A slew of legal troubles behind the scenes led to a six year gap between Bond films. As a result, Timothy Dalton resigned and Pierce Brosnan was brought in to take the helm (the man originally intended to step in for Roger Moore were it not for other contractual obligations).
The fall of the Berlin wall has changed the face of world politics since the last film. Bond, although never directly involved with America’s struggle against Russia, is very much a product of the Cold War. That’s all over now, leading some to wonder if the franchise should end altogether.
This leaves the producers with an uphill struggle, trying make Bond relevant and interesting in a age where the very core of the character has been dissolved.
Instead of dodging the issue, GoldenEye tackles it head on.
In 1986 007 is sent on a mission with 006 (Sean Bean) to destroy a Russian military facility. 006 is captured and Bond leaves him for dead in his escape. Years later we rejoin Bond on a mission to follow a member of a crime syndicate. He uncovers a plot to steal an EMP weapon from the Russians, fronted by his ex-colleague.
One would expect GoldenEye to try something radically different in its attempts to appeal to a 1995 audience, and yet the exact opposite happens. This is almost a ‘back to basics’ for Bond, not quite harking back to Dr. No but almost. The women, the action & the gadgets are all there, but somehow it all feels revitalised.
Instead of a completely new idea, the producers opted for a subtle shift in tone. This is a deft move; it keeps the fans happy while helping to bring the franchise into the 21st century.
At the forefront of this change is Judi Dench as M. She gets a small but key role in establishing some of the much needed self-awareness GoldenEye exhibits. She’s cold towards Bond and shows disdain towards him, famously saying “…I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War…”. This is something that needed to be said before we could move on; Bond has been getting away with this crap for sixteen films now…
There are lots of new elements brought in behind the scenes too, notably the new director Martin Campbell. He is confident and makes the big action scenes stick. He has a way of bringing us into the moment through close attention to detail. The close-ups of the actors match the wide-shots exactly, despite being shot in two completely different studios. We never feel like we are about to sit back and watch a stunt man do his thing for ten minutes.
Brosnan is also a welcome addition. He is intense but not without a sense of humour, and seems more involved in a lot of the stunt work. He also manages to convey a situational awareness sometimes lacking in the others; it looks like he’s actually thinking about the plot and what he’s supposed to be doing, rather than just ‘do I look cool?’.
He’s helped out by some talented writing. Every character in GoldenEye serves some purpose and no-one is forgettable. Alan Cummings as Boris the computer hacker, Robbie Coltrane as the Russian gangster, Famke Janssen as the crazy thigh-squeezing killer Xenia Onatopp… the list goes on. If you’ve seen the film, you know who I am talking about. This probably hasn’t been the case since Goldfinger (where you know the characters even if you haven’t seen the film…).
Ironically enough the dullest character is the one most central to the plot - Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan.
GoldenEye is a promising start to a new era. It somehow breaks new ground on an idea that began in a very different time, whilst being every bit as entertaining and exciting as the best of them.