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“BOND” RETROSPECTIVE 17: GOLDENEYE

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With the 25th Bond film NO TIME TO DIE debuting internationally in April 2020, I am rewatching all the Bond films so far. GoldenEye had its US debut exactly 24 years ago on 13 November. The new Bond film where Pierce Brosnan finally donned the tux. Spoilers ahead…

November 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For over 20 years Berlin was divided into West and East, the freedom of the West in stark contrast to the struggles of East Berlin residents.

The uneasy peace saw the rise of “The Cold War”, where the intense rivalry between Russia and the West, primarily the USA, would create a climate of fear and suspicion, where undercover operatives and spies would work tirelessly to gain information on “the enemy” or to actively try to undermine them.

It was in this climate that Bond was born. Indeed, the Bond films themselves started in 1962, the year after the Berlin Wall was built.

The tension between East and West is an obvious theme in The Living Daylights, illustrating how The Cold War remained a rich store for storytellers to mine.

Yet, before Bond 17 arrived the Wall fell, the borders opened, the regimes in Communist countries toppled. How would that impact 007?

PRE-CREDITS

GoldenEye begins with one of the most striking and breath-taking stunts of the entire franchise. Bond runs across the top of a huge dam, which we learn is the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility in the USSR – then bungee jumps off.

This extensive pre-credits is fantastic. We first see Brosnan upside down as he drops down into the unfortunate Russian soldier’s toilet cubicle.

I beg your pardon. I forgot to knock.

And – oh. Eric Serra’s music kicks in. I always forget about the echoey sleigh bell cling clang GoldenEye soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, Serra is a wonderful composer, my personal favourite being the TERRIFIC soundtrack he produced for Luc Besson’s Leon (The Professional). But most of the music here for me doesn’t work. Some of the more orchestral cues are lovely though – a favourite being in the casino scene later in the film.

Bond teams up with Sean Bean who plays 006 Alec Trevelyan.

James, for England.

For England, Alec.

Soon though, the Russians are on to them and they are pinned down in a container hanger full of gas tanks. Alec is executed and Bond resets the charges he planted before using a trolley to creep along the floor to escape on a delivery belt.

Bond uses a motorcycle to chase a departing light aircraft and in another neat stunt, the bike zooms over the edge of the cliff runway, before he free falls to the plane, deals with the pilot, then escapes as Arkangel explodes.

THE RIVIERA

Six years later (the pre-credits was a flashback to The Cold War) Bond is in the casino in Monte Carlo where he meets the fabulous Xenia Onatopp. And Famke Janssen is excellent in the role, seemingly loving every moment.

Soon Xenia is crushing a helicopter pilot to death using her thighs during a noisy “sex” scene, then stealing a stealth helicopter from on the top of a military ship in Monte Carlo bay. Bond is one step behind – so the chase is on.

 

SEVERNAYA

Severnaya, Russia is a remote space weapons control centre. Natalya (Isabella Scorupco who gives a strong, charismatic performance) and Boris (Alan Cumming) are programmers in the facility. Natalya is in the kitchen getting coffee and Boris out in the blizzard for a cigarette when we see Onatopp arrive in the stealth helicopter accompanied by the Russian General Ourumov (Gottfried John) who killed 006 at Arkangel.

Our villains reset the satellites, take the GoldenEye device and then massacre the other programmers to silence them.

LONDON

Samantha Bond Moneypenny is fully confident and composed around Bond, countering his banter with ease:

What would I ever do without you?

As far as I can remember James, you’ve never had me.

And

Moneypenny: “This sort of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment”.

Bond: “Really. What’s the penalty for that?”

Moneypenny: “Someday you have to make good on your innuendoes”.

Bond speaks briefly with Michael Kitchen’s Tanner (a character we have vaguely met before, but who would remain a feature for many films after this) who has used satellite tracking to locate the missing stealth helicopter at Severnaya. As they watch live footage of the area, they see the centre explode and spot Natalya stumbling out of the ruins.

M and Q

Judi Dench makes her first appearance as the head of MI6 in this film. Not only does the scene bristle with tension from their performances, but the obvious clash of the senior female with the reckless womanising secret agent is delicious. As is M’s dialogue:

“You don’t like me Bond, you don’t like my methods…

I think you are a sexist misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.”

Desmond Llewelyn reappears as Q and gives an exploding pen. Remember this gadget for it would become a joke in a later film!

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

We know that GoldenEye is a weapon which can generate an EMP electromagnetic pulse, which can wipe out all electrics in a wide area – indeed, we see it being used on the Severnaya complex. General Ourumov is speaking to the Defence Minister and cabinet, blaming the crimes on separatists – this lie shows that he isn’t working for the Russians either.

Bond arrives to meet with local contact Wade (Joe Don Baker returns in a new role) in the hope of tracking down the head of the Janus Crime Syndicate. Wade can’t help but says he can arrange a meet with Janus’s rival Sukovsky.

