Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Film Review: GoldenEye

  • Publisher: MGM / United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 17 November 1995 (USA) / 24 November 1995 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Martin Campbell
  • Producers: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
  • Writers: Michael France, Jeffrey Caine, Kevin Wade, Bruce Feirstein

The Bond: Amid the legal wrangling that beseiged our franchise during the early 1990s, Timothy Dalton just up and quit in 1994. Once the parties involved got their collective act together and began work on a new movie, they drafted Pierce Brosnan (from Remington Steele, Mrs. Doubtfire) to replace him. (If you'll recall, he was considered for the role once before.) For better or worse, Pierce makes for the perfect film Bond; he handles all the things that the general moviegoing public (and the producers) would expect from one portraying 007. He portrays the high life with panache, can talk any woman he wants (except Moneypenny) under the covers with him, pull off action stunts (most of them by himself), and top them off with a one-liner, all with ease. On the other hand, he does little to distinguish his character apart from that familiar image. Compare that to interpretations from the likes of George Lazenby or Timothy Dalton, who never seemed as comfortable on the throne, so to speak, but delivered something unique to the role all the same. Pierce Brosnan happens to be the first Bond actor I ever saw on screen, and as such he was the perfect actor to get my feet wet with. 3 out of 5.

The Girls: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), a computer programmer. Natalya is one of those rare Bond Girls who isn't played for sex appeal, for the most part; her dominant role is a shell-shocked survivor of the raid at Severnaya. This leads to a rough relationship when she meets Bond, given that she has no one to trust at that point, even her best friend Boris, but of course she thaws out for him eventually. 4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker, from The Living Daylights) Bond's CIA contact in St. Petersburg and Cuba. Why they couldn't have just re-used Felix Leiter, I'll never know (Edit 25 Jan 2018: On further reflection, the events of Licence to Kill would have taken him out of the running), but hey, at least he's not J.W. Pepper. 1 out of 5

Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane, Harry Potter series), ex-KGB operative and current "legitimate businessman". The one thing I take issue with here is his alleged backstory, where as a KGB agent, he matched wits with 007 and got shot in the leg as a result. Having this mini-plot thrust upon us all of a sudden does little to establish his character apart from being yet another challenge for Bond to encounter, but his performance fills in some of the cracks. 3 out of 5.

M (Judi Dench, from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), the new head of MI6, and 007's superior. Although the relationship between M and Bond has always been of the love-hate variety, takes the emotions to the extreme on both ends of the scale, even taking his traditional image down a notch:
M: You don't like me, Bond. You don't like my methods. You think I'm an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts.
Bond: The thought had occurred to me.
M: Good. Because I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though lost on me, obviously appealed to that young girl I sent out to evaluate you.
Bond: Point taken.
M: Not quite, 007. If you think I don't have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong. I've no compunction about sending you to your death. But I won't do it on a whim. Even with your cavalier attitude towards life. [...] Bond... Come back alive.
Epic. Win. This passage here not only gives M a much-needed chance to air out her grievances, but deconstructs 007's politically-incorrect persona. Yet at the end, her wish for Bond to complete his mission and come back alive underscores the friendship they have when all is said and done. Ladies and gentlemen, the tsundere character type at its finest. Fun Fact: The casting of a female M was inspired by Stella Rimington, who became the director-general of the real MI5 in 1992. Second Fun Fact: According to the script, her real name is Barbara Maudsley. 5 out of 5.

Moneypenny has also been re-cast, played here by a stage actress named, ironically enough, Samantha Bond. Much like Judi Dench's M, this new Moneypenny represents a shift in the position of women in Her Majesty's Secret Service. She's no longer going to accept Bond making promises of dates and not following through with them. In fact, in her first appearance, she's just come back from a theatre date with another man. And feminism marches on... with her. 5 out of 5.

The Villains: Arkady Ouromov (Gottfried John), colonel and later general in the Russian Army. His loyalties are... in doubt. Either he's trying to become the next Stalin, and is visibly shocked at the reveal that Janus's parents were Cossacks (see below), or he's willing to secretly betray the Russian government in favour of a fat paycheck. ...Or both, you never know. Shot by Bond.  4 out of 5.

Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean, from Game of Thrones), former MI6 agent 006 and leader of the Janus crime syndicate. That the chief enemy this time around is none other than 007's former equal provides a new relationship dynamic never before seen in the series. For example, note that he is the first villain to refer to our hero as simply "James" instead of "Mr. Bond" or "007". Dropped off an antenna cradle by Bond, and subsequently crushed by said cradle. 5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen, from X-Men), a Georgian assassin who likes to kill victims by crushing with her thighs during sex. Given the more mundane approach taken for the other leading lady, I'm sure some of you might appreciate the relative glamour provided by Onatopp. Pinned to a tree and crushed by her harness, after the helicopter she was tied to was shot down by Bond4 out of 5.

Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming, from Spy Kids), a computer programmer bought out by Janus. He may be played for comic relief, but you don't joke around with a guy who hacks into the FBI's mainframes in his spare time. Frozen alive by a liquid nitrogen explosion.   3 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A BMW Z3 with radar and (allegedly) Stinger missiles. This marks the first time that James Bond is presented with a non-British car (not counting the Toyota convertible used by his Japanese allies in You Only Live Twice). If you take offence to that, then you have the almighty pound/Deutschmark to blame; this was nothing more than a simple product-placement deal. Besides, the car gets very little use in the film, due to BMW only providing a prototype model which the film crew couldn't afford to damage in a real chase. (But never mind that, we've got a tank chase!) However, the classic Aston Martin DB5 is still in use as his personal car. 007 also uses a grappling-hook belt, a grenade pen, and with no explanation from Q, a laser-cutter watch. 2 out of 5.

