After the lukewarm critical and box office reception of Timothy Dalton’s predecessors The Living Daylights, and License To Kill, EON Productions and United Artists, along with the main partnership from MGM, James Bond would be decidedly given a slight “tonal reboot” with a new actor in the role for Bond; Six years later, this film would come in the form of the 1995 spy-classic, GoldenEye.
It has been twenty-five years since the November release of the seventeenth instalment in the James Bond 007 franchise, and since the newest film in the series, No Time To Die, has been delayed until at least this upcoming November due to the Coronavirus pandemic, UpYourGeek will be taking a look as to how and why GoldenEye continues to stand as the peak of the franchise, and ultimately, made the character timeless.
Following the gritty settings and tone of The Living Daylights and especially License To Kill, it was argued that the character of James Bond from Ian Fleming’s original spy novels did not resonate with the general audience for film as greatly as they had previously, in particular the campiness and lighter balance seen in the Roger Moore films. This idea was still brought forth to the current Bond at the time, Dalton, however if he were to continue with the mantle he would have to extend his contract for four more films. Due to the extensive exhaustion that can come with playing the character, and the six-year hiatus, Dalton would reject his continuation of the role, and Remington Steele’s Pierce Brosnan would be chosen as Dalton’s replacement for James Bond.
GoldenEye was released in the United States on November 17th, 1995 and in the United Kingdom on November 24th, 1995, and opened to both critical and financial success, grossing $356.4 million worldwide at the box office on a $58 million budget. Critics and audiences praising both a “return-to-form” for the 007 film franchise, as well as the introductory performance of Pierce Brosnan, which can be argued brilliantly captured the dark, and yet hysterical cynicism that the character of James Bond demands, and had probably not been seen since the early Sean Connery films such as From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.
With preproduction set to begin in the summer of 1989 on the third iteration of Timothy Dalton’s Bond, the rights began to fluctuate in legal disputes that saw MGM, the parent company to EON, deliberate with the Brocolli family company, Danjaq. This put the seventeenth instalment of the franchise into development hell, and only once new ownership of MGM by Pathè Entertainment fell into bankruptcy, and financial backer, Credit Loyonnaise repurpose of MGM in December of 1992 was production able to finally continue. The following May it was announced that the seventeenth film would enter back into production, however Dalton’s contract expired in the same year, and Pierce Brosnan was sought as the new 007, with other major stars at the time such as Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant, and Liam Neeson. Brosnan had originally been considered for the part following Roger Moore’s departure from the role, along with Sam Neil, however he had been contractually tied with Remington Steele at the time, and Dalton would then be chosen for The Living Daylights.
Following his incredible success directing the 1985 British miniseries Edge Of Darkness, Martin Campbell would be selected as the newest director to lead the next generation of 007 films starting with GoldenEye, which was written by Michael France, and the screenplay done by both Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein. What makes Campbell an interesting individual is his relationship with the series itself. Martin Campbell has made it clear in interviews that his interests in the character only remain when there is challenge to arise. In the case of GoldenEye, those interests came in the form of having a new actor in the role of James Bond, a narrative that was post-Soviet Union, and the idea of working with Judi Dench, and these feelings would be replicated a decade later when Campbell would be once again tapped to reboot the franchise with a new 007 (Daniel Craig), world politics and ideology, and, once again Judi Dench, in 2006’s Casino Royale. Since that time, Campbell has expressed in returning… Only if there is another new lead in the role. With Martin Campbell’s exciting use of wide shots and tight angles, Phil Meheux’s coloured and fulfilled frames, and Peter Lamont’s intimidating, and even at times frightening production design, GoldenEye makes you feel the scale and importance of the action adventure.
