Pierce Brosnan portrayed the famous British spy around the time I discovered the series, so it’s hard for me not to think of Brosnan as Bond at times. In fact, of the three major steps in my discovery of James Bond, he was involved with two of them. Well, indirectly in this case.
My very first introduction to the James Bond franchise didn’t arrive through any of the movies, but the Goldeneye shooter for the Nintendo 64. I remember playing Goldeneye multiplayer for the first time at my second cousins’ house in Nova Scotia all those years ago, and having a blast. Then my new youth leader often brought his N64 over, and I’d play Goldeneye pretty much every week with 3 other guys (usually my brother, a guy who shares my first name and a rotating fourth member of our unofficial gaming squad). Countless hours were spent playing Man With The Golden Gun mode in the Basement, fists only in the Facility, or one of the machine gun weapon sets in Bunker. And yes, we allowed the newcomers to play as Oddjob.
Yet despite that, I didn’t see the movie Goldeneye until years later – even several years after I started watching the movies. I saw parts of Goldeneye at a friend’s house months after I watched my first Bond movie, and never saw a second of it until around the time The Two Towers released on VHS in 2003 … after I had already seen Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond.
The gap between the release of Licence To Kill and Goldeneye was 6 years, making it the longest gap between Bond films at the time of writing, mostly due to legal disputes. They started pre-production before these legal disputes began, and Dalton was ready to film before everything went on hold. They even made a poster for the film, featured on the Carlton Hotel during the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. I’ve talked about those disputes already in my Licence To Kill review, so let’s instead talk about what changed in the real world between the movies.
Timothy Dalton, who initially signed on for 3 movies, resigned after his contract expired, turned off of the role by the disputes. The Soviet Union dissolved, ending the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was torn down. Computers started becoming a lot more prominent in the business world, and even home computers started to become a common thing. Considering the entire franchise based itself on the Cold War up to that point, this forced a serious re-imagination of the franchise moving forward. Some people in the industry doubted they could make Bond work in a post-Cold War era. In fact Goldeneye is arguably a bigger re-imagining than 2006’s Casino Royale.
When longtime Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli’s health started deteriorating in 1993, he took a backseat in the production job. His daughter, Barbara Broccoli, and her husband Michael G. Wilson took over lead production duties, while Albert took on more of a consulting role. Dalton was still attached to the role up to 1994, when the script was close to completion, only to abruptly resign. Brosnan, having been previously considered as the fourth Bond, was hired fairly quickly as the fifth Bond, even if Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant and Liam Neeson all passed on the role before they finalized the deal.
At that point, they recast pretty much every reoccurring character apart from Desmond Llewelyn as Q. The decision to cast Judi Dench as M was likely inspired by Stella Rimington becoming head of the MI5 in real life, becoming the first woman to do so. Dench is an inspired choice for the role, adding not only depth to the role, but putting in a layered performance where she could snap from a cold, calm anger to a softer, more understanding tone at a moment’s notice, and convincingly so. Her performance was good enough that they even kept her around for the first three movies of the Daniel Craig reboot.
Goldeneye’s story wasn’t based on any of Ian Fleming’s work, although the movie is named after his Jamaican estate, where he wrote most of the Bond novels. That itself was named after Operation Goldeneye, a contingency plan Fleming developed during World War II in case the Nazis invaded through Spain.
The producers soon hired New Zealander Martin Campbell as director, who would also direct Casino Royale 11 years later. I guess that makes him the re-invention specialist of the franchise. Filming locations included the Contra Dam in Switzerland, Monte Carlo, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, external shots of the actual MI6 headquarters in London, and for the first time in Bond history, there were scenes shot in Russia. These scenes were shot mainly in St. Petersburg to be more precise, with additional locations filmed in sound stages. The French Navy also provided use of the frigate FS La Feyette and their newest helicopter, the Eurocopter Tiger, for the production team to use. Interestingly enough, a dispute between the French Ministry of Defence and Brosnan’s opposition to French nuclear weapons testing ended up getting the French premier cancelled.
