IT'S THE ONE WHERE
James Bond is back! Again. In the opening sequence 007 (Pierce Brosnan) is on a mission in Russia with his old pal Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) aka 006. Something goes wrong, Alex is killed and Bond barely escapes. Flash-forward 9 years.
A new high tech helicopter is stolen and Bond suspects this is one piece of a larger puzzle. Shortly thereafter the helicopter is used to attack a Russian radar installation, and the top secret GoldenEye energy weapon is stolen. Only a young programmer, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), survives. Bond is charged with finding the GoldenEye, and thwarting whatever sinister plain lies behind the theft.
Of course Bond flirts with Moneypenny, the secretary, who seems far less impressed with his sexual prowess than usually. He also takes one for the team, by bedding a mousy girl sent to evaluate him, and he sleeps with the Russian programmer (it's alright, she's sort of Swedish). Then there's the title song, performed by Tina Turner, M is a woman, and Minnie Driver screams her way through "Stand by Your Man" with a thick Russian accent.
THE SECRET PLOT TO RULE THE WORLD AWARD GOES TO...
Janus. The devious underworld weapon smuggler who's responsible for the GoldenEye theft, and of course he's in cahoots with a crazy Russian general. They plan to send England back to the stone age, with an electronic blast that will destroy all financial records. Famke Janssen shows up with a dangerously naughty Russian accent, and steals the show as Xenia Onatopp, the bad guys' henchman. She is perhaps the all time best Bond girl! She will literally kill you during sex, but it'll be SO worth it.
A lot was riding on those first couple of minutes of GoldenEye. MGM's powerful franchise had been lying dormant for 6 years, and that's a long time in the action movie game. Returning from this extended leave Bond had to prove himself all over again. Adding to this was the fact that we had to break in yet another new Bond actor. This time Pierce Brosnan took the lead.
So with audiences everywhere holding their breath in anticipation, we're reintroduced to James Bond as he bungee jumps from the top of a dam! After this the film slowly reveals Bond's face: A close-up of the eyes, then a silhouette. When we get the first full view of his face, he's hanging upside down, and THEN we finally get to to see Brosnan's 007. This cheeky approach puts me at ease. It tell's me that the filmmakers are fully aware of what they're doing, and that they know they have to earn my trust.
The opening scene is also perfect, because Bond doesn't wink non-stop at the camera, he has one or two funny lines, but then he shifts to lethal mode. There's also a strange energy in the rest of the scene, as if Bond can sense something's wrong. His bitterness, when his friend dies, is unmistakable. As is the look of ruthless determination during his getaway. This Bond will not escape in a pink rubber duck, or whatever nonsense they came up with in the other films, and he doesn't rely on luck to complete his mission.
While the story of GoldenEye could easily have been told in the moronic Bond style of the Sean Connery or the Roger Moore days, director Martin Campbell keeps the plot on a tight leash. He has the time and patience to set up two separate story lines. First there's Bond's investigation - actual investigation, where he talks to people and follows clues. Then there's the second, where the programmer attempts to figure out what went wrong. The two lines develop concurrently and naturally, until they meet in the middle of the film, to reveal the true scope of the plot. It's not rocket science or the reinvention of the wheel, it's just straight-up solid storytelling. Luckily GoldenEye also has a fair share of spectacular and entertaining action sequences, the high point being the tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. An elaborate, inventive, almost Jackie Chan like set-piece, full of crazy stunts and humor.
GoldenEye isn't just a return to form, because it features some great action, it also works, because it dares to dig a little bit deeper into the character. Most notable is the confrontation between the newly appointed M (Judi Dench) and Bond. "You're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War," she says, straight to his face. The verbal showdown between them is far beyond anything else previously attempted by the franchise. Not only is this conversation cool, but it raises the stakes immeasurably, because it allows Bond to consider his own mortality and relevance in the modern world. Similarly, later in the film, Bond and Natalya have a heartfelt discussion about his chosen lifestyle, before the final showdown begins. "How can you be so cold?" she demands. "It's what keeps me alive," Bond explains. "No, it's what keeps you alone," she retorts. Imagine that conversation with any previous Bond actor.
I wonder if GoldenEye is my favorite Bond film. It's certainly a fantastic, brutally effective action movie. Pierce Brosnan eradicates all competition, with the best silver screen interpretation of the secret agent to date. He's the perfect mix of killer, detective, and ladies man, with just the right dash of humor, and a hint of regret. It's a bit of a mystery how Bond made it this far, through 33 years and 17 mostly mediocre films, but I'm really glad he did. For the first time the caption "Bond will return" seems like a promise, not a warning.