AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 130 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1986, at Arkhangelsk, MI6 agents James Bond and Alec Trevelyan infiltrate a Soviet chemical weapons facility and plant explosives. Trevelyan is captured and gunned down by Colonel Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov, but Bond escapes. Nine years later in Monte Carlo, Xenia Onatopp, a member of the Janus crime syndicate, along with Ourumov, steals a helicopter and flies it to a bunker in Severnaya, Siberia, where they massacre the staff except for the hiding Natalya Simonova, and steal the control disk for the GoldenEye satellites, two Soviet electromagnetic weapon satellites from the Cold War, one of which they use to destroy the complex. M assigns Bond to investigate the attack. He flies to Saint Petersburg to meet CIA operative Jack Wade, who suggests that Bond meet with Valentin Zukovsky, a former KGB agent and business rival of Janus….
My obsession with finishing my Hammer series has meant that I’ve rather neglected my Bond one of late, but never mind, here we are, and talking about Goldeneye, which seems to be very highly regarded by many, some even claiming it’s up there with the very best 007 flicks. I can’t say that I agree. Yes, it’s a huge improvement over the previous entry Licence To Kill [not difficult] – for a start Goldeneye doesn’t actually seem to be ashamed of being a Bond film – though sadly it does partly continue that film’s slightly stronger violence, meaning that Bond films would be no longer be ‘PG’ rated. This is something that I feel has been a great shame, because the more recent films are no longer family entertainment that you can stick the kids in front of, and need editing to be shown on TV in the afternoon. But back to Goldeneye, a film which touches all the right bases but which has always come across more like a very good imitation of a Bond film than the genuine article, though that could be partly because its crew was mostly new to the series. It’s further weakened by a plot [which borrows a bit from the Moonraker novel and The Third Man] which is full of holes – especially concerning the 006 character – if you scrutinise it, and drastic tonal shifts, doing the Octopussy thing of trying to please everyone but not always pulling it off too well. It also doesn’t quite seem to know what to say about its hero. And I’m going to say it right now – I just don’t think Pierce Brosnan was a good Bond, though he would improve. More on this probably controversial opinion later. But of course it’s still possible to ignore these issues and enjoy it, because there’s still much to enjoy.
Timothy Dalton was actually contracted to be in a third 007 film, and a script was written by Michael G. Wilson, but legal wrangling stalled things. Owners of the Bond rights Danjaq sued distributors MGM/UA when the latter merged with Pathe, who intended to sell off the distribution rights of the studio’s catalogue to collect advance payments to finance the buyout, including international broadcasting rights to the 007 library at cut-rate prices. This was only sorted out in 1992 by which time an ailing Albert R. Broccoli had to take a back seat and his daughter Barbara and Michael G. Wilson became in charge. Michael France wrote a new script, but when Dalton resigned, it was rewritten by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein with polishing from others. Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant and Liam Neeson passed on 007, and Paul McGann would have done it if Brosnan, who’d almost done it in 1986, had turned it down. John Woo passed on directing [what a shame]. Filming couldn’t take place at Pinewood as First Knight was shooting there, so an old Rolls-Royce factory at Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertfordshire was converted into a new studio. Filming took place at the Contra Dam in Switzerland, Monte Carlo, Puerto Rico, and St. Petersburg in Russia. Some details about Zukovsky, Bond knocking out two men, and a line which hinted that the new female ‘M’ may have once actually succumbed to Bond’s “boyish charms” were removed. Three headbutts and Bond rabbit punching Xenia had to be cut to get a ’12’ rating, while the US release had some alternate cuts – people being shot and Xenia’s death – in addition to the rabbit punch. Like Licence To Kill, it was a while before the uncut version was released. Goldeneye was a huge hit and the future of the series no longer in question.
Now is there is one way in which Goldeneye bests any other Bond film – its incredible pre-credit sequence, beginning with Bond bungee jumping off a dam [the highest jump of that nature to that date], taking in some gunplay, explosions and Bond’s companion Alec Trevelyan being killed, then – and if you haven’t seen this film than I assure you I’m not making this up – Bond catching a moving plane, falling off it, grabbing a speeding motorbike and riding it after the plane, both vehicles falling off a cliff, Bond free-falling into the plane – and taking control of it. The trouble is, this jaw-droping spectacle outshines the rest of the film. Anyway, we move on to newcomer Daniel Kleinman’s superb credits, depicting both the fall of Communism with folk like Stalin and things like a sickle collapsing, and references to the film like the two-faced Roman god Janus,the main villains’ pseudonym. Sadly the Tina Turner-sung/Bono and the Edge-written song is an inoffensive but entirely forgettable number, only notable for the odd device of having the chorus only right at the end. We join Bond driving around in Monte Carlo, flirting with Xenia on the road, seducing his ‘evaluator’ and playing in a casino. Deliberate echoes of bits in Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service seem to reinforce the idea that Bond is back, the old Bond who likes to have fun, not the moody, serious bugger that came before him – at least for now. Cut to Xenia killing a man she’s having sex with by using her thighs, and it’s an enjoyably lurid moment, his gasps of pain heard simultaneously with her sounds of passion, but should this really be in a Bond film? It’s not really something you want your kids to see.
