“One rises to meet a challenge.” – James Bond
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga. This week we begin the Pierce Brosnan era of Bond films with GoldenEye.
In 1989, I saw my first Bond film in a theater, Licence to Kill. I loved the movie. I loved the experience. I felt like a grown up seeing this very dark and serious revenge film by myself in the front row of the General Cinema Greenwood Park Mall four-screen theater. I couldn’t wait for the next film in the series. At such a young age, I was already an expert. I could barely hold out.
Then I waited. And waited. Jesus Christ, I waited. I went from being a seventh grade Bond fan to being almost six months past graduation from high school before the wait finally ended, and holy cow was it a hell of a return…
I think it was either in July of 1995 when I went to see the sci-fi horror flick Species, or the following month when I saw Lord of Illusions (which also happened to feature this film’s bad Bond Girl, Famke Janssen) that I saw the first teaser trailer for the new James Bond adventure, GoldenEye. I might have wept a tiny bit. It, to this day, may be my gold standard for what a perfect movie teaser should be – new world, new enemies, new threats, but you can still depend on one man. Then, Pierce Brosnan with a very simple question: “Were you expecting someone else?” Perfect.
It’s possible that before I arrived at the movie theater the morning of November 17, 1995, it was a foregone conclusion that GoldenEye would be my new all time favorite Bond film. I was now the perfect age for the series, and goddamn did I have to wait long enough for the next chapter.
The simple truth was revealed in that teaser trailer. It was a new world. Since the previous entry in the series, the Cold War was over. The USSR collapsed and the walls were coming down all along the eastern block. However, where the USSR left a vacuum in terms of power, new threats would rise. That made things very easy for new producers Barbara Broccoli (long time producer Albert’s daughter) and husband Michael G. Wilson. You can still feature Bond going after Russians, but not Russia, who was supposed to be more friendly by the mid-90s. As the Soviet Union broke up, suddenly bombs, missiles, and various other weapons could easily fall into the hands of shaky governments, opportunistic and well-connected mob guys, and potentially terrorists.
That’s what we have in GoldenEye. The opening sequence starts on a past mission, some nine years prior to main story, Bond is working with Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), agent 006, in the USSR to blow up a chemical plant. Bond witnesses Trevelyan get shot and killed by Colonel Ourumov (Gottfried John) before he blows up the place and escapes by diving after a plane plummeting off a cliff.
In the present, Bond is being evaluated by a government-employed psychiatrist because the new M is now a woman (Judi Dench) who he questions her trust in cold numbers over agents’ instincts. He discovers a plot that involves stealing a new Eurocopter called the Tiger. It is supposedly invulnerable to all forms of electronic attack and interference. After a Russian electromagnetic pulse (EMP) satellite called GoldenEye is fired over Severnaya, it’s discovered that the Tiger helicopter was somehow connected to whoever set off the weapon.
Bond soon realizes that there is a criminal organization called Janus who is connected to members of the Russian government (notably now GENERAL Ourumov). Janus is headed by Trevelyan who faked his death to take advantage of the upcoming end of the Cold War. Trevelyan plans to use GoldenEye to topple the British economy and steal the money from the Bank of England. With the help of Severnaya computer programmer, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), Bond tracks Trevelyan and his lead henchwoman, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), to Cuba to put an end to his plans.
At first, I wasn’t exactly sure how to take the pre-titles sequence with Bond carrying out a mission prior to the Timothy Dalton era. I feared it was a way to scrub away two very high quality films because they weren’t exactly huge hits in the United States. However, in time, I realized that it’s just a framing for the larger plot. I do like that the 00 agents are wearing outfits similar to what was worn at the beginning of The Living Daylights. Plus, remember that all Bond actors are all playing the same character and have been on the same missions. In the end, I quickly overcame concern over that timeline, and that opening sequence is still one of my very favorite of the entire series.
I also think this is a stellar performance by Pierce Brosnan as Bond. He already feels like he’s been in the role for several films. Honestly, it makes sense as he was meant to be 007 in The Living Daylights. I kind of feel like he needed practically no prep time because he spent the last nine years getting ready for this moment. There are lines he speaks in this movie that feel like something Connery would say and how he’d deliver the line. When interrogated by Defense Minister Mishkin, he displays the signature Bond dry wit when pointing out the problem these days with no one doing a proper interrogation. He also captures the dapper look of Bond from the Roger Moore era. He’s possibly the best possible amalgamation of the two most popular actors to play the part.
