The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production on each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
This week’s The 007 Collective centers on one of the most important films in the Bond franchise. After a six year hiatus, James Bond roared back from the brink of extinction with a franchise-rejuvenating entry that sealed the series fate as one of the most endurable in film history. The film: GOLDENEYE.
Mission Title: GoldenEye
James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Release Date: November 17, 1995
Source Material: Original story, with a title named after Ian Fleming’s Jamaican estate where he wrote the Bond novels.
Tagline: No limits. No fears. No substitutes.
Nine years after a mission in Russia claimed the life of his friend and fellow “00” agent Alec Trevelyan, James Bond is assigned to investigate the theft of a Tiger Helicopter and its connection to a EMP terrorist attack on a Russian Space Weapons Control Center using a secret weapon known as GoldenEye. Connecting the theft to the Janus Crime Syndicate, Bond decides to uncover the identity of its enigmatic leader. Travelling to Russia, he crosses paths with corrupt General Ourumov and Georgian assassin Xenia Onatopp, both high-ranking members of Janus. What he doesn’t realize is that the mastermind pulling the strings of the entire terrorist operation is someone who knows and anticipates his every move.
Google the phrase “Best James Bond Movies” and you’re bound to find Goldfinger and Skyfall at the very top of the list. And for good reason! The former set the template for every Bond film to come while the latter, on top of being the most stylish film of the series, was also the first to gross over $1 billion worldwide. But this week, The 007 Collective focuses on what’s perhaps the most crucial film in the 53-year-old franchise: GoldenEye. To understand the importance of GoldenEye, I’m going to go all the way back to 1989 and Licence to Kill – Timothy Dalton’s second and unfortunately, last appearance as Bond. Opening in a crowded summer marketplace in the U.S., the film received a mixed reception, with many deriding its violence and dark subject matter. Worse, it severely under-performed at the U.S. box office, stalling at a dreary $34 million ($70 million adjusted for inflation). Realizing he needed fresh creative blood to ensure the future of the franchise, Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli dumped director John Glen and writer Richard Maibuam (two of the major creative forces on the franchise for the last decade). Dalton though, was safe.
But Licence to Kill’s box office woes were merely a small part of the trouble brewing between Danjaq (the holding company for EON Productions) and MGM (their parent studio) for many years now. The gist of it was this: MGM was in bad financial shape and wasn’t happy that they were putting up money for a series they had no creative control in –Broccoli had a 100% controlling stake in the series. Unhappy with the way the last couple of Bond films turned out, MGM intentionally under-marketed Licence to Kill, thus aiding its failure at the box office. Everything went public and turned nasty when MGM and Danjaq were both involved in a complicated legal dispute with Italian billionaire Giancarlo Parretti who was trying to buy MGM and its subsidiaries in 1990. In an effort to finance his purchase of MGM, Parretti decided to prematurely sell the international rights of the Bond series to networks all around the world for a fraction of their worth – even before he even owned MGM! Knowing the deals would destroy the value of the series as well as screw them out of millions, Danjaq sued Parretti and his company Pathe. Thus began a complicated legal dispute that put the series on hold for a further five years.
By the time the mess was all cleared up in late 1993, the world had changed. The Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union had fallen and the Berlin Wall had come down too. The 90’s were on and the Cold War backdrop of the Bond movies was a thing of the past. Moreover, what place did a smooth and suave old school British secret agent have in an action movie landscape dominated by tough and wise-cracking anti-heroes played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson? Aware of these issues, EON Productions, now headed by Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and step-son Michael G. Wilson, decided to take these challenges head-on.
Hiring New Zealander Martin Campbell to direct the film from a script by Michael France, Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, the producers tasked the filmmakers to refashion the character for a modern, post-Cold War era without losing many of the core values that made him an icon to fans worldwide. It was something that Campbell proved that he was more than up to the task for. His firm and controlled direction resulted in a film that had the finesse of a modern day action thriller and the style of a 90s action spectacular. The action sequences were significantly ramped up, the sturdy plot directly addressed the Cold War era and Bond’s place in the new era was addressed openly. More importantly, Campbell re-invented the character as a slick yet emotionally complex 21st century gentleman who could easily match the tough streak of Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. He also recast the character of M as a woman (magnificently played by Judi Dench) in one of the series’ most progressive strokes. This was a huge deal considering Bond’s long and storied misogynistic history. Her mission briefing scene with Bond may be the film’s best moment of screenwriting. Despite these changes, the movie still felt like a Bond movie with all the major tropes and motifs making appearances. Even the plot follows the formulaic structure of most previous Bond flicks. Nevertheless, it’s this familiarity that made the film so accessible to new and old fans alike.
