James Bond Overdose Part 17 – GoldenEye (1995)

I’m going to reveal my bias up front here. This is my all-time favorite Bond movie of all time. Ever. Forever. And ever. It’s perfect, and if you say anything negative about it, I will cry and run away and never speak to you again.

Not really, but long story short, this is the Jurassic Park, and The Empire Strikes Back, and the Back to the Future of the Bond universe to me. It’s so drenched in childhood nostalgia that I’m not sure if I can even talk about it objectively.

I’ll try my best, though.

Ok, here goes

It’s a new world. The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is gone, and MI6 has a new M (Judi Dench). While investigating the theft of a state of the art helicopter, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) discovers that it is part of a larger operation in which a Cold War weapon of mass destruction, code-named GoldenEye, has been stolen by the mysterious Janus crime syndicate. Bond’s only lead is the beautiful-but-deadly Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), and a prickly computer programmer, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), who worked at the Goldeneye facility in Siberia prior to its destruction. Haunted by the death of fellow agent and friend, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) 9 years prior, Bond must face and overcome his demons as he uncovers the identity of the mysterious Janus and tries to stop him from holding Britain for ransom.

It’s pretty awesome, and it’s perfectly paced. The slick one liners and the action really complement each other well, keeping things moving while still giving us time to get to know this new Bond. The first scene, much like the intro to Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights, introduces us to Bond in the middle of an operation. The fantastic bungee jump stunt that opens the movie recalls the moment at the beginning of The Spy Who Loved Me where Bond goes over a cliff on his skis and then freefalls for a few heart-stopping seconds before pulling his parachute. Coupled with the Connery-esque introduction to the man himself (“Beg your pardon. Forgot to knock.” *punches the guy unconscious*), this is one of the best Bond intros in the whole series.

Also, I love the opening credit sequence. Tina Turner’s title song (written by Bono and The Edge) is catchy, modern, and a beautiful continuation of the legacy started by Shirley Bassey. The title animation is absolutely fantastic as well. Maurice Binder, the designer who made Bond title sequences for decades up until his death in 1991, is replaced by Daniel Kleinman, and it’s clear that Kleinman knows his stuff. Not only are the visuals surreal and beautiful, they serve as a sort of expository narrative of what was going on in the world in the years between the events of the pre-credits sequence and the rest of the film. Sure there are attractive women all over the place, but instead of them gyrating and dancing in various poses, they’re wielding weapons and hammers and tearing down the symbols of the Soviet Union. The ominous two-faced woman foreshadows the Janus character that will show up later on (as Janus is a Roman god with two faces). In my opinion, this is one of the all time best opening title sequences in the entire series, along with those for Goldfinger and Live and Let Die. Sure, later movies will demonstrate better digital animation and more inventive visuals, but this one finds meaning on so many different levels, that it really serves to propel the story forward as opposed to just distracting viewers with pretty visuals. It also shows viewers that, in this new Modern Bond era (at least the beginning of it), women are no longer objects, but strong, active agents who are shown to be literally shaping the world anew. I just love it.

I will stop and say something about the music. I don’t really mind Eric Serra’s score, but in my latest viewing, coming on the heels of the previous Bond entries, the music does stick out as sort of odd. It’s a lot like the clunky, inconsistent music from For Your Eyes Only. There’s a soaring orchestral theme, which feels way too romantic to really make sense in a Bond film, there’s strange funky 90’s beats that sound like they were taken from a bad porn flick (especially in the “Ladies First” scene in the beginning), and then there’s the subtle, industrial-sounding synthesized incidental music that permeates the rest of the movie. This last style of music works the best of any of the other score elements, but for me it will always suggest the Nintendo 64 tie-in game more than the movie. I hear those distant clunks and metallic taps and I immediately am reminded of wandering through abandoned facilities ready to be killed repeatedly by all my friends who were better at video games than I. In the movie, it adds a nice sense of atmosphere, but when paired with the other two thematic elements in the music, it doesn’t quite add up to a great score. After some online research, I learned that the score for this movie was lambasted by fanboys everywhere who ranted and raved that the score was so inappropriate that it could singlehandedly destroy the entire franchise. That makes me chuckle. It’s an odd score, but it’s not as bizarre as that of For Your Eyes Only or as cartoonish as Michael Kamen’s score for License to Kill. I will admit that the end credits song is ghastly and needs to just go away, but the score as a whole is not the reality-bending vortex of destruction that Bond fans said it was in the 90’s.

