As a kid of the 90’s the one memory I will never forget is going to a friend’s house for a sleepover, cracking open the Nintendo 64 starting up Goldeneye the videogame and playing it until the sun came up. That was my first introduction to the character James Bond in which the game was based off the film version of Goldeneye which is based on the fictional MI6 secret service agent turned action hero over the last 3 decades. 30 years of hearing the line “The name is Bond, James Bond” now spoken by 5 different actors and the line hasn’t gotten stale or played out one bit.
Goldeneye marks the beginning of the next chapter in the James Bond franchise era. Between the previous film that had the elements of a new generation and this one, a gap of 6 years passed (mostly due to legal disputes that have plagued the franchise since Thunderball) to solidify the modernization of the franchise bring James Bond into a new type of warfare that he must risk everything for Queen and Country to save from absolute destruction. It also marks a new actor taking on the mantle of Bond, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan). During the 6-year hiatus, Dalton stepped down from the titular role, M (Dame Judi Dench) was recast (previously Robert Brown) to become the first woman to play the role and Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) (previously (Caroline Bliss) changed hands as well. The only remaining actor is the man who has been Q (Desmond Llewelyn) since the inception of the franchise in 1962.
Goldeneye is the first Bond film that isn’t based on an actual work of Fleming, a novel or short story. Instead, the title of the film pays homage to Fleming’s service in the military named for Operation Goldeneye. The pot here is completely original from the explosive opening scene in which Bond and 006 agent Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrate a chemical weapons facility. The pre-credit scene lasts about 20 minutes making it one of the most iconic opening scenes in franchise history. Watching it play out, brought be back to my younger days and playing the game version. Nostalgia alone, makes Goldeneye one of the best Bond films, at least for a millennial.
The franchise has taken inspiration from actual events in history. The latest Bond films have looked to the Cold War to craft its stories, pitting Bond against the former Soviet Union (Now Russia, since the fall). With the backdrop of the Cold War, Trevelyan becomes a rogue agent who makes it his mission to cause a global financial meltdown with the use of a global satellite weapon codenamed Goldeneye.
More often, the villain’s henchmen are written with more notoriety than the actual villain. It’s been a standard practice since the Connery era starting with Goldfinger and Oddjob and even showing shades here. Alec’s henchwoman Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) provides the muscle when she’s on the prowl for a victim, using her legs to cause asphyxiation in a sadistic manner.
Performance wise, Brosnan does a solid job taking over for Dalton. He isn’t quite intense but takes a more relaxed approach the way Connery did but still showing signs of toughness when it matters most. I liked what Dalton brought to the table for the character for the most part, but he still had his weaknesses. Too much rage and intensity caused a clear cloudy judgement in the character making him one-dimensional. Brosnan has the signature charming personality mixed with a charismatic confidence. When Brosnan’s Bond walks into a room, nothing, and nobody else matters.
Even with a better performance by Brosnan in the role of Bond, Dame Judi Dench commands the screen with every scene she’s in. Though Bernard Lee made the role of M what it Is, Dench elevated the character beyond just handing out orders to Bond. Dench made M integral to the story, not just a character that says the same thing film to film but with different circumstances.
Within the new era that Goldeneye establishes, the tried-and-true Bond formula is still laced in the films DNA. Bond flirts with Moneypenny only to tease the characters for a potential romance, Bond gets a rousing display of the tech and gadgets Q has come up with and Bond has the relationships with the most unlikely characters, namely the henchwoman Xenia. But the Bond girl is Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) a programmer at the Severnaya lab that survives the massacre by Onatopp and Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane).
These more modern Bond films have been less focused on the romances of Bond between almost every female character and more about the action. Goldeneye is the first in the franchise to utilize CGI technology and the production spared no expense. Goldeneye is the final film for special effects supervisor Derek Meddings, whose major contribution to the franchise was miniatures. For a film almost turning 30 in 4 years, the effects hold up in some spots while showing cracks in the armor in others.
Since the Connery days, the pacing of a Bond film has always been slow, carefully paced, lingering shots that lets a scene breathe and play out. With the Dalton era, the pacing has been sped up in a more action centered film way with more cuts between shots. In the quicker pacing, the action and stunt work stay at the forefront, after all, you go to watch a Bond film for the stunts that only increase in value and danger with each installment. Bigger explosions in the opening and climatic scenes paired well with longer played out gun fights and an emphasis on combat, James Bond has transformed into a globe-trotting action hero – no longer confined to one country.
With his signature Aston Martin that has all the bells and whistles minus the kitchen sink, the exotic locations that never grow tired of visiting, the charming seduction and calming presence in the face of danger Goldeneye is a sleek and stylish joy ride that brings a nostalgia factor to the earliest of Bond films. For an entire generation, Goldeneye is the base of discovery for the character and modern world that this iteration of Bond resides in.
Written By: Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Feirstein
Directed By: Martin Campbell
Music By: Éric Serra
Cinematography: Phil Méheux
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Samantha Bond, Desmond Llewelyn, Dame Judi Dench
Release Date: November 17, 1995
Running Time: 2 Hours 10 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
My Score: 4 out of 5