind of a letdown. The idea of a rogue, vengeful 00 agent is cool, but for most of the film he is, as you say, a standard-issue Bond villain, and I wanted to see him engage with Bond as “another Bond” — matching wits, trying to out-think each other, matching gadget to gadget, using inside knowledge of whatever British agency they work for, having a Sean Connery vs. Robert Shaw fight scene, etc.

    • teamwak says:

      Have you ever seen the fantastic British drama about the nuclear industry called Edge of Darkness? Baker has a fantastic role as a rogue US spy on that.

      Well worth watchng if you ever get the chance.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    I guess it’s time to confess that I was a big fan of Remington Steele (the show that supposedly kept him from playing Bond for years) way back when, so I knew all too well who Brosnan was.

    I’m also pleased to report that the one boxed set I do have has this one as well as Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, and For Your Eyes Only.

    • craigjclark says:

      Wow, that’s like a “Best of Bond” set right there.

      • Hmmn. Maybe I should grab this one then while the local Duane Reade is selling the remastered one-disk for $6.66. I grabbed Live and Let Die and Goldfinger the other day . . .

        I remember liking this one, but not all that much. Guess I’ll try it again. The synopses and critiques here have pretty much been on the money for me.

      • greyaenigma says:

        I know. I feel sorry for the poor saps that only got the other set. I do kind of wish I’d gotten Dr. No, though.

  9. papajoemambo says:

    I hate to sound like I’m kissing ass, but that moment of “Do you have to fricking shoot at me, I’m WORKING HERE!” from the trailer was what made me decide that I could swallow my perception of Pierce Brosnan as a mincing pretty-boy long enough to entertain the thought of seeing GOLDENEYE.

    I liked it too.

    • Todd says:

      It’s hard for me to remember now, but I probably thought Brosnan was too much of a lightweight at the time as well. I wouldn’t have called him a “mincing pretty-boy,” but I know what you mean. After Goldeneye I became a die-hard Pierce Brosnan fan. I love him as Bond (preferring him, if I’m honest with myself, to Connery) and he’s outstanding in The Thomas Crown Affair as well.

      • papajoemambo says:

        He seems to be the sort of actor who had to get a little craggy to best suit the material he was being given. At the time in the 80’s when they were first suggesting that he’d take over for Roger Moore in the francise, the only thing we knew him for in North America was in REMINGTON STEELE (and in the MOONLIGHTING episode that the character was spun out of – where he was positioned opposite Bruce Willis as a mincing pretty-boy) and a few horror pictures in England that had made their way over here via video. The guy seemed to be a complete step in the wrong direction (that being, for me, away-from-Connery). That being said, I was 16 at the time, and pretty set in my Connery-as-Bond convictions, and Moore had done nothing to make me think otherwise.
        The idea of giving Brosnan Bond was like casting Peter Wingarde in the part. It wasn’t until some 10-15 years later when I saw that spot in the trailer that I could see otherwise. He’d develloped a bit more of the grit that I know I like in my action heroes and he’s been great ever since.

      • craigjclark says:

        And I hate to bring it up because I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but to my mind he has yet to top his role in The Tailor of Panama. He also has a tiny part as an IRA assassin in The Long Good Friday.

        • papajoemambo says:

          I agree completely, but up until GOLDENEYE it was hard to see him in anything that didn’t feel like a soap opera, for me, anyway. I know I missed him in LONG GOOD FRIDAY, and I suspect the part was pretty tiny.

          • craigjclark says:

            He’s in exactly two scenes: the one at the swimming pool and he’s the one holding the gun on Hoskins in the car at the end.

            • Todd says:

              Do we know for sure that the guy in the car with Hoskins is not James Bond — under cover in the IRA?

      • I really should watch the remake of the Thomas Crown Affair sometime.

        Goldeneye is probably my favorite single Bond film (though it’s hard for me to compare it to, say, Casino Royale).

        In his prime, Brosnan was the perfect Bond.

        • craigjclark says:

          I saw the original once. Had no idea how anybody expected Brosnan and Russo to match McQueen and Dunaway.

          • I wonder if they try to redo the “chess sex” scene?

            • craigjclark says:

              I remember when Norman Jewison was on Inside the Actor’s Studio. When the time came to discuss this film, he said that very little of that scene was scripted. In fact, all the writer did was set up the situation and then type, “What follows is chess as sex.” If a similar scene was attempted in the remake, I doubt that much latitude was left to the director.

          • Todd says:

            I actually prefer the remake. Steve McQueen does not convince me as a sophisticated rich-guy finance genius. Brosnan does. And I find the chess scene comical and outrageous, but not convincing.