Natalya arrives in town too, having used the internet to contact Boris. This is, of course, a trap, for we realise Boris is working with Onatopp.

Bond meets Sukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) who is an old rival of his too. Sukovsky reveals that Janus is from a line of Lienz Cossacks, who fought against the Russians in WW2, but were refused support by the British. Stalin’s revenge was brutal.

Onatopp tries to ambush Bond at his hotel, but he overpowers her, and she takes him to a yard which is full of memorials, statues, and relics of the Cold War to meet Janus. And it is here that we discover that Janus is Bond’s “dead” colleague Alec Trevelyan, 006.

THE PURSUIT BEGINS

Bond and Natalya wake up in the stealth helicopter, with missiles set to destroy, but a conveniently located eject button saves them. The Russians immediately apprehend them and take them for interrogation, but soon General Ourumov has killed the Defence Minister and Bond and Natalya are on the run.

After a great shoot out in a library archive, but Natalya is recaptured, and Bond pursues through the streets of St Petersburg in a tank. The action filmed on location (and at Leavesden Studios in England) looks great, and the destruction and stunts are top class. It is also during this scene, eighty minutes in, that we hear the classic Bond theme at last!

Bond’s catches up with Natalya, being held in an armoured train by our villains.

Alec: Why can’t you just be a good boy and die?

Bond: You first.

Alec and Onatopp escape and as the train is rigged to explode in three minutes, there is some great tension as Natalya tries to “spike” Boris using the onboard computer and they escape the ticking clock countdown with moments to spare.

CUBA

Bond and Natalya have tracked Boris to Cuba and they now know it must host a satellite array-like Severnaya. Wade gives them his plane – borrowed from a friend in the DEA (Felix Leiter perhaps?)

There is a cracking scene on the beach where Bond sits gazing out to sea. Natalya joins him, and this dialogue happens:

Natalya: How can you act like this, how can you be so cold?

Bond: It’s what keeps me alive.

Natalya: No. it’s what keeps you alone.

Then they have sex. But hey, before that point the scene is a towering one. This is a new Bond, still tough, still haunted.

The satellite dish is located under a lake (see YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) and a missile takes out their aircraft. They crash and when Bond awakes Onatopp rappels from a copter to brutally attack him and attempt her thigh manoeuvre. She even headbutts Natalya. While she is distracted, Bond uses her gun to shoot the copter which crashes, pulling Onatopp into the branches of a tree, crushing her to death.

“She always liked a good squeeze.”

DISH

Inside the hidden complex (a return to the huge interior sets), Trevelyan gives Boris the GoldenEye so they can use the satellite to enact their cunning plan – steal all the money in London just before setting off EMPs, wiping out everything – “tax records, stock market, credit ratings, land registries, criminal records.”

Bond: And all so mad little Alec can settle a score with the world fifty years on.

Alec: I might as well ask if all the vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you killed. Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.

Boris ends up holding Bond’s exploding pen, and his agitated clicking creates even more tension as we know that there is a gasoline leak nearby. A tremendous explosion rocks the whole complex and Boris survives to try and reset the satellites. His jubilant final “I’m invincible!” is fantastic. As is his immediate demise.

Bond heads up to the transmitter suspended above the dish to make sure Alec’s plan fails. The final fight between the 00 agents is brutal, tightly edited and gives Bond a ruthless final “kiss-off” line to his former friend.

Alec: For England, James?

Bond: No. For me.

A SERIOUSLY GOOD BOND FILM

I find little to complain about in this film. Sure, even after 24 years, some of the model work is obvious – although it is brilliantly done (RIP Derek Meddings). Some of the music irks. But this is a seriously good Bond film.

I think Brosnan is a great Bond and a great Bond for the nineties, and a natural extension of what Dalton had brought to the role. However, he had the charm and sense of humour that some missed in Dalton’s earnest performance.

For some reason, there seem to be many people who criticise Brosnan – but I think he is terrific. He looks the part (the filmmakers obviously think so too – just look at the huge amount of cool shots with him posing with guns).

The action and stunts are first-rate, the story is pretty good, and the return of the franchise is extremely confident. Director Martin Campbell created an edgy, funny, and slick actioner that meant that Bond was back with a confident swagger.

Production Cast
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Fierstein
Composer: Eric Serra
“GoldenEye” by Tina Turner
Production Design: Peter Lamont
Cinematography: Phil Méheux
London Premiere November 1995
Pierce Brosnan
Sean Bean
Famke Janssen
Isabella Scorupco
Joe Don Baker
Alan Cumming
Robbie Coltrane
Gottfried John
Tchéky Karyo
Judi Dench
Desmond Llewelyn
Samantha Bond
Michael Kitchen

Teacher of Drama. And Media. Director of non-professional drama/musicals. Writer. Contributor to ReelAnarchy.com. Husband. Father. Ginger.

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