The Modern Bond era is off to a good start with Brosnan. The script for this film was actually written with Timothy Dalton in mind (which is why Brosnan will soften the character a bit in later outings), but I think it’s probably the best iteration of the character. He’s able to handle the pithy one-liners and the verbal sparring just as well as the action and the darker dramatic scenes. He’s got fantastic chemistry with all his fellow actors, and never seems to try and draw undue attention to himself, letting the side-characters really shine. This is especially true for Judi Dench and Samantha Bond. Both come into the franchise with new takes on, respectively, M and Moneypenny, and you feel like they’ve been doing the characters for decades. M is a commanding figure whose respect Bond really has to earn, and by the beginning of the next film, it’s clear their mutual dislike for each other has been replaced by respect and admiration. The same goes for Moneypenny. Not since Lois Maxwell and Sean Connery have we seen such smooth, witty exchanges of playful banter. The MI6 trifecta, of course, includes Q, and our beloved Desmond Llewelyn is just as lovely as he has always been. He gets along with Brosnan’s Bond as effortlessly as he did with Roger Moore. The whole scene in Q’s lab is one of my favorite Q moments.

While we’re on the subject of secondary characters, I think this movie does a good job of handling its secondary characters in that they aren’t just throwaway parts. From General Ourumov (Gottfried John) to Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Contrane) to Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker) and Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming), they all feel like they have much bigger parts to play than they actually do because you really love these characters. Ourumov is the classic Soviet villain we’re all used to by now (he reminds me of an older Orlov from Octopussy), Zukovsky is the lovable cad, Jack Wade is like an irreverent Felix Leiter (a far cry from Baker’s villainous persona in The Living Daylights), and Boris is the loveable geek turncoat. Sure he’s technically a “bad guy,” but Alan Cumming is such a fabulous actor that we love, hate, and love/hate Boris all at once. It’s no secret that he’s one of my all time favorite Bond characters ever.

How can you not love someone so adorable? HOW!?

The only weak-ish link in the character chain is Famke Janssen. I say this only because her character is fairly one-dimensionally written. Xenia is a completely iconic Bond villain and there’s no doubt that she’s up there with Jaws and Oddjob in terms of memorable villain moments, but in terms of her character, she’s basically a one-hit wonder. There’s scant backstory and little to no character development. She’s exactly the same from the beginning to the end and, with so many other well-written side characters, it’s a shame we didn’t get more from her. But it’s more of a nit-picky thing. It does serve to make her more of an absolute in that it’s clear that she’s completely irredeemable, but I still think her single-level intensity throughout the film makes her a bit of a bland character (even though she may be a great villain).

I really have to stretch to find things to criticize about this. All in all, it’s a perfect movie. It’s fun, just clever enough without being self-indulgent, and a great starting point for folks who are new to the series. The way my mother introduced me and my brothers to the series was with this one, which completely hooked us all, and then we went back and worked our way through the Classic Bond series. I will always adore it. I’m biased, but I don’t care.

Random Observations
-I loooooooooove the motorbike chase off the cliff into the plane.
-Bond gets to play Baccarat again!
-“Better luck next time, slugheads!”
-“Someday you’ll have to make good on your innuendos.” Moneypenny throws down the gauntlet.
-“Unlike the American government, we prefer not to get our bad news from CNN.” M telling it like it is.
-EMP’s don’t cause buildings to explode…
-“Don’t touch that! It’s my lunch.”
-It’s amusing how proud this movie is of the 90’s era computers. Nowadays, computers in movies look nothing like actual computers, but are instead godlike devices which can sych with anything and have the computing speed of a million networked brains. But in this movie, a lot of time is spent on showing off just how fantastic all these boxy IBM’s are.
-Not that I’d want it to happen, but why don’t the bad guys just shoot Bond? They have multiple chances to do so.
-Natalya is a damsel in distress, but only part time. She does have some great moments.
-It’s sad that Bond’s souped up BMW roadster with the missile launchers didn’t get to do anything cool at all.
-The big villain hideout at the end has the standard-issue mid-century Bond villain stairs, I see. I can’t find a picture of them, but you know the ones I’m talking about: the rail-less stairs with the single central support. There must be a Villain Wholesale store where everybody gets these stairs.
-“I am invincible!”

Next week, we continue the awesome with Tomorrow Never Dies, featuring my all time favorite Bond girl of the entire series. It’s gonna be a good one!

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