Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0012 Goldeneye (1995)

From hereon out, the films are all pretty good and the competition gets stiffer, and that makes this the perfect place to put Goldeneye. Goldeneye is the best of the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films. It’s a complete film with an engaging plot, a decent villain made better by the actor, some nice cinematography, and some good action. It does have some problems, but it’s worthy of being ranked No. 0012 of 0023.

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.
Nine years later, Bond is following Xenia Onatopp, a Russian woman suspected of being part of a crime syndicate. She murders a Canadian admiral and steals a prototype Eurocopter which can withstand an electromagnetic pulse. Xenia takes the chopper to Severnaya, where the Russians put the control center of a satellite weapon called GoldenEye, which just happens to fire an electromagnetic pulse. This facility is under the command of now-Gen. Ourumov, who is commander of Russia’s Space Division. In reality, however, Ourumov works for the crime syndicate. Thus, when Onatopp arrives, she, Ourumov and a traitor computer programmer named Boris Grishenko massacre the staff and fire the weapon at the facility. This causes everyone to think the ability to control the satellite has been lost. They then escape in the chopper, which isn’t damaged by the EMP blast.

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.
All told, the film is nicely shot. The travelogue feel is back. There are some good moments of humor. The fight scenes are excellent and the finale is up to the level one expects from a Bond movie. Joe Don Baker plays a surprisingly likable CIA character, Jack Wade. And the tank chase through St. Petersburg is really top notch.

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 Bond Girl: The Bond girl was Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova, a computer programmer and the only survivor of the attack on the GoldenEye facility. She knows the system hasn’t really been destroyed and she saw the villains behind the attack. As Bond girls go, she’s cute, but bland. She fits the Bond-as-depressed-monogamist theme that the producers were trumpeting at the time as their response to the AIDS epidemic. She also shows some feminism, which was something else the producers tried to inject into the film. Unfortunately, most of the scenes involving her amount to padding.

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.
Villain Quality: There are technically two villains here. The first is Gen. Ourumov, who is the commander of Russia’s Space Division. He is also secretly an agent of the crime syndicate Janus, who run a huge mutual fund. There isn’t much to him because aside from betraying the Russian government, he’s basically just a henchman for the syndicate, which is run by Alec. There are problems with his character, like how he ever got involved in this in the first place and what his motives are: he kind of implies a nationalist motive when confronted by the Minister of Defense (TchĂ©ky Karyo), but his real motive is probably more like money. But since he isn’t really the focus, you can overlook that and just go with it.
The real villain is Alec. Alec begins the film as 006 and a friend of James Bond. But then Bond learns that Alec lived through the mission on which he appeared to die. In fact, he faked his death. Why? Well, Alec’s motive at first appears to be revenge against the British. But upon closer inspection, Bond learns that Alec’s real goal is to steal money from the Bank of England before erasing all their financial records by blasting Britain with an EMP blast. This will cover up the theft and ruin Britain’s economy in the process.

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.
What really lifts Alec above the writing, however, was Sean Bean who is an excellent actor. He has a way of coming across as likable, interesting, and yet menacing all at once, and it feels like his rage at Bond is real in this film. That helps you buy into the character in ways that many Bond villain actors simply aren’t able to achieve. Indeed, too often, Bond villain actors feel like they are phoning in their roles, but Bean is the first to make you feel like he really got his hands dirty and really, really means it. It helped that he and Brosnan had excellent chemistry too as friends turned against each other.

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.


shawn said...

I recently rewatched this the other day and have to admit, I was less than impressed with my memories of it. It's a decent flick, but I remember liking it more.

The story and the acting are fine, but the movie is a little silly and I don't care for mopey Bond. The somewhat electronica score is horrible. Tina Turner's song is excellent however and Bean really makes a good villian. Considering many of the other movies, I think middle of the pack is a fair assessment.

Anonymous said...

Well I have found that quite a few Bong movies don't quite live up to my memories of them years later. But I always thought the best thing about this one was Sean Bean, in fact this was probably the first thing I remember him from. Before Ronin, Bravo Two Zero, LOTR, Equilibrium, Troy, National Treasure and Game Of Thrones made him a world wide star.


Anonymous said...

I will always enjoy this one. It was my first Bond film in the theater. I was 12 and "Bond mania was back!" after an extended absence (money, studio politics, etc.).

