GoldenEye (1995) – Film Review
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen
by @Roger Crow
Following the hit and miss Licence to Kill in 1989, James Cameron filled the gap with True Lies, the best Bond film never made. With bigger stunts, epic set pieces and man mountain Arnold Schwarzenegger filling out a Goldfinger-inspired tux, it was just the super spy placeholder fans needed until 1995.
But director Martin Campbell had several aces up his sleeve for the first of his Bond offerings. One was Famke Janssen as the ultimate femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp. The sexy psycho crushed men between her thighs and when she gunned down a room full of workers her reaction was pure 50 Shades of Grey… for killers.
“Sense of forward momentum”
The other was of course Piece Brosnan, the man born to play Bond. With his good looks, bags of charisma, and ability to make fans weak at the knees, this was the 007 millions had waited for. Like a mix of Connery and Moore, he was the chosen one.
Six years is a long time to hone a script, get all the elements together and then show the world your masterpiece. And when you have all of that time at your disposal, who do you get to play a posh secret agent? Why, Sean Bean of course, the pride of Sheffield.
I love films that hit the ground running, and GoldenEye has such a sense of forward momentum, it’s like one of those elaborate domino set-ups where one scene knocks onto another.
From the terrific pre-credits scene and that stunning dam jump when you-know-who infiltrates a Russian base, to the face-off between him, fellow agent 006 (Bean) and a party of bad guys, things tick over like a Swiss watch. Campbell knows when to slow things down and Bond hiding behind a squeaky wheeled prop is a joy. Okay, the free fall into a plane is absolute rubbish. Just awful, but it’s testament to how good the rest of the movie is that many are willing to forget that moment.
Those slick opening titles are superb, as is Tina Turner’s belting theme song penned by Bono and The Edge.
Years later and Bond is being assessed by a prim and proper official type (Serena Gordon) while driving absurdly fast, endangering a bunch of cyclists and flirting with Ms Onatopp. She’s driving a Ferrari, so naturally he feels the urge to go full Clarkson and overtake her like a suicidal lunatic. But it seems Bond has met his match.
He winds up skidding to a halt, and not only decides to seduce his assessor, because he’s a sex addict, but also decides to drink and drive with a handy bottle of champers secreted in his car. Bad Bond; you need to go on half a dozen courses. No wonder M is permanently fed up with you, even if you do repeatedly save the world.
M this time is York’s own national treasure Judi Dench, who was such a natural fit as a Stella Rimmington-inspired matriarchal boss that 007 soon had a new dynamic. Gone was the gentleman’s club aesthetic of previous Bond boss briefings, and in came the harsh headmistress. The “evil Queen of numbers” was such a good fit and Ms Dench so brilliant, little wonder she stayed with the series until Skyfall in 2012. (Okay, Spectre for that sneaky cameo).
With some valuable exposition which doesn’t feel as forced as previous Bonds, series regular Tanner (the superb Michael Kitchen) fills us in on all sorts of intel, though chances are 007 knew all that already, in-between bedding his assessor and getting fitted for another bespoke suit while checking himself Fonz-like in the mirror.
Stitching all of this together is Eric Serra’s controversial score. Fresh from the success of Leon, he was obviously told to “do that again”, only with a bit of John Barry thrown in, naturally.
I like it. Atmospheric, different, with a hint of Soviet threat. But some think it’s the work of Satan. Each to their own. When it comes to that final track, Serra should have been arrested for crimes against cinema, but I usually turn the sound off at that point.
The plot, involving the eponymous orbiting weapon and an EMP capable of wiping out computers, is good, though I had come up with an identical story a decade earlier without knowing what an EMP was. Clearly loads of other people had too, but in an era when email was still a novelty, and “web-sites” were the stuff of sorcery via dial-up modems, millions were terrified at the thought of not being able to chat to their mates on the other side of the world without posting letters or using the phone.
The archetypal computer geek is here given a Russian twist care of Alan Cumming’s keyboard wizard Boris, who works with sexy fellow office slave Natalya (Isabella Scorupco). They share uneasy banter, and he sends her dodgy emails with cartoon characters, because nothing is more dull on screen than reading emails.
When evil forces invade their chilly base, Xenia Onatopp takes great joy in machine gunning every one down. Well, almost everyone. The GoldenEye device is stolen; Natalya escapes, crosses paths with Bond, and they spend the rest of the movie escaping death while he naturally tries to bed her.
If you can cope with a staggering bit of product placement, the tank chase through St Petersburg is terrific fun, and Gottfried John has a great time as an alcoholic Russian bad guy, Colonel Ourumov.
Sean Bean’s Alec is of course the big bad, aka 006. Miffed that he missed out on last orders years earlier, and facially scarred, Trevelyan is now intent on world domination, and is as much of a sex pest as 007.
Things eventually reach a climax as Bond and Natalya escape death on a train, and head off to meet their fate at 006’s base.
There’s so much going on in GoldenEye that you rarely stop and think how absurd it all is. Pierce Brosnan is cool personified, whether barely flinching as bullets whiz by his ear or doing assorted 007 things. The fight scene in the finale is fast, furious and brilliantly staged. It has all the energy of that third act of Die Hard, and there’s no higher praise than that.
The stunt when Bond falls down a gantry staircase and hits his ankle on a rail makes me wince every time. The effects are old school masterpieces from the much missed Derek Meddings, who bowed out with this classic. Okay, not all of them work, but give me these visual tricks over the CG atrocities committed in Die Another Day any time. The cast is terrific, the editing by the brilliant Terry Rawlings is superb, and as debuts go, Brosnan is outstanding.
Solid support from Joe Don Baker as Felix Leiter type Jack Wade; Robbie Coltrane chews the scenery in the first of two appearances as Russian fixer Valentin Zukovsky, and even Minnie Driver as a Russian cabaret singer helps make this a joy.
Famke Janssen’s Xenia remains my favourite femme fatale of the saga, stealing every scene she’s in, even when she’s in the background. It’s a crime that her character didn’t get her own spin-off movie, but I guess you can have too much of a good, or rather bad thing. With a better plane stunt at the start and any other song at the end, GoldenEye would really shine. But 95 per cent of this 1995 smasher does work. Little wonder it’s in my top five of 007 capers.