4 of 5 stars
GoldenEye rebooted the Bond franchise six years after the character was last seen in Licence to Kill. Timothy Dalton had moved on professionally, so Irish actor Pierce Brosnan was brought in to don the Bond tuxedo.
GoldenEye pits 007 against 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), who after faking his own death becomes a Russian crime boss known as Janus—a two-faced god come back to life. With the help of a Russian general and a sexy femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), Alec has hijacked a space weapon known as GoldenEye. Alec will use the GoldenEye to attack London in revenge for the British repatriating his Cossack parents at the end of World War II. Bond teams up with GoldenEye programmer Natalia Simonova to thwart Alec’s plan. SPOILER—Sean Bean dies! This plot is strikingly similar to Ian Fleming’s novel Moonraker, and GoldenEye is exponentially better than the Moonraker movie.
FUN FACT: Goldeneye was the name of Ian Fleming’s estate in Jamaica where the majority of the Bond novels were penned.
I was 12 when GoldenEye was released, and it was the first Bond film I saw. After that I became a life-long fan. The film introduced 007 to a new generation of audiences. My only familiarity with the character before this movie was the James Bond, Jr. TV series, which I didn’t care for.
GoldenEye is a gleefully exciting movie. In an early stunt, Bond drives a motorcycle off a cliff, leaps from the cycle into a nosediving airplane, then flies the plane out of a valley, narrowly missing the side of a mountain. This stunt was performed for real, with precise timing and calculations (and a parachute under the stuntman’s shirt just in case something went wrong). And just when you think you’ve seen the most exciting sequence in the movie comes a tank chase through the streets of Saint Petersburg (Russia, not Florida) that leaves the city in ruins. James Bond may not be the most subtle of spies, but he sure knows how to have fun!
The movie also has emotional weight, as Bond realizes he may have to kill a former friend and colleague. Natalia (Izabella Scorupco—one of the sexiest Bond girls) sums it up in one line: ‘He was your friend—Trevelyan. And now he’s your enemy, and you will kill him. Is it that simple?’ Bond responds, ‘In a word, yes.’
Viewing the movie 20 years later, however, it feels painfully dated, much more so than the Sean Connery films, despite their campiness and sexism. Being the mid-‘90s, the film couldn’t resist using plot points involving characters “hacking the mainframe.” The electronic soundtrack also shows it’s age, unlike Shirley Bassey’s wall-of-sound theme in Goldfinger, which has a timeless quality. Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” theme (written by Bono and The Edge), however, somewhat recall’s Bassey’s theme, just as the title “GoldenEye” somewhat resembles “Goldfinger.”
The movie’s plot also takes a while to come into focus, making the first 30 minutes or so seem boring despite the action on the screen. After the pretitle sequence, Bond is pursuing Xenia Onatopp for reasons we never really understand. He attempts to thwart the theft of a stealth helicopter, but the motivation behind this sequence is confusing. It’s not until the helicopter is used to steal the GoldenEye and the new M (Judi Dench) briefs Bond on his mission that we feel like this movie has a plot.
There’s also the problem of understanding Alec Trevelyan’s scheme. His motive for revenge is simple, and the plot should have been left at that. However, he also plans to hack into banks in London to electronically transfer funds to himself before detonating the GoldenEye over the city, which will destroy records of the transaction. He says himself the attack on London will force Britain back into the Stone Age. Therefore, using the internal logic of the movie, his plan to rip off the banks of London does not make very much sense as the British currency will soon become worthless.
Pierce Brosnan is also somewhat flat in his first outing as Bond, James Bond. We see occasional sparks of a personality, but for the most part he seems like a mannequin wearing Bond’s tuxedo. As corny as Roger Moore was in the role, at least he brought some originality.
At the time of its release, GoldenEye was the best of the non-Connery films, besides the underappreciated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It also inspired the Nintendo 64 video game, which is still perhaps the best first-player game ever made.