The theme song, written by Bono and the Edge, is performed by Tina Turner. Coupled with the background visuals that tell the story of the fall of the Soviet Union, it’s the perfect way to bridge the mid-80’s opening with the rest of the movie. That said, the music in Goldeneye has been heavily criticized. Metro newspaper even described it as “more appropriate for an elevator than a ride on a roller coaster.” Personally I think the music works fine in the background, but I would agree that it’s probably the weakest aspect of this movie. Barbara originally offered prolific Bond composer John Barry, but he turned it down.
Despite everything going against this movie, from a forced re-invention of the series to all the doubts surrounding it, Goldeneye received mostly positive reviews. It’s since been regarded as one of the best in the franchise. Roger Ebert said Brosnan’s Bond is “somehow more sensitive, more venerable, more psychologically complete” than his predecessors. Judi Dench’s portrayal of M garnered a lot of praise, especially noting her appraisal of Bond as a “sexist, misogynistic dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War”. However, Time Magazine gave it a negative review, saying that Bond’s conventions survived on wobbly knees. Goldeneye also earned $355 million on a $60 million budget, making it by far the most profitable entry in the series up to that point.
Personally, I really like this movie. The story is heavily based on the aftermath of the Cold War, heavily referencing it in the story. There’s a lot of tension between Britain and Russia despite how they’re trying to repair their relations. There’s a former KGB agent who used to be Bond’s rival, who end up helping Bond meet up with the villain after a very tense meeting. And the villain, former 006 agent Alec Trevelyan, is masterfully played by Sean Bean. He’s got a subtle aggression to him even in the early scenes, as if he’s always tactically thinking his way through any possible situation that may arise. The opening scene features the two of them working together to blow a Russian weapons base. It perfectly sells their friendship, which makes their later confrontation feel all the more personal.
Their turn as enemies is very intense, with both of them feeling deeply betrayed. It culminates in what might actually be the best fight in the entire series. Both of them use deceptive tactics, convincing fighting skills and a level of aggression that’s beyond anything from the Sean Connery days. The fight scene is brutal too. It’s worth noting that Brosnan and Bean performed all of the stunts in that fight scene, save for one shot when one of them is smashed hard against a wall. Here’s a brief look at this fight scene.
Famke Janssen (who later portrays Jean Grey in the early X-Men movies) is very entertaining as Xenia Onatopp, a Gorgian sadist who seems to be sexually turned on by killing people. Alan Cumming is fantastic as Boris, a Russian computer programmer who works for Trevelyan, and is a bit of an arrogant oddball. And of course you’ve got Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova, the lead Bond girl who puts in a well ranged performance. She’s a Russian programmer who survives the initial attack by Trevelyan’s forces and ends up helping Bond disarm the weapon 006 stole.
I won’t talk much about the story, but it works fairly well too, with a number of disgruntled people from both sides of the Cold War conflict working together, each for their own reasons. This movie successfully brings Bond into the post-Cold War era, revitalizing the franchise at least for the next few movies, before his fourth movie forced another major re-imagining. But we’ll get to that.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 47
Other’s kills – 25
Total kill count – 72
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 90
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
Pierce Brosnan’s running kill count – 47
Yup, from a James Bond perspective, this is easily the deadliest Bond movie yet. You could argue that at times, the action is a bit over the top compared to other Bond movies, but it was a common action movie style at the time. There are lots of bullets being fired, debris and sparks all over the place, and enough explosions without going overboard. It makes for a fairly kinetic movie when the shooting begins. The middle chapter can get a bit slow on that front, but the movie makes up for it with several tense scenes, my personal favourite Q line (at the end of the video below), and world building.
As a whole, I really like this movie. It might not be for everyone, and opinions on Brosnan’s portrayal of Bond tend to very, but he really didn’t take long to adjust to the role and make it his own. Personally I feel that Brosnan’s bond isn’t the best Bond in any one category, but he’s got the best overall balance of all Bond’s character traits. He’s charming when he needs to be, he’s charismatic, he’s fully capable of delivering a very cold performance, and he’s got good comedic timing. It’s not his fault that each of his successive movies is less good than the last.
Next up is Tomorrow Never Dies, the first full Bond movie I ever watched. Then it’s The World Is Not Enough, followed by a movie I don’t quite feel like naming yet. I’d like to end this blog post with a video of the tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. Fun fact – Russia got angry about the destroyed statue in this scene, until the filming crew revealed that they actually built the statue themselves.