James Bond – GoldenEye (1995) REVIEW
Director: Martin Campbell
Producer: Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Broccoli
Writer: Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein with uncredited work by Michael France and Kevin Wade
Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker and Judi Dench
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Work for the third Timothy Dalton adventure as James Bond 007 began shortly the release of Licence To Kill. Series writer, Richard Maibaum, and long time director, John Glen left the project before production began in May of 1990 leaving Michael G. Wilson to reuse an older script and location for inspiration. Production was to begin in mid 1990 in Hong Kong as a director was lined up for the part.
Timothy Dalton was ready to begin shooting for the as yet untitled 007 film, and then all hell broke loose. Legal issues between MGM and UA caused many delays throughout the years until it was eventually resolved two years later. The third Dalton film was finally announced in May 1993 with a new screenplay being conceived by Michael France.
With Cubby Broccoli’s health taking a serious dive, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took centre stage to bring this new film to fruition. Production moved ahead with Cubby taking a backseat to his children and the script by France was completed in February of 1994. However further problems hit the film when James Bond himself, Timothy Dalton, officially resigned from the role after months of rumours. It would later be revealed that Dalton felt he was too old for the role, and couldn’t convincingly portray the secret agent; something I wish more actors would realise.
Of course, this news meant another James Bond was needed and producers quickly took the opportunity to cast Pierce Brosnan, who was now well and truly out of contract for Remington Steele. Following that casting, Judi Dench was hired as M, the new head of MI6. Others quickly fell into place with Sean Bean as 006 and Famke Jenssen and Izabella Scorupco as femme fatale and leading Bond girl respectively.
With the release for the seventeenth 007 adventure now titled, GoldenEye, set for release in 1995, production was fully underway. But things had changed in the six years between films and 007’s position in film culture was being questioned. Was he still relevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War? Political correctness meant many of the familiar Bond tropes possibly wouldn’t carry over in this new modern time. Thankfully, any and all worries were laid to rest upon release.
Time for the plot.
Beginning in 1986, James Bond 007 (Pierce Brosnan) and Alec Trevelyan 006 (Sean Bean) break into a Soviet Chemical Weapons Facility with the mission to bring it down. 006 is captured and shot by Ourumov (Gottfried John) while 007 blows the facility and escapes just in time.
Nine years later, Bond encounters Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) who happens to have ties to the Janus crime group. While having a sexual encounter with an Admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy, Xenia kills him by crushing his ribs between her thighs. This allows someone else to assume his identity the following day, while the impostor and Xenia steal a Tiger helicopter; a vehicle capable of withstanding electromagnetic pulses. Using the helicopter, they arrive in Siberia shortly after and kill the staff there taking control of the GoldenEye weapon, a powerful satellite that is able to fire an electromagnetic pulse. General Ouromov and Xenia destroy the base and leave with programmer Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming). Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) is the only survivor of the fatal explosion and makes her way to St. Petersburg where Boris reveals his betrayal and turns Natalya over to Janus.
Back in London having seen the destructive power of GoldenEye via satellite, M (Judi Dench) orders Bond to find GoldenEye, find who took it, what their intentions are and stop it. Bond heads to St. Petersburg and meets with his CIA contact, Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) and eventually meets a former KGB agent, Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) who organises a meeting between 007 and Xenia. Xenia attempts to crush Bond between her thighs, but Bond overpowers her and finally meets with the Janus himself, Alec Trevelyan. He faked his own death back in 1986 and was left scarred from the explosion. Now he plans to get his revenge on Britain for his parents death.
Bond is drugged and wakes to find himself, alongside Natalya, in the custody of the Russian military where they are blaming both for the GoldenEye theft. General Ourumov enters the room, kills the Minister of Defence and blames it on Bond. 007 escapes the area in a tank and pursues Ourumov and Natalya to the Janus train. Bond destroys the train and enters the remains, guns down the General while Xenia and Trevelyan escape. Natalya manages to locate the area where Boris is, and with some more help from Jack Wade, Bond goes to bring down his friend.
Xenia is killed while Bond and Natalya manage to not only bring down Janus, who planned to rob England and destroy all records via the GoldenEye EMP, but also succeed in killing Trevelyan.
Before going any further, it is very important for me to explain just how special GoldenEye is to me.
It was just on twenty years ago now, that GoldenEye was being released worldwide to rave reviews. I was only eleven at the time and my love for Bond had only just begun thanks to a few showings on TV mainly on Saturday nights. My mum was a fan and since there were five of us in the family, my parents decided to take us to the cinemas during the summer. I remember the experience very well for the most part. My mum was pretty excited because it was a new James Bond film and new actor in the role, and I was just excited because I was going to the cinemas. The main thing I remember from the film was the opening sequence and the final action piece…and then pizza afterwards.
Also I remember the BMW Z3. Not only was that all over the promotional material for this film in Australia, but I can clearly remember being at a family party and seeing it over the beer boxes and seeing the ads on TV. Years later the video game, GoldenEye 007 for the N64 was released and I played until my hands hurt. That video game alone was what sent me into a Bond craze that until this very moment, is still with me.
GoldenEye was also the very first James Bond film I ever purchased on VHS, when video tapes were still a thing, and I still own it to this day.