What's interesting is, as a 12-year old, there was plenty of stuff I probably didn't get. Sean Bean's background, Lienz Cossacks, etc. But it held my attention.

The song is pretty good (of the Brosnan films, only Madonna's "Die Another Die" is lackluster), the title sequence must've been a revelation at the time (using CGI for the first time), and this was the last Bond film supervised by Cubby Broccoli before he passed away. It was also the last Bond film with extensive miniature effects by Derek Meddings, who passed away before the film opened.

(Here's the real Severnaya!)

And I agree: Brosnan got better but his scripts got worse.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, That's kind of my feeling with the film too. I liked it a lot when I saw it in theaters the first time, but that was because it was so much better than the last 4-5 films that had come out. But in hindsight it's not as good as I remembered. And what kills it is really grumpy Bond.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I knew Bean first from the Sharpe series about the Napoleonic war. Those are very good, by the way, if you're at all interested in that period. He plays a soldier in the British Army and it follows his rise through the ranks. It had decent battle scenes, considering the budgets, excellent writing, some great characters, and was very enjoyable.

As for the Bond films, yeah, a lot of them played a lot better the first time through or as kids than they did in hindsight. This one is a decent movie, but just doesn't compete with the iconic films that are coming up. I would say that at this point, we are in the "good films, ok Bonds" level. And it's interesting to me how many bad films we've come through to get here.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's awesome. You would never guess that was a model!

I remember seeing this in theaters and I was really happy with it at the time. The prior 3-4 had been awful and I was a big "Remington Steele" fan, so I was really happy to see this. I had some issues, but not enough to spoil the experience. But in hindsight, the film isn't nearly as strong as it was the first time. It's still a good film, unlike the ones beneath it, but it doesn't have nearly have the draw to me that the ones above it do.

Backthrow said...

I agree, best overall of the Brosnan Bonds, and an enjoyable movie, but several (minor) things keep it out of the upper eschelon. One is the grumpy Bond, but it's not just that; Brosnan's James Bond, especially in this first entry, is Hybrid 007. Aspects of Connery and Dalton, and to a lesser extent, Moore, mixed in with what Brosnan brings to the table. He has more gravitas than Moore (and would gain some as the years and films went on), but much less than Connery (or, in hindsight, Craig).

She ends up on the bland side, yes, but I like Izabella Scorupco as Natalya, and her escape from doom before she even meets Bond is fairly compelling. One the other hand, her little "Boys with toys" speech to Bond is a bit grating. Yes, Runway Model, testify as to how all of us Stupid Warmongering Men have ruined the world, right after Bond has just saved your bacon. And that's after the screenwriters made sure the new M, Judi Dench (good performance), has just dressed down Bond for being, well, Bond. Which puts them in an adversarial relationship, not all that different from the various jerky superiors Dirty Harry had to report too. Bernard Lee was often stuffy and a bit grumpy, but there was some low-key comaraderie there that's been missing since his departure.

Other flaws that take the film down some notches:

The big airplane freefall stunt in the precredits sequence. Wouldn't that have been oh, say, 1000 times more effective if Bond had jumped from the motorcycle to the outside of the plane just before both plunged over the edge of the cliff? It still would've been larger-than-life, but Bond gripping the wing for dear life and clawing his way through the hatch to get to the controls in time would've been far more exciting/less goofy, and wouldn't have required the cliff being 20 miles high. I think I saw Wile E. Coyote drop past him, at one point, holding a sign reading: 'You too, eh bud?".

The Serra score. Not bad for an urban cop flick, but largely inappropriate for 007.

The Q-Branch scene. Amusing when you watch it, but it cheapens the movie a bit, as it belongs in some other completely different movie, specifically a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker comedy spoof. So, a staff that clueless about their own creations are trusted to develop the gadgets needed to keep agents alive and effective in the field? I do like Q's "Don't touch that! --that's my lunch!" line, however.

Overblown (no pun intended) pyrotechnics. So, when an EMP happens, all electronic equipment explode in a sea of sparks, rather than just, well... fail? I know it's a movie, but this is like old Irwin Allen shtick, where if you slightly nudge a computer bank (or feed it a question/equation it can't solve) it literally goes ka-blooey, 4th-of-July-style. Also, I never realized the suspended feed antenna on a giant radio telescope has highly combustible elements built into it, or maybe somebody left a bunch of oily rags up there or something.

