Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film, Goldeneye (1995) is excellent. Right now I’d put at one of the three or four best (we’ll see how I feel as the rewatching progresses). This partly due to a good story, partly a strong supporting cast and partly because Brosnan makes a much better Bond than Dalton, Moore or Lazenby.
The story: We open six years earlier, as Bond and 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrate a Soviet chemical weapons facility and blow it to kingdom come. Unfortunately Alec gets caught and executed by the commanding officer, Ourumov (Gottfried John), but James carries out his mission.
After a memorable title sequence (the usual sexy scantily clad women smashing icons of Lenin and hammer-and-sickle symbols) we move to the present-day. Bond makes the acquaintance of Xenia Onatop (Famke Janssen), a thrill-seeking woman who passes up the chance to bed him. Instead she seduces a Russian general, then crushes him to death within her legs (clearly getting off on this as much as if he’d penetrated). With his ID, she steals a NATO stealth helicopter; with the helicopter, she and Ourumov destroy the control center for Goldeneye a Russian satellite that fires an EMP destroying all electronics with miles of ground zero.
Bond’s convinced this is only the beginning. M’s skeptical but soon realizes he’s right. Xenia’s working for Alec, whose death was a show so that he could disappear and set up his master plan: Rob the Bank of England by computer hacking, then use the EMP to erase all the Bank’s record and plunge London back into the dark ages. His motive isn’t mere robbery: His parents were Cossacks who fought with the Nazis against the Soviet government. When the war ended, Britain saw them as Nazis rather than anti-Communists and repatriated them to Stalin’s tender mercies. As License to Thrill notes, while the British Secret Service was rife with Soviet spies in the 1950s and 1960s, traitors in Bond’s world are invariably foreigners underneath it all. And for the first time in a long time, the threat is specifically to England rather than NATO or Silicon Valley.
The Cold War Thing: The PR for the film suggested that writing a post-Cold War Bond was a challenge Goldeneye had faced and overcome. In reality, it’s very much in the mode of the later Moore films such as Octopussy, where the villain is Russian (both Ourumov and Alec the Cossack’s son) but the agenda is divorced from the Cold War. It uses the Russian bogeyman only slightly updated. And as in some of Moore’s films, Bond gets help from the other side: Zukovsky (the marvelous Robbie Coltrane), a former Soviet intelligence officer now into crime.
The women: Xenia is easily the best of the female Oddjobs, a sociopath who enjoys what she does and never goes soft (unlike Fatima in Never Say Never Again). Izabella Scorupco plays Natalya, the Soviet computer whiz who helps Bond out after almost getting killed by Ourumov (like Moonraker‘s Holly, she has skills Bond needs and doesn’t have). Both of them are well above the average for Bond girls although unlike many of the post-Connery films (starting with Spy Who Loved Me) neither of them is Bond’s opposite number. It’s Alec, the rogue Double-O, all the way.
Idle Thoughts: Along with acknowledging Bond’s sexism, the film also mocks his patriotism and his ethos, much as Scaramanga did so many films ago. Alec asks if his old friend ever asked why they “toppled all those dictators, undermined all those regimes?” and whether James’ endless string of women makes up for the ones that died, or that he simply left behind. Of course, this assessment comes from the bad guy, so I’d take it with a grain of salt, but it’s an interesting moment.