Martin Campbell directs Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean and Famke Janssen in this soft reboot of the 007 franchise that sees Bond unwittingly tracking an old ally in post-Soviet Russia.
I went to see this with my cousin on opening night at the Ealing ABC and I can’t describe how big a release this was in the mid-90s. While every other Hollywood production was experimenting with CGI, EON stuck to their loaded guns….expert stunt, miniature and demolition work. The Cold War thrills were marketed as having been reconfigured for a new era but the joke really was the world had changed but James doesn’t actually need to. The Iron Curtain has been toppled but for our spy is still killing KGB and Russian generals left right and centre with gay abandon. The broken statues of Stalin and Lenin are window dressing for the same old defecting enemies to be dastardly on a global scale, our hero to save the day by the skin of his teeth. The gorgeous girls get to question and tease him even threaten him but much like the shift in geopolitics the sexual politics remain that Bond can be criticised by those he is about to seduce but he still conquers. Business as usual, really.
Helps that Pierce is the suavest of Bonds… mixing Moore’s debonair bonhomie with Dalton’s romanticism. A hint of Irish brogue, lashings of matinee idol glamour. Comfortable as a pillow with the hurly burly. His run of films were unspectacular but he is almost too good a fit for the role. The perfect Bond to hold the rickety, uncertain enterprise together through its roughest transition. Goldeneye was exactly what was needed in 1995 to reinvigorate the franchise. A string of cliffhangers with just enough self awareness so you could swallow all the old fashioned spectacle, glitz and carnage. Yet still very much the same format and formula the world had grown up with loved for two generations. The press wrote swathes about it being a reinvention, an update and comeback. The fans embraced a return to what they always loved.
In retrospect Goldeneye isn’t gold or even silver standard for the 60 year enterprise. The middle section is adventure-lite and Bond awkwardly takes a back seat. Sean Bean pops in fleetingly to turncoat, seethe and give good trailer footage but proves an underwhelming and unfixed antagonist over two hours. He seems to be going for different readings from confrontation to confrontation. Luckily Famke Janssen’s deliciously evil Xenia Onatopp pretty much steals the show, shifting from evil beauty queen to snarling beast the moment she wraps those deadly thighs around you. Janssen is so outstanding here that you do wish the Brocollis had the common sense to keep her alive and recurr her into another adventure. Good girl Izabella Scorupco though capable, nubile and gifted entire reels of solo screentime didn’t stand a chance. The opening action sequence contains a succession of hair raising stunts. The tank chase through St Petersburg has pleasing echoes the daft excess and building crunching talent of the 70s high points. There’s enough greatness dotted around Goldeneye that you forgive the duller swathes and surplus characters that are hangovers from the old way of making blockbusters.
Employee of the month? Daniel Kleinman’s credit sequence is amazing. Tina Turner thumps out a rousing, hummable torchsong and the images he creates to accompany her epic caterwauling are mind blowing. Sickles and hammer rain from the skies as featureless models slink and swoon in high definition. It is a keen homage to Maurice Binder silhouettes and shimmer opening titles but massively surpasses them. This is a digital cornucopia, strident and inventive. It is the one area where Goldeneye stands head and shoulders above all other episodes. It has strong action and girls and Bond but the credits really do knock it out of the park.
All Bonds meld into one. Even the duff ones now make for a great afternoon on the sofa. Goldeneye revived the series, it deserves its place in history for that, but I’ll always enjoy the less loved but more vibrant, hard edged films that came on either side of it. Whereas this is an exercise in rebranding the old package… Licence to Kill and Tomorrow Never Dies are crammed with array and life. They didn’t have to save a franchise and they are all the more carefree and amusing for it.
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