The tank chase; largely exciting and good, but the filmmakers can't help but indulge now and then in some visual gags with it, inching a bit toward Moore territory (though not quite that bad).

Good stuff:

The intro to the Brosnan Bond (bunjee jump, Bond in shadow, appearing upside-down in the bathroom stall, with a good line before KO-ing the Russian).

The CGI credits and Tina Turner's theme tune.

Robbie Coltrane.

The film has the flair and travelogue aspects missing at least since the bigger Moore films of the late 1970s, and good villains.

All in all, I think Andrew has placed GOLDENEYE where it belongs on the list, though it's obvious now that he likes LIVE AND LET DIE a lot more than I do.

Tennessee Jed said...

A nice synopsis. And Sean Bean is one of my favorite actors. Even his best "good guy" character, Sharpe, has a certain earthy edge to him. And yes, naming a film after his residence in Jamaica (that's right it is neither named for the Pinot Noir nor the variety of duck) is an extra nice touch.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, Excellent comment. I'll respond in parts.

1. I think it's interesting how little personality Brosnan brings to the role. Of all of them, he seems to be the most empty suit. It's odd because Brosnan normally comes across well in other films and shows. I suspect the writing really undermined him with the whole grumpy, monogamous bit.

2. The "boys with toys" speech grates on me a lot and that's the first thing to flash into my mind when I think of her. Not only is it obnoxiously stupid, but it doesn't fit the character or the story at that point, nor is it well written. It is one of those rare moments of dialog that really hurts a film.

3. I like how Dench and Brosnan and then Craig come together, but I think the start is rough. It feels adversarial and what seems to be missing is what Lee brought, which was officially adversarial, but personally protective of Bond.

4. The airplane stunt is horrible. It's just not credible. Ain't no such cliff...

5. At this point, they seem to have decided that the Q-branch is there for comic relief and that's a bad decision.

6. I liked the EMP effect even if it isn't at all accurate. They should have called it an EMP-like weapon that focuses and explosion to produce the EMP.

7. I love the tank scene, except that you are right that they overdo it... cough cough statue.

8. I do like Live and Let Die, but even more than that, I think it's a more iconic film.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Bean is one of the best actors to play a villain in the series and he really gets a lot out of this role... unlike Jonathan Price who is a great actor but ended up hemmed in by his material.

I love the Sharpe series.

Tennessee Jed said...

Yeah, I have the entire series on DVD. Unfortunately, most of them were released in 1:33 aspect ratio, and like the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, the DVD's are not great transfers. The only exceptions were the last two, Sharpe's Peril and Sharpe's Challenge. Of course, our current Bond had a nice guest role. And, you may recall, the lyrics to the great "On Raglin Road" were taken from the poem "Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away" written about the mother of Darrough O'Malley "Sgt. Harper" from the series.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, The DVD I have of Sharpe's Rifles is unwatchable. It's blurry and lousy. I keep hoping they will clean it up and re-release it

I didn't know that about the song.

Rustbelt said...

This came out when I was a teenager and was the first Bond film I was aware of when it was in theaters. And when I watched it, it didn't feel like a Bond film at all. In fact, I wondered to myself, "are they ending the series?"

I think this came from Bean's comment, "you think the vodka martinis will silence the cries of all the men you killed?" Bond is NOT introspective! To channel Harry Plinkett, Bond is like Indiana Jones. We don't care about the character. We want to live the character's life. But that's not this movie.

To build on Backthrow's criticisms, this is what happens when the writers introduced poligtical correctness on the most beloved and romanticized politically incorrect character of all time. When M tells Bond that he's a dinosaur, she's not just referring about the recently-ended Cold War. She's talking about his overt masculinity, even chiding about putting the moves on the girl in the opening scene (which, IMO, was unnecessary, anyway). then there's Moneypenny telling off Bond. Whoa, whoa! She's supposed to be pining for him, not the other way around. Then you get what's-her-name's 'boys with toys' speech, Xenia (clearly the creation of sex-starved comic book men), and the male characters unable to solve problems...

Ah, the sensitive male of the 90's. Now, I have a new feeling about this movie: the end of the great action age that started in the late 60's and lasted until the early 90's.


AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I agree. This film was awash in 1990s feminism and anti-masculinity. And that sucked a lot of the life out of the Bond character. And yes, BOND IS NOT INTROSPECTIVE! Even more to the point, we've seen him enjoy killing over the years and we like that because we like that nothing stresses him out. Bond loves his job... he doesn't whine about monogamy and all those poor brutal killers and psychopaths he's killed.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, I've already made my dislike for Brosnan known, so I'll spare us another match about whether he was good or not.

