Plot Quality: As a film, this one is pretty decent. The film begins with Bond and Agent 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) breaking into a Soviet chemical weapons plant to blow it up. Alec is caught and a gun is held to his head by Colonel Arkady Ourumov in an attempt to get Bond to surrender. Of course, it doesn’t happen that way. Ourumov shoots Alec, Bond shoots his way out and blows up the plant, and Bond escapes in an impossible to believe airplane stunt.
Bond, of course, quickly realizes that this was a setup and they identify a survivor, Natalya Simonova. He is sent to St. Petersburg to investigate. There he fights with Onatopp and discovers that Alec faked his death because he had some Rube Goldberg plan to get revenge against Britain for the death of his parents during World War II. Bond escapes and ends up racing a Russian T-55 tank through the streets. Bond then learns that there is a second satellite facility in Cuba. He and Simonova go to Cuba where they fight Alec and Boris to the death and save the day.
Bond Quality: This is Brosnan’s first outing as Bond and he’s not horrible. He’s not great either. What keeps him from really being a great Bond is that the writers injected a morose element into the character; this is not a Bond who ever enjoys himself and that makes this film feel darker than it should. Another part of the problem is that Brosnan doesn’t project as a cold-blooded killer, particularly as his character is bereft of joy, and his cold-blooded lines don’t work. Brosnan would improve with each film as Bond, though sadly his scripts tended to get worse at the same rate. Still, he was an improvement of dour Timmy Dalton and the aging Dame Roger Moore.
The other Bond girl, who is more of a henchman, is Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp. She’s an over-the-top sex fiend and killer. Janssen is a quality actress and she adds some life to the film. She particularly manages to liven up Brosnan during a scene in a steam bath, so she definitely adds value to the film. She is a bit “too much,” especially for such an otherwise staid film, but she works.
If you don’t use your brain, then this is a decent motive and plan. Alec seems cold-blooded enough to really do the damage he’s threatening. His plan is well above the level of a common theft, so it is worthy of James Bond, and there is a strange revenge element, which gives the story a bit more heart. Add to this that Sean Bean does an excellent job in terms of displaying menace and hatred of Bond and Britain, and the whole character does manage to come alive as a real threat. That makes him a decent villain and the film enjoyable.
Unfortunately, there is some silliness here. By tying Alec, the crime syndicate, the GoldenEye device and Alec faking his death together, you end up with a plan that feels like Alec set it up before he would even have known the GoldenEye existed or that his Colonel buddy would have been promoted to become the head of Russia’s Space Division. It also makes you wonder how MI-6 didn’t realize that their own 006 was running this massive crime syndicate which apparently had tentacles deep into the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. They would have been better off leaving out the opening scene. Still, you can overlook this because it just muddies things, it doesn’t actually make the film nonsense.
In the end, this is a solid enjoyable movie that is definitely better than its screenplay because of solid acting by a few talented actors, a couple of great images like the EMP pulse blasting the Severnaya facility and the tank chase, and solid cinematography which brought places like St. Petersburg to life. All of this makes for a high rating. Unfortunately, these positives are also weighed down by Brosnan not feeling like Bond yet, particularly as the writers made him morose, and the overall scheme never feeling like much of a threat because it wasn’t fully developed how this would hurt people in the audience... some bank records vanish, big whoop -- they should have really talked about electric grids, food distribution, loss of data, etc., but they didn’t. Hence, while this one is good, it’s not good enough to beat the competition. Ergo, we rank this one No. 0012 of 0023.