            • craigjclark says:

              Well, McQueen was definitely better suited to something like Bullitt, which he made the same year. I guess I’m just averse to remakes in general, especially when the film being remade is something of a classic. Did Charade really have to be remade? Did The Manchurian Candidate? And that’s just what Jonathan Demme’s been up to.

  10. stainedecho says:

    Right up there with the Dalton Bond flicks, Goldeneye is one of my favorite Bond movies. Brosnan was a great James Bond, he had the look and attitude down pat. It’s too bad that Tomorrow Never Dies was such a stinker.

  11. moroccomole says:

    Any hope of a recap of the 1967 Casino Royale in all this, or is it too far off-canon?

    • craigjclark says:

      It’s been mentioned, along with Never Say Never Again, neither of which is included in the box sets he acquired. Maybe with Todd’s help, I’ll finally be able to understand what the hell Orson Welles is doing in that film (besides making some money so he can finish up Chimes at Midnight or some such thing).

      • moroccomole says:

        He’s clearly driving Peter Sellers up the friggin’ wall by effortlessly stealing the scene from him. The dick-measuring going on in that sequence is absolutely palpable.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The producers knew they were actually bringing back the cool to Bond with this film.

    I’ll always remember the trailer where the numbers “007” are shot out of a larger mass of letters and Brosnan walks onto the screen and declares “My name is Bond . . . you know the rest.”

  13. curt_holman says:

    Xenia Onatopp

    Your post from yesterday about the ‘Quantum of Solace’ theme inspired me to go back and re-read your Casino Royale piece, which led to me spending a ridiculous amount of time re-reading the other Bond pieces. Curse you, !

    “Like all Second Villains, she has a gimmick (she has, apparently, pneumatic-powered thighs that can crush a man’s ribcage),”

    Plus, she fits with the various outlandish James Bond film characterizations by being a WOMAN who likes to be ON TOP of the man during sex! Really — it’s part of her name and everything! Where do they get such crazy ideas? Only in the movies!

    Incidentally, it’s too bad you didn’t do Never Say Never Again in your Bond retrospective, because I’d be interested to see you compare Xenia Onatopp to female assassin Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera).

    “When all this is over, don’t forget to remind me to tell you about the Bond one-act I almost wrote.”

    Okay: hey, howzabout that Bond one-act you almost wrote?”

    • planettom says:

      Re: Xenia Onatopp

      A coworker and I were once discussing Bond movies, and Bond girls, and he kept referring to someone named “Bottomless Lush.”

      I finally figured out he meant Fatima Blush.

      As he was later laughingly explaining, since some Bond girls have these absurdly suggestive names, and Fatima Blush isn’t THAT suggestive, his subconscious must have been rejecting Fatima Blush as a Bond girl name. No, no, what they must have meant was…er…..Bottomless Lush!

  14. planettom says:

    What with SAUNTUM OF QUALACE coming out in a couple of fortnights, I guess I’ve got the Bond fever.

    GOLDENEYE is the best Brosnan Bond movie, but this has always bugged me about it:

    It’s the geography of that opening sequence.

    Try to envision sketching out a map of that complex.

    Bond runs out onto a dam, with presumably a huge lake behind it.

    He bungee jumps 700 feet down a dam that seems to be Hoover Dam-ish in scale.

    Now, he enters some sort of underground complex, which either must be built into the dam, or in the cliff walls to either side of the deep valley.

    He runs around in there, and it basically looks like a level of a First Person Shooter game (and two years later it would be in the Nintendo 64 game GOLDENEYE). He has various intrigue in the complex, involving bombs he’s set, being shot at, etc.

    He emerges from the underworld and he’s on a plateau. There’s a landing strip that goes to the edge of a very high precipice.

    A small plane goes out of control, and heads over the edge of the cliff. Bond follows on a motorcycle, jumps, and somehow gets into the plane and flies off.

    Meanwhile, the bombs go off, exploding the complex that sticks out of the cliff face. Now, there’s no sense that the dam is being destroyed, so I don’t think Bond has killed untold thousands of people downriver. But still….

    Ignoring all the questionable physics of that motorcycle jump after the plane…

    …it’s still hard to sketch out any kind of geography where this scenario can work.

    Like, apparently this valley, 700 feet below the dam, has this underground complex that on the other side of the cliff walls, has an even deeper several-thousand-foot drop.

    It’s like some sort of Tolkien Mordor geography in the U.S.S.R.!

    I’m beginning to doubt the realism of the James Bond movies! 🙂