Also, now that I think about it, the music, lighting, cinematography, etc. are what made me feel as though this wasn't a Bond film. I watched marathons of Bond films on TNT and TBS before this came out and it felt nothing like its predecessors. It felt like a typical action film. I think that's one reason it didn't seem to work for me then or now.

In fact, one of my biggest complaints were the computers. Before this, Bond villains had tech toys that looked exclusive to the Brotherhood of Bad Guys General Store. Now, they're controlling satellites with the same Gateway computers that my family had. It felt like they weren't putting effort into it.

On that note, the computer guy's death scene is still fantastic. ("I am invincible!")

Speaking of Sean Bean, there's a nice summary of his career in this clip. (It shows up at 2:30.)

And one more thing... "Joe Don Baker plays a surprisingly likable CIA character, Jack Wade." WHAAAw$#%$#%#$^$#%^????? Do you realize that under Commentarama Law (that I just made up), praising Joe Don Baker is punishable by multi-hour marathons of Pelosi and Obama speeches with your mouth taped shut so that you can't riff them? Now, a sub-law requires me to give you one chance to redeem yourself. Watch this, and please come to your senses!

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, That is a good point too, something about this film doesn't feel like a Bond film... it feels like a generic action film. And that has always bothered me as well.

Yep, that's Sean Bean. (Great trailer... "Staring Lindsay Lohan.")

Sir, I am familiar with the work of Mr. Joe Don Baker as the immortal Mitchell. LOL! That's actually one of my favorite episodes of MST3k. In this film, I think he's tolerable. Note that I used the word "surprisingly" because it's rare that JDB doesn't ruin a film... by spilling a beer over it.

Rustbelt said...

Just wanted to make sure your mind was on the right side of the chubby blue line, Andrew!

Dave Olson said...

Something I've noticed on repeat viewings, and one reason this movie isn't rated higher: There were flashes that Natalya was more than she appeared to be. Hiding in the cupboard while making Xenia think she was up in the air vents. Evading the post-Soviet authorities to make her way to St. Petersburg. Computer skills that seemed to be well above Boris' assessment of a "slug-head". Knowledge of Cuban radar limitations. Weapons training. A few other things that I can't think of right now. There was a lot more to know about her; I suspect that she was an agent of whatever the KGB called itself in 1995 and it's a shame that the producers either left it on the cutting room floor or never had it fully on the page in the first place.

On the other hand, I realize that art is subjective and we all have our opinions, but I can think of at least three Bond films that are not as good as GoldenEye and have yet to show up in the rankings. I'm thinking of three of the remaining actors whose names don't rhyme with "Gazenby". You say that the competition gets pretty stiff from here on out, but the ones I'm thinking of are pretty limp. You're gonna have some serious 'splaining to do when they show up.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I do. Sorry for the delay in responding, but I had to shower. It was great! And to think, all these years I've been afraid that. ;-P

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, It's very possible they left something on the floor. My own personal take is that they just decided (in accordance with 90's feminism) that at no point will a female character be shown to be less than or even just equal to the men around her. So she had to be better than everyone in every scene.

The next three movies are probably what you're talking about. I guess we'll see.

El Gordo said...

Sean Bean makes a good villain but I think it´s a damn shame he didn´t get more heroic roles. I seems modern movie heroes aren´t supposed to be too manly.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, It would be nice to see him as a good guy for once, but I doubt that will happen. And yeah, good guys today are metrosexuals.

Koshcat said...

I liked this Bond better than most although I don't disagree with anything you stated.

"No more foreplay"

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, At this point, they are getting harder to rate because they are all pretty decent.

Unknown said...

Scriptwriters are always trying to add some complexity to the Bond character, for instance as (post-feminist) justifications for his misogyny. However, I think Brosnan handles it well, and Sean Bean is as brilliant a villain here as he is in The Island :)

AndrewPrice said...

John, Bean adds a lot to any film. If you haven't seen it, check out Ronin at some point. His character is a little different and is really well done.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the suggestion: I read your review, and am now eager to see it. I think I missed it before because of the non-descriptive title.

AndrewPrice said...

John, It's definitely worth seeing. Most everyone I know who has seen it has really enjoyed it.

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