GoldenEye, above all other James Bond films, was already being criticized prior to its release, as many audience members felt that the concept of the British spy had become “outdated” following the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent end of the Soviet Union during the six-year hiatus between films. As opposed to a complete change in direction, production saw GoldenEye utilize the fall of the Soviet Union as a plot device in the opening sequence of the film that sets both development and restrictions for the characters. This is the moment for myself, and many fans of the series, that Bond became timeless. It has been documented that prior to GoldenEye’s inception, the concept for the film was possibly going to be a 1960’s period piece that saw the British spy fall back into his “wheelhouse” that audiences were already familiar with in order to keep continuity with USSR spy adventures. This, along with the remaining concepts from Dalton’s potential third film which were possibly later repurposed for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, were set aside for giving the franchise a modern aesthetic whilst holding on to the general quips and ideologies that makes Bond, Bond. There are moments in GoldenEye that do however challenge old ideals that the character has become identified with; having the character of M recast as a female with Judi Dench in the role is not only refreshing from a political view, but rather new in the sense of perspective. The one scene that many point to is the meeting between Bond and M before he is assigned to St. Petersburg, in which M accuses 007 of being a “sexist, misogynist, dinosaur” and that he is nothing more than “a relic of the cold war”. For many fans this is not only the best line from the character of M, but also quite possibly one of the best in the entire franchise, almost to a point of making fun of those that critiqued the film prior to release. It is a cold, yet honest approach to not only how the characters respond to who Bond is, but the audience as well, the fact that the line from M not only challenges Bond but how we view him. This scene enforces M’s supervision over Bond by shooting the scene from eye-level (the beginning of the scene as Dench shot at low angles), instructing Brosnan to appear uncomfortable by taking sips from his drink and avoid M’s frightful stare. Before Goldeneye, James Bond felt like an enigma, a character that could not be restricted either physically or sexually and it became difficult for the character to remain timely. With there no longer being a Soviet Union, a greater sense of respect given to sexuality, and the idea that Bond himself may be an outcast in his own time, Goldeneye relishes in being different whilst not losing spirit, and this one line from M sums it up perfectly. At first veteran viewers of the franchise may be taken a back to the changes that were ongoing in the series; where M’s quarters would be shot from wide angles as to relax and assure the audience of tension, Martin Campbell dilebrately chooses to shoot at teniously medium or full angles to illustrate the dominance Dench’s M has over MI6.
The opening of the film takes place in Arkhangelsk, set around the time of 1986. 007 is deployed to a secret Soviet Union facility located at the base of a massive dam in Arkhangelsk. After a stunt that sees Bond bungee from the dam (later regarded as one of the greatest movie stunts of all time), the agent enters the facility in hopes of finding chemical tanks that could destroy the base. As he recons with another MI-6 agent in 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), the two are ambushed by soldiers led by General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov. Trevelyan is killed, and Bond escapes from the facility in a spectacular, yet dated by even 1995, stunt that sees 007 escape in a plane before the facility explodes. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with the excitement during the initial fall as Bond jump the end of a runway with a motorcycle. Despite the effects near the end of the scene, the opening to Goldeneye brilliantly adds tension and curiosity to the story as this is the first time in the franchise we get to see Bond work with another 00-Agent, only to see him killed off shortly after being introduced. This is one of the shorter James Bond openings, however with how excellently it is paced, along with two stunts that force you to hold your breath, it becomes one of the more iconic introductions for the series.
Not only is the opening scene important for characterizations, especially for a new 007, but establishing a setting that the rest of the film can follow. That being a less serious take from that of License To Kill, while avoiding the abundance of “cheese” as seen in Moonraker. Despite the remainder of the film taking place nine years later and the Soviet Union no longer, the settings follow a similar sense of pace and tension. The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 and 1995 Ferrari F355 GTS race between James Bond and Xenia Onatopp in Monaco, Goldeneye attack on Severnaya, Tank chase through St. Petersburg, and final battle atop the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico (referred to as the GoldenEye satellite in Cuba) are excellent examples in modernizing the franchise whilst still complementing the lighter-side of 007.
If the controversy around the application of Soviet Union narratives and a “Nine-Years Later” highlight following the intro were not enough, than the image of naked women breaking down the iconic hammer and sickle should be enough during the opening title sequence which features a song with the titular name of the film. The GoldenEye theme was written by Bono and The Edge, and performed by franchise veteran Tina Turner (with Goldfinger being her big James Bond single back in 1964).
Above all other James Bond films, Goldeneye arguably boasts the most complete cast. From the excellent recasting of M, Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), and Bill Tanner (Michael Kitchen), to the introduction of villains Alec Trevelyan (006), Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), General Ourumov, and Boris Grishenko, and allies in Valentin Zukovsky, Jack Wade, and Bond Girl Natalya Siminova (Izabella Scorupco). Each character gets a surprising amount of screen-time, with each act of the film dedicated to only a certain amount of characters it allows the film to feel bigger and far vaster because, unlike many instalments before it, we are able to get comfortable and close. The first two acts of the film primarily focus on Bond’s search for the lone survivor of Severnaya with Bond, Natalia, Xenia, and Valentin playing the major roles, and when the third act is introduced we see more of Alec and Boris thus creating a movie that really feels like it has worldwide implications, and the audience is seamlessly integrated into a roller-coaster story whilst avoiding convolution or loss of focus. The only returning actor in this soft reboot for 007 is Desmond Llewelyns Q, whom of which is always a welcome inclusion in each instalment he is in, unfortunately despite a cleverly written Q-Branch scene, we do not get to see Bond use very many of the gadgets he creates or highlights for the film, especially with the 1995 BMW Z3. GoldenEye luckily preserves the Q legacy by having the Parker Jotter pen play a major role later in the film as the explosive that sends the GoldenEye satellite into chaos.
