Review: Goldeneye

Welcome to my review of Goldeneye, the seventeenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Licence To Kill, here. Spoilers follow.

(dir. Martin Campbell, 1995)

Goldeneye trailerSean Bean would have made an excellent James Bond. Think about that for a moment. It’s okay; I’ll wait.

Okay, so he could never actually be Bond because he’s contractually obliged to die before the end of every film he’s in. But apparently he was in the running to be Bond before Pierce Brosnan finally got the job, and I think he would have been awesome.

It wasn’t to be, but at least we got to see him playing a double-0 agent in Goldeneye. He’s billed as a villain equal to Bond: the same training, the same skills. Having watched the Bond films in order, that’s not as effective a threat as the filmmakers intended; all of the double-0 agents we’ve seen to date have been mildly ineffective at best. Apart from the meeting of agents way back in Thunderball, all of them have died within minutes of appearing on the screen, 007 excepted. With that track record, 006 should be the easiest villain to defeat in the whole series.

Actually, he technically dies before the opening credits, but it’s an obvious feint. Not even Sean Bean usually dies that quickly. If it had been John Hurt, it might have been more convincing.

006 dies on a mission with Bond to destroy a Russian chemical plant, and then resurfaces nine years later as Janus, the head of a criminal organisation known for arms dealing, which he somehow manages to make a massive success of despite no one in the world ever seeing his face. Bond, who hasn’t aged a day despite the passing of nearly a decade, is put on his trail when a helicopter that is immune to electronic warfare and massive atmospheric EMP blasts is stolen and subsequently used to steal a weapon called the Goldeneye, which delivers, well, massive atmospheric EMP blasts that somehow make everything explode.

This is actually a good film.

Brosnan is not as humourless as Timothy Dalton, and while he is capable of delivering a knowing wink to the camera he is nowhere near as campy as Roger Moore. He’s a grand mix of the Bonds that have come before.

He’s supported in Goldeneye by a strong cast. Sean Bean has a psychotic dominatrix sidekick in Famke Janssen, while Bond capers round with Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), who is relatively convincing as a Russian computer programmer. Alan Cumming is less convincing as a Goldeneye programmer, but makes up for it by being massively entertaining and is clearly thoroughly enjoying himself. Joe Don Baker makes a return to the series as Bond’s CIA contact Jack Wade, which is a bit disconcerting given that two films ago he was trying to kill Bond, while Robbie Coltrane chews the scenery as larger-than-life Valentin Zukovsky, a former KGB agent with a grudge.

However, the best addition to the cast is Judi Dench, who steals every scene she’s in as the new M of MI6. She is cold, calculating and utterly realistic in the role, and she’s probably the best thing that’s happened to the series in several decades.

While I have tried to recognise that the Bond films are products of their eras during this challenge, Goldeneye has dated badly in some ways, largely to do with the way everyone uses their computers—although, to be fair, the computer scenes were the worst part of the film even back in 1995. People use stupid riddle answers as passwords, programmers put cartoon half-naked ladies on military software, typing anything involves tapping three keys really quickly, and the US Department of Justice can be accessed from any internet connection in the world (fair enough, I’ll give them that one). No one involved with the film seemed to understand how the internet or computers worked, and unfortunately this means that I squirmed every time someone banged on their keyboard on screen.

Otherwise, this is a great film with some spectacular set pieces. It follows the now long-established Bond formula pretty closely, but falls into remarkably few of the pitfalls of the series. Well worth a watch.

Title song: We haven’t had a genuinely good Bond song since Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better in The Spy Who Loved Me, but Tina Turner puts us back on track with the fabulous Goldeneye.

Greatest moment: Bond chasing a Russian general through St Petersburg in a tank might be one of the greatest action sequences in cinema history, let alone the Bond series.

Worst moment: Apart from every damn time anyone uses a computer, there’s a slightly soggy bit just before the final action scenes where Natalya berates Bond for his cavalier attitude towards life and love. It’s part of a larger theme in the film about Bond being an outdated relic of the Cold War, but even so it comes out of nowhere and feels out of place.

Best gadget: Bond’s grenade pen is the subject of a wonderfully tense scene, although it is a bit of a lucky coincidence that Bond happened to have it.

Best quote:
James Bond: Are these pictures live?
Unlike the American government, we prefer not to get our bad news from CNN.

Most obvious product placement: Bond crashes through a big Perrier lorry in his tank.

Verdict: The stellar cast, decent plot and great action sequences override any negative points I could make about the goofy approach to the laws of physics and computing. It also has one of the greatest, smartest teaser trailers ever made. I’ve seen Goldeneye many times since it was released, and as far as I’m concerned it deserves a solid third place on the league table of my favourite Bond films.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (dir. Peter Hunt, 1969)
  2. From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
  3. Goldeneye (dir. Martin Campbell, 1995)
  4. The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1977)
  5. Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
  6. Licence To Kill (dir. John Glen, 1989)
  7. The Living Daylights (dir. John Glen, 1987)
  8. Live And Let Die (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1973)
  9. For Your Eyes Only (dir. John Glen, 1981)
  10. Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
  11. You Only Live Twice (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
  12. The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1974)
  13. Octopussy (dir. John Glen, 1983)
  14. Thunderball (dir. Terence Young, 1965)
  15. A View To A Kill (dir. John Glen, 1985)
  16. Diamonds Are Forever (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1971)
  17. Moonraker (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Check back soon for my review of Tomorrow Never Dies, which might be the most nonsensical Bond title since A View To A Kill.