Bond eventually goes on his mission after a brilliant moment with ‘Q’ where he picks up a bagette, thinking it’s a gadget, and the old man replies: “Don’t touch that, that’s my lunch”. On the other hand I’ve never been entirely sure about the female’M’s criticism of 007 as a “a relic of the cold war, a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur”. It’s amusing and sharp, but epitomises the film’s inability to decide about its hero. We seem to be told that ‘M’ is right, yet elsewhere we’re shown how cool 007 is – though he doesn’t smoke any more, more’s the pity. For a while afterwards Goldeneye takes its time, alternating Natalya on the run with Bond in Russia, the Zukowski character not being really necessary and Robbie Coltrane’s Russian accent one of the worst in the film. Then things get far more interesting with the revelation that Janus is Bond’s old pal Trevelyan, revealed in a really atmospheric and artfully shot scene set amidst broken statues – except that the script can’t seem to decide on his motivation, the guy constantly changing his reason for doing what he’s doing [money, he hates Britain all because his family was sent to be executed by Stalin, he hates Bond]. But then very little of the story makes any sense anyhow. Trevelyan’s plot to detonate the Goldeneye over London after electronically raiding its banks, causing financial meltdown and making him rich beyond belief, is nicely grand, but watching this film with a critical eye kept bringing up questions like: was Trevelyan’s ‘death’ staged or was he really shot, why did it take nine years to steal the Goldeneye, why does Trevelyan say that he considered hiring Bond when he also hates his guts, wouldn’t the money Trevelyan stockpiles become useless?
At least the second half piles on the action, though the big tank chase through the streets of St Petersburg is just noisy and destructive rather than thrilling or funny, even if it does have a classic Bond moment where he briefly stops to survey what he’s wrought, adjusts his tie, and moves on. Bond’s sauna encounter with Xenia is a good brawl that’s also rather erotic, and his climactic battle with Trevelyan in and on a satellite dish has some great brutal moments reminiscent of Bond fighting Red Grant in From Russia With Love. It helps that some of the stunts were done by the cast, Famke Janssen actually breaking a rib after asking Brosnan to ram her into the wall as hard as possible. But this solid attempt at realism jars somewhat with the Roger Moore-ish tone of much else, including a whole load of quips which rarely come off, this being the time when the double entendres tended to become just crude, with little wit on display. There seems to be evidence of budget restrictions, like Bond’s gadgets going un-used and the US military turning up after Bond had killed the villain, though the latter leads to a good laugh at the end. And Brosnan just isn’t very impressive to my eyes. He’s basically one third Connery, two thirds Moore with hardly anything new brought to the role except for more smirking than even Moore would have done. He’s easily out-acted by Bean who does very well with a muddled character. And he doesn’t pull off a few moments which are intended to go into Bond’s psyche a bit, though these probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. His conversation with Natalya on a Cuban beach where she criticises him for his attitude to life seems very forced. If you really want to try to explore what makes Bond tick, then for goodness sake really go with it and make it a major point of the film, rather than having it be just some lip service to criticisms of 007 in an increasingly PC world. And, while some self-aware, almost fourth wall-breaking moments occur which are undoubtedly amusing [Bond telling a bad guy about the brevity of modern interrogation], should 007 really seem to be in on the joke?
Martin Campbell directs with assurance, the slightly faster cutting sometimes helping to disguise some iffy model work, though the film looks a bit flat and TV-like, something that would sadly continue for much, though not all, of the series. Famke Janssen is clearly having fun as Xenia, but the character is just ludicrous, a cartoonish caricature of a Bond girl villain which belongs in an Austin Powers or Zucker brothers movie. Izabella Scorupco and Samntha Bond the new Miss Moneypenny are okay but leave little impression, but Joe Don Baker makes a fun return to the series as CIA agent Jack Wade, and Alan Cumming’s Boris Grishenko, a computer genius-turned-bad guy, is a genuinely quirky variation on the computer nerd. I love the way his habit of twirling of pencil makes for the most suspenseful moment in the final act. Now then – Eric Serra’s largely electronic score which at the time was pilloried by many and even said to have ruined the film. The techno rhythmns, odd sound effects and synthesised samplings were said to have added nothing, but to be honest they weren’t given much of a chance to do so, considering the ridiculously low sound level at which the score was mixed. The tank chase cue was rewritten by John Altman in a more traditionally symphonic fashion, but jars with the rest of the score, including even Serra’s own two string led themes which are quite lovely. The score may not really come off, and it certainly lacks decent action motifs, but it’s a brave experiment and Serra’s end title song The Experience Of Love is a nice chilled track to finish the film with. Goldeneye is still a decent watch – a 6.5/10 score still makes for a fairly solid movie, if a lesser film in a franchise in which most of the films I rate quite highly [what can I say, I’m a fan!]- but it’s awkward in many places, doesn’t quite mix up the usual ingredients into a satisfying whole, and just can’t form a proper viewpoint on Bond. I guess it could seem to be telling us that Bond’s outdated nature is, paradoxically, what makes him still relevant, a fixed point in an ever-changing world, which is a neat way of summing him up I suppose.