However, he’s his own Bond too. Later, he partners with Natalya who can help him with the technological aspect of his mission. I feel like if it was Connery, he’d have slept with a computer to get what he wanted from it. Moore would have just naturally operated the computer as if he was better than the programmer who was schooled in this particular system. Dalton would have just probably scowled at the computer until it gave him what he needed, but not before he got a bloody nose from the computer fighting him back. Brosnan is modern in the sense that he trusts a woman to do what she knows.
Let’s talk about those Bond girls. There are really three of note with one being Judi Dench’s M, but she will play much larger roles in future films. Instead, let’s start with Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya. Natalya does kind of follow the type of leading lady that Maryam d’Abo was in The Living Daylights. She’s relatively insignificant in reality. She’s just a computer programmer that accidentally survived a terrorist attack. She’s about as pretty a computer geek you’ll ever see. However, she represents something else in this film and new era of the Bond franchise – she’s pretty unimpressed with Bond’s machismo. She doesn’t care much for boys bickering back and forth and measuring their manhoods. She’s not exactly an action character, but she’s smart and a necessary character for Bond to be bringing along on a crazy dangerous mission. Add to that, she’s kind of commanding and is able to often talk sense into Bond.
Maybe one of the more fascinating and memorable characters in the entire series, or at least for the past 25 years, is Xenia Onatopp. Famke Janssen absolutely made a career out of being in this movie. Most people at large know her as Jean Grey in the X-Men movies of the 2000s, but if you want to know exactly how much of a breakout star she is in this movie, go to IMDb and look at the photos for the GoldenEye page. Look to the right hand side where you can narrow down the results by actors or notable people in the pictures. There are more pictures of Famke Janssen then there is of Pierce Brosnan.
What most people remember about Onatopp is how she likes to sex people to death. She does this by squeezing them to death with her thighs while she climaxes. At any mention or action that involves violence, Onatopp seems to get sexually excited. Between her suggestive name (to which even Bond raises an eyebrow to when he meets her early in the film) and the way she dispatches of men, it’s an excellent tip of the hat that no matter how much changes in the world between genders or power structures between countries, writers and producers of the Bond series were still going to have their fun with tongue in cheek characters and dialog. The series can always continue to work in all its old ways, but be modernized.
Another breakout star that would go on to have a wonderful career after is Alan Cumming. He plays another computer programmer from Severnaya, but one that was in cahoots with Ourumov and Trevelyan. Naturally, Cumming would be best known for performing in Broadway and various other quirky characters in film and television, but his Boris Grishenko is just a little turd. He thinks himself better than other programmers and often exclaims, “I am invincible!” after he does something clever on the computer.
Sean Bean is especially good as Alec Trevelyan. He’s basically the evil version of James Bond, but there’s more to his character than just being a bank robber. Bond visits a former KGB agent-turned-gangster played by Robbie Coltrane and learns that the man who runs Janus is a Cossack. The Cossacks were Russians who worked with the Nazis against the Soviets in World War II. When they surrendered at the end of the war to the British, they hoped to become part of their government to fight the communists. However, England returned them to Stalin and he had them all executed. Through this, Trevelyan’s parents somehow survived and now, 50 years later, he’s out for revenge. There’s interesting historical context here and Bean is just good as a villain. This also marks the first time mainstream audiences would see Bean getting killed on screen – something he has proven to be a master at.
In this, Bond, in a pretty damn cold stunt, decides to drop him off the satellite used to control GoldenEye before it subsequently explodes and lands on him.
In all, there is still a very high amount of action and excitement in this movie that turns an astonishing 25 years old later this year. There are some beautiful shots when Bond and Natalya go to Cuba. The skydive off one of the tallest dams in the world to open the film is excellent. Bond diving after the falling airplane is classic. Driving a tank through the streets of St. Petersburg is just a load of fun. The final knockdown, drag out fight between Bond and Trevelyan is charged with frustration before Bond brutally dispatches of Trevelyan as his entire plan comes down in flames around him.
Bond’s long awaited return is phenomenal and absolutely well worth the time and tribulations that happened behind the scenes to bring it to the screen.
Join me next week for a look at the music of GoldenEye. In two weeks, we take a look at the next film in the series – Tomorrow Never Dies.
Back in January 2019, we covered GoldenEye, and Bond as a total concept, in our 51st episode of Film Seizure. Check it out below if you haven’t already (or check it out again)!