It is 1986. The Cold War is nearing its completion and the Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. James Bond is up to his old tricks skydiving off dams and surprising unsuspecting men on the loo and whatnot. Only this time he’s not alone. Accompanying Bond on his mission is 006 Alec Trevelyan (whose name really should have given it away from day one) played by the beefcake Sean Bean; well, that is until Trevelyan is shot and left for dead in an exploding building as James Bond runs off to partake in his favourite hobby of skydiving onto moving aeroplanes. So far so good! And Pierce Brosnan, the devilishly dashing new 007, seems to tick all the right boxes. He is positively classic: suave, cool and suitably good looking with more of Sean Connery’s wit and charm than Timothy Dalton’s earnest determination and dry sense of humour.
The opening credit sequence also marks a dearly appreciated return to classic Bond: naked silhouetted ladies flail and gyrate gracefully in front of a wall of fire amidst crumbling icons of the USSR, all set against Tina Turner’s unmistakable skwark as she huskily belts out the title song (written by none other than Bono and ‘The Edge’). Who could ask for anything more? Brosnan’s first turn in the penguin costume is by far his best and with hindsight it is not difficult to see why. Goldeneye has all the elements which combine to make Bond at its best: an evil, corrupt and bitter ex-superpower, a sexy but murderous Russian woman with a suggestive name and Robbie Coltrane.
Nine years after the opening and James is zipping around Monte Carlo in an Aston Martin whilst seducing an incredibly nervous driving instructor. Bond has certainly aged well … in fact he doesn’t seem to have aged at all (if only that trick had worked for Roger Moore) and he starts as he means to go on by entering a precariously balanced drag race with the zesty Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), an event which will no doubt be the start of a beautiful and long-lasting friendship. Brosnan cavaliers his way through the film smashing, bashing and otherwise crashing anything that stands in his way of bringing down the plot – in this case headed by Trevelyan and General Ouromov with Onatopp as his sidekick, which involves a giant laser and a satellite of some sort … I’m still not too sure exactly what the Goldeneye is, but I think it’s something to do with the laser.
Goldeneye is chock-a-block with memorable characters. Judi Dench takes over the coveted title of M in her first Bond film and is refreshingly straight-talking in the role, although lord only knows how she resists James Bond’s slimy charms. Desmond Llewelyn, ever spritely and disgruntled, returns as the lovable Q and Goldeneye sees one of his most famous quips ever, in “don’t touch that! That’s my lunch.” I know exactly how he feels. To complete the trio of newbies, Robbie Coltrane steps in as Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky, a part he would reprise in The World is Not Enough, also with Brosnan. And considering he was at least third in line for the part, Sean Bean is a reckonable villain as the defector Trevelyan, who of course didn’t die at all at the beginning and turns up half way through the film and tries to remove Bond by blowing him up in a helicopter, like you do.
What marks Goldeneye out as a new breed of Bond is its main girl, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorpuco). Gone are the days of Pussy Galore and Solitaire; Simonova is nobody’s victim and through sheer determination (and a little bit of good timing) she survives against all the odds and proves to be a real asset to Bond during his mission, sometimes whilst managing to keep her clothes on! What separates her from the old school of Bond Girls is her assertiveness. Whilst Bond and the Russian Minister of Defence squabble over who betrayed whom and who has the bigger… country and so on, Simonova wastes no time silencing and scolding them as “boys with toys”, which wins her respect in my eyes.
The film draws to a predictable enough close, which sees Bond captured by his now arch enemy, Trevelyan. All seems lost as the laser is fired up until good-gone-wrong computer nerd and former colleague of Simonova’s Boris accidentally sets off Bond’s Parker Ball Point Grenade Pen (now there’s one for your Christmas wish list). During the ensuing commotion, Bond escapes and saves the world whilst everyone else is blown up or frozen in liquid nitrogen.
A main talking point where Goldeneye is concerned is its soundtrack. Certainly one does exist, but I find it particularly forgettable which is disappointing given the high standard of the screenplay, acting and other components which are integral to a good Bond film. Eric Serra is the culprit in question, who wrote and performed the score himself and has since been described by various critics as having “failed completely” and composing a score “more appropriate for a ride on an elevator than a ride on a roller coaster.” In other words, rather than his score being an accompaniment to the action it is mere muzak: forgettable, ignorable and if you were to ask me about it in an hour’s time, I wouldn’t be sure it was actually there in the first place.
Fear not though, for the score really is the only let down of Goldeneye. It takes Bond to new, fast paced levels and set the standard for Bond in the 21st Century well ahead of its time. I mean, even Prince Charles went to the premier, and that’s saying something! As the more able-thumbed amongst you will be aware, the film was also turned into a frankly astonishing and certainly untoppable Nintendo 64 game which meant for the first time that any old Joe Likely could become James Bond from the comfort and security of his own sitting room. Accordingly, Goldeneye is the first James Bond film to boast high-fidelity action scenes with convenient tea brakes – if that doesn’t sum up ‘Queen and Country’, I don’t know what does.