GoldenEye in 1995 marked the return of James Bond to the big screen after a hiatus of several years, and it also marked the first appearance of Pierce Brosnan in the role of 007. Both Bond’s return and Brosnan’s debut proved to be surprisingly successful.
Brosnan had been considered for the role before. It’s probably just as well he didn’t get the part earlier. By 1995 Brosnan was in his early 40s - the right age to play Bond. Bond is after all a man with a past. This is also the first Bond film for director Martin Campbell and introduces a new and very different M.
By 1995 with the Cold War over Bond may have seemed a bit of a dinosaur (and that’s exactly the way M describes him) but the film makes that work in its favour. M might not entirely approve of him but for this mission he’s the man for the job and his Cold War background will be very useful. He’ll find himself back in Russia, in the new post-communist Russia, but he’ll be up against some old enemies. And the threats are as real as ever.
The traditional pre-credits intro is a flashback. In the Cold War days Bond and 006 had destroyed a Russian chemical warfare plant and Bond had found himself witnessing the execution of 006, but all was not as it appeared to be.
Seven years later and satellite pictures show the destruction of a secret Russian facility at Severnaya by an experimental space weapon. The Golden Eye satellite uses a nuclear explosion in space to project an electro-magnetic pulse that destroys anything electronic. British intelligence had believed that the new cash-strapped Russia had neither the money nor the expertise to develop such a weapon but it does indeed exist although it is not the Russian government that has used the weapon. Satellite images show a helicopter landing after the destruction of the facility, the same new experimental Franco-German attack helicopter that was stolen shortly earlier (a theft Bond had just failed to prevent).
The assumption is that a Russian organised crime syndicate is the culprit, a syndicate controlled by a man about whom nobody seems to know anything. Their plans for the use of Golden Eye are unclear but whatever they are 007 has to stop them.
It goes without saying that Bond will find himself dealing with several beautiful women, including the deadly Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) with whom Bond has already had an encounter in the casino at Monte Carlo. She will be the femme fatale of this movie while Bond will find an ally in the person of one of the two survivors of the attack on Severnaya, the equally beautiful Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco). His enemies will include several people from his past, one of them very unexpected.
Pierce Brosnan is an excellent Bond, in my opinion rather more successful in the role than Timothy Dalton. Brosnan has the right mix of charm and humour. The new M is a woman, played by Judi Dench, and the movie establishes the basis for an interesting if tense relationship between her and Bond. Sean Bean is reasonably good while the two Bond girls, the good one and the bad one, are both excellent. Famke Janssen is especially good - her orgasmic reactions to killing people are certainly memorable!
Despite the major changes represented by both the new Bond and by the very different style of Judi Dench as M the movie works hard to maintain the classic Bond movie flavour. The casino scene is pure Bond and is a very obvious nod to the traditions of the Bond film. And we not only see Bond driving an Aston Martin - it’s the real Bond Aston Martin, the early 60s DB5 as seen in Goldfinger!
There are the usual gadgets and there’s as much action and stunt work as any Bond aficionado could wish for. Derek Meddings’ model work is, as always, superb. Sadly this was to be his last film as he died soon afterwards.
GoldenEye manages to be both a 90s film and a classic James Bond movie and it’s terrific fun.