The Locations: Russia (filmed in Switzerland, Russia, and England), Monaco, the United Kingdom (England), and Cuba (filmed in Puerto Rico).

The Theme Song: Performed by Tina Turner. The lyrics, written from the point of view of a female stalker, have little to do with the movie's plot, but work as a gender-swapped version of "Thunderball". The song is perhaps more famous for cheesy, Casio-grade synth horns and the over-the-top high notes Tina belts out at the end. 3 out of 5.

As badly-produced as that song is, it still has it better than the rest of the score, which was composed by Eric Serra (The Professional) and relies too much on cheap synth blasts and low-timbre kettle-drums. 1 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: With the passing of Maurice Binder, the opening credits for this film were designed by Daniel Kleinman, who put more of a focus on computer-generated graphics. The credits revolve around the collapse of the Soviet Union, and feature images such as silhouette girls breaking apart Soviet statues. Fun Fact: This last part did not amuse numerous communist parties, including the one in India, who advocated a boycott of the film. 5 out of 5

The Novel: GoldenEye was the first Bond film not to use any story elements from the Ian Fleming novels. The name, however, is shared with Fleming's vacation home in Jamaica, and a British contingency plan during World War II (to protect Gibraltar in case Spain allied with Nazi Germany), which Fleming himself developed.

Another item relevant to the plot is the Lienz Cossacks, a faction from the Soviet Union during World War II. Thing is, they aided the Nazis during their attempted invasion of Russia. Once the Germans were driven back and the war ended, the Cossacks surrendered to the British in the hopes of forgiveness and to ally against the Communists. They didn't get that; on the contrary, the British returned them to Stalin, who executed the lot. As Bond himself says, "Not exactly [the British's] finest hour".

The Plot: Our story starts in 1986, with 007 and Alec Trevelyan, agent 006, sneaking into a Soviet chemical weapons facility. As they plant explosives on some gas tanks, a squad led by Colonel Ouromov intercepts them and executes 006. His partner dead, 007 speeds up the bombs' timers (I call plot significance!) and escapes. Cue opening credits. We return nine years later to Monaco, where Bond notices a women on the roads and in the casino. According to MI6 intel, her name is Xenia Onatopp and she is linked to the terror group Janus. He investigates her the next morning, only for her to comandeer the Tiger, a helicopter immune to electromagnetic radiation, during a public demonstration.

The Tiger ends up at a Siberian satellite control bunker, where Onatopp and now-General Ouromov "borrow" the keys to the Goldeneye, two satellites armed with nuclear bombs. When detonated in space, they release an electromagnetic pulse, disabling all electronic machines (more explosively than in the real world, apparently). The set one off over the bunker to wipe out any trace of the crime, but leave behind a survivor: Natalya Simonova, a programmer. Meanwhile, in London, Bond and the new M monitor the situation from the MI6 HQ; she assigns him to investigate the Goldeneye theft.

In St. Petersburg, 007 meets up with CIA contact Jack Wade and "legitimate businessman" Valentin Zukovsky, setting up a shady business deal for the latter in exchange for what he knows about Janus: namely, that his parents are Lienz Cossacks (see "The Novel"). That night he meets with Onatopp, who had previously re-captured Natalya, and she takes him to meet Janus, who reveals himself as... Alec Trevelyan. He shares his reasons for betrayal, including his Cossack heritage and Bond short-setting the timers in Arkhangelsk, then leaves Bond and Natalya to die in the Tiger. They break free, but are taken and interrogated by the Russian Defence Ministry over the theft of the Goldeneye. Then Ouromov barges in, frames Bond for murder, and steals Natalya, but he gives chase in a tank across the streets of St. Petersburg. They lead him to a train where Trevelyan is hiding. He kills Ouromov and rescues Natalya again, but not before she learns that Janus is now operating out of Cuba.

Bond and Natalya fly over the Cuban jungle in search of a satellite dish, only to get shot down and face off against Onatopp. As the dish in question reveals itself, they sneak into the base below. They are captured, and Trevelyan reveals his plot: after electronically stealing money from the Bank of England, he intends to set off the other Goldeneye satellite, erasing any record of the crime and all other digital data stored about London. But it turns out Natalya had, before getting caught, managed to lock the satellite to fall out of orbit and crash harmlessly over the Atlantic Ocean. With the help of his pen grenade, Bond makes a break for the antenna cradle above, with Trevelyan giving chase. During the fight, he jams the cradle's mechanism so it cannot correct the satellite's orbit. The fight ends when Bond drops Trevelyan off a platform, the cradle explodes from its malfunction, and Bond gets outta there with the help of Natalya, Wade and the Marines. You are now free to turn off your TV.

The decline of the Soviet Union turned out to be not a roadblock for 007's writers, but a boon. That said, I do take issue with the odd plot hole here and there. For example, how could 007 not tell that 006 was not executed at Arkhangelsk, even from what appeared to be a point-blank gunshot, and was this a spur-of-the-moment ploy on Ouromov's part, or did he and Trevelyan plan it ahead of time? (Likely the latter, depending on when he was aware of his Cossack heritage, and thus, his desire to betray Her Majesty's government.) And then, we still have to deal with the soundtrack, which as I may have implied is cheesy at best and awful at worst. But these do little to overshadow the fact that this story gives audiences of all sorts what they crave whilst re-constructing James Bond's role for the 21st century. 4 out of 5.

+ An honest attempt at adapting James Bond for 21st-century sensibilities.
+ The new M and Moneypenny.

- Pierce Brosnan's "generic" take on Bond.
- Where the heck is Felix Leiter?
- Eric Serra's soundtrack.

The Call: 90% (A-)
IchigoRyu will return in
Tomorrow Never Dies

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