Looking back on GoldenEye as I’ve done this month for the review, I’ve realised just how important a release this film was.
Martin Campbell deserves special praise here. This is his first outing as director (he returns for Casino Royale) and with his previous credits consisting of mostly TV series and low-budget films, it is amazing we got the Bond film we did. Of course Campbell doesn’t get all the credit, but he deserves a lot of it.
The script went through a few rewrites in the six years between movies. Originally Michael G. Wilson was going to recycle elements from an unused script of Licence To Kill, but Michael France provided the first draft (credited as Story By) with additional rewrites by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feitstein. From what appears on-screen, I’d say it’s a fairly flawless movie. From opening sequence to closing credits, GoldenEye moves at a blistering pace, save for the scenes in Severnaya. This portion always slowed down the movie for me as a kid, and even as an adult I still find it a little dull. However it’s necessary to give the audience their first taste of what the GoldenEye weapon can do. Once the action kicks in though, GoldenEye really shifts into high gear.
It’s good to see characters openly discussing Bond relevance post-Cold War and having a female as head of MI6 was clearly the right choice with the casting of Judi Dench. She is a tough as nails figure-head and superior to 007. Although in only a few scenes, M puts Bond in his place and proves herself a better M in this one moment than any have done before. She isn’t afraid to get the job done and will cut her agents down if necessary, but also shows a caring maternal side.
The casting of Judi Dench began a trend for GoldenEye, having a stronger focus on female characters, whether consciously or not, is evident with Natalya and Xenia.
Izabella Scorupco plays GoldenEye programmer, Natalya Simonova. Thankfully for this film, she isn’t useless and once her character is established during the first attack, Natalya quickly gains traction as her own person. She doesn’t really need Bond and often times its she that manages to push the film forward. Don’t get me wrong, Izabella is still very much a gorgeous woman to behold on-screen, but I’m glad writers gave her more to do here. Her scenes with Bond are great and I’m a fan of the chemistry and in those few tender moments together, they both really sell it.
While Natalya is the love interest, Xenia Onatopp is the polar opposite playing a deadly assassin for Janus. Consider her the henchwoman to Trevelyan. I had never seen Famke Janssen in anything prior to this role, but then X-Men rolled around and my appreciation of her grew more. However, here in GoldenEye, she’s just a stone cold killer. I mean she actually gets off on killing and I’d like to think it’s the first time we see this on-screen in the series. Xenia always manages to make me laugh when dropping some well placed one liners and continues the trend of another strong female role.
A quick mention must go to Boris and Ouromov. Although they do play a larger role in the film than you’d remember, Boris is mostly here for comedy and Ouromov to be the red herring. As soon as Trevelyan is revealed to be alive, it’s only a matter of time before Bond takes out Ouromov. Still, both actors are excellent with Alan Cumming’s casting being one of the best things in the Bond franchise. Seriously.
Now to Alec Trevelyan, whose reveal as leader of Janus was spoiled in trailers for the film. I never knew this at the time, but it proves one thing, trailers spoil movies. Sean Bean had been around for years before GoldenEye in many different roles, but after being turned down for the role of James Bond, he was instead cast as 006, former ally and friend. For years people had waited to see other Double 0 agents in the field working alongside Bond, and they were give their wish here, but it was short-lived.
What I appreciate about Alec Trevelyan is the whole ‘hero fighting their opposite’ which is so popular in comics. I liked that we get to see a man so close to Bond, in many ways, be his main enemy in the film. However I’m not such a big fan of his master plan, which Bond refers to as “petty theft”. It seems kind of lazy on the writers behalf and not world dominating enough…which I kind of wanted. All that aside, I absolutely love his charm and Bean plays him with such cockiness in that train scene against Natalya, it’s almost funny. Sean was excellent casting and I completely believe his friendship during the opening scenes with Pierce. Sadly the rating this movie has, prevents blood and gore leaving most of the gun action to look…like play fighting. It even means 006’s death in the opening minutes comes across staged, which works in the context of the film itself I guess.
Finally we get to Pierce Brosnan himself ‘the man who would be Bond’. If you read my review for The Living Daylights, I made mention how Brosnan was up for the role but the Remington Steele TV series got in the way and Timothy Dalton slotted into the role comfortably. Brosnan was patient and 8 years later he was 007. The amazing thing about Brosnan is it instantly solidifies him as the new 007. Forget about taking a few films to get comfortable, he does it right away. Brosnan has complete and utter confidence in every single moment on-screen and handles the action with ease. He was born for this role and fits the suit perfectly.
While others at the time have been, NOT CONNERY, I always remember Brosnan being favourably received. He genuinely appears so grateful to be here and his natural charisma comes through. His Bond has no issues taking orders off a female M, and his playful flirting with Moneypenny is still so familiar to what we remember. The scene between Q and 007 is easily one of the best in the series being playful and chastising and the Double 0 agent at the same time.
Looking back at GoldenEye, it’s easy to see just how much effort has gone into modernising Bond for a new audience. All the familiar tropes are there but with a new fresh coat of paint. The same characters and relationships are present but modernised. It contains solid acting and action, and the script is top-notch. It can feel a little aged now when looking back on it, but then again so does the entire franchise. Easily the highest of recommends and one of the best entries.
James Bond will return in Tomorrow Never Dies