Sean Beans Alec Trevelyan brings a new energy as a former MI6 Agent turned militant, and his backstory once he meets Bond (under the guise of Janus) is rather telling of his personal hatred. While the dialogue is kept pleasantly short, Trevelyan explains that his family had been a part of Lienz Cossacks (a group that many of its members and leaders had embraced Nazi propaganda) were handed over to Stalin’s Soviet execution squads as opposed to the promise of being kept under British protection following World War II, this is historically known as “The Betrayal of The Cossacks”. At first the scene involving Trevelyan’s reveal may come across as pure exposition, and while that may be the case, you also have to account the fact that this is possible one of the most personal encounters, especially since Trevelyan’s hatred is directed at Bond and not entirely at M or MI6 as we’ve seen from many of Bond’s previous adversaries. He makes it his personal vendetta to hurt the world while looking directly into 007’s eyes, hence the itch to reveal himself, hence Bond’s final words to Trevelyan being a twist on the words spoken at the beginning of the film, “For England, James?”, “No. For Me”. While by no means is this Bean’s strongest performance, he still delivers a modem of intensity and intimidation without compromising the charm or swagger you would expect from a former agent of British Intelligence. To make his role as 006 everlasting, having the GoldenEye satellite explode and fall on him is reminiscent of the memorable deaths of the franchise. I could go on about how greatly I enjoy watching the other villains, Ourumov and Boris, but without a doubt it is Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp that steals the show from quite literally everybody. There are women in the Bond mythos that are strong leads such as Pussy Galore from Goldfinger or Thunderball’s Domino Derval, but none of them are tough enough to the point of making even the most intimidating men cry as much as Onatopp. With a deadly vice grip from her legs, a sexual taste for violence, and an incredibly keen sense of strategy that even makes Bond himself question the priorities of his desires, there is a reason Xenia Onatopp remains to be on the single most iconic villains in not only James Bond history, but film history period, to the point where she is the character most reused in franchise video games other than Oddjob, Jaws, and Bond himself. She is delightfully insane, and you can tell that with every frame that Janssen has fun in the film above any other cast member.
While GoldenEye is not a perfect film it is easy to overlook many of it’s faults, modern audiences roll their eyes at the exposition dialogue regarding technology such as ElectroMagnetic Pulses (EMP’s), and while that could be criticized, GoldenEye is actually one of the very first high budget films to introduce the concept of EMP to the general audience (The first Bond film to use this is 1985’s A View To A Kill, albeit in a different context). These overlooks do not not always equate however, and criticisms for tight angles during the interrogation from the Tiger Helicopter and Library escapes are valid as they can have rushed sequences or editing that can feel “choppy” and out of place. As if the scenes prior to the tank chase were trying to happen as quickly as possible, and tis could be understood as the entire sequence is incredibly long even for a James Bond film. The most heavily criticized aspect of Goldeneye is the change from John Barry’s classical orchestral themes, of which he composed eleven previous James Bond films, for Eric Serra’s synthesized style that gave the film a completely different feel. Despite sticking out poorly in most areas, tracks such as The GoldenEye Overture and Run, Shoot, and Jump help GoldenEye stay away from being a complete bore as far as soundtrack is considered, and John Altman’s orchestral version of the classic James Bond score during the tank chase in St. Petersburg is a relief to be heard. David Arnold would take forth as the franchise composer up to Quantum Of Solace after Serra’s attempts in GoldenEye and completely retracts in using cues from Barry’s legacy. Personally I find enjoyment in Serra’s soundtrack, however when compared to jumping from License To Kill, GoldenEye, and then Tomorrow Never Dies, you can see the wider contrast in tones and it does become distracting.
It always comes down to preference, Goldfinger, GoldenEye, and Casino Royale remain to myself, and many fans, as members of the Mount Rushmore of Bond films, with Dr. No, For Your Eyes Only, License To Kill, and Skyfall as examples that may fill out the remaining spots. Each of these films display exemplary skill in action filmmaking, literary translations from source material, and many of the most jaw-dropping backgrounds, sets, and pieces that any single viewer could ever see, and outside of a few issues that could be nitpicked depending on how harshly you want to look, GoldenEye remains all those films as the balancing act that the franchise has and continue to use as the precedence of what makes Bond, James Bond.
GoldenEye was dedicated the memory of Special Effects Supervisor, Derek Meddings. Meddings had done miniature and Special Effects work on many of the James Bond films, Superman films, Batman (1989), Cape Fear (1991), etc.