But the biggest coup of the film was the new Bond himself. After starring in only two Bond movies, Timothy Dalton abruptly decided to resign from the role on the eve of production in April 1994, choosing to move on rather than play the part again after such a long gap. Dalton’s loss was Irish-born actor Pierce Brosnan’s gain. Originally slated to take up the role after Roger Moore in 1985, Brosnan had found himself stiffed by NBC when they decided to pick up his TV show Remington Steele. Bond was a role Brosnan had wanted for a long time, and now that it was finally his, he was out to prove everyone why he deserved it. The actor attacks the role with gusto, bringing back the suave and smoothness that had been lost in the Dalton years without losing the rough edges of the character – something that Dalton excelled at but a trait that had been sorely missing in the Roger Moore years. His penchant for comedy and comfort at delivering quips also meant he was a natural at making the light moments work as well as the gritty ones.
GoldenEye also has the good fortune of having really strong villains. Sean Bean’s complex Alec Trevelyan may have had the same old plan of destroying the world for financial gain but his scheme was rooted in tragedy and pain. There was also Famke Janssen’s outrageous scene-stealing performance as the deranged assassin Xenia Onatopp – one of the series most memorable henchmen as well as the best female villain of the franchise since Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe.
As strong as GoldenEye remains after all these years (I remember it being the first Bond movie I was actively excited about watching), a view under the critical eye reveals a fair share of flaws. For one, the romantic sequences feel painfully rushed and shoehorned in. A three minute romantic interlude in Cuba is a total cheese-fest that kills the film’s momentum. Worse, a key emotional beat meant to humanize Bond is dumped within the confines of this sequence thus ruining what could potentially have been a powerful moment. On the technical side, the electronic-synth score by Eric Serra is a catastrophe. More adept for a porno than a Bond movie, Serra’s embarrassing score was at complete odds with the tone and style of the franchise. It also made the film feel dated, especially when viewed today. Even the James Bond theme song was barely utilized. Serra’s aural massacre begins with his electronic version of the gun barrel sequence and ends with his inane closing credits tune. Thankfully he wasn’t invited to score any of the subsequent entries of the series.
GoldenEye turned out to be a massive hit when it opened in the fall of 1995. Critics acclaimed it as a successful modernization of the franchise and the best Bond movie in decades. Considering the lengthy legal battle, the state of the franchise before its release and the creative challenges Campbell, Brosnan and company faced, this was a major shot in the arm for a series that desperately needed a lifeline. Brosnan proved immensely popular too, becoming the Bond of choice for many who grew up in the 90s. The fact that this was the only legitimately good film of his tenure says a lot about its importance and place in the Bond canon. There’s a killer edge in his performance here that slowly eroded away in his subsequent efforts which got bogged down in a hailstorm of ridiculous puns and campy nonsense. It’s a real tragedy that he was stuck in an era where the series, and its filmmakers, didn’t know how to balance the fun with the grit. If they had a firmer grasp on the creative direction of the series—like they did with this film—perhaps Brosnan would have ended up being hailed as one of the best Bonds. But for a brief moment in 1995, he gave us all hope that he was the one.
GoldenEye’s cold open is the best cold open of the entire franchise. It’s a show-stopping sequence, filled with heart-pounding moments, humor and thrills. It introduces us to Pierce Brosnan, firmly establishing him as the new Bond while also kicking off the movie in dramatic fashion. It has the benefit of featuring not one but two of the most memorable stunts in the entire series. The first one, in which Bond bungee jumps off the top of a dam in order to infiltrate a Soviet chemicals factory, set a then-world record for the highest bungee jump from a fixed structure and was voted in 2002 as the greatest movie stunt of all time. The second and more preposterous one comes at the conclusion of the sequence. With Bond’s compatriot – Sean Bean’s 006 – having been captured and murdered by Soviet General Ourumov, Bond shoots his way out of the facility, jumps on a motorbike and dashes to catch a pilotless airplane that’s speeding towards the edge of a cliff. As the plane falls off the cliff, Bond skydives off the runway on his motorbike, catches up with the plane in mid descent, and then commandeers it to safety, just as the bombs he planted at the chemicals factory explode. Yes, it’s a ludicrous scene but Campbell and film editor Terry Rawlings do such a great job of selling the sequence that you just can’t help but be sucked in by it. This is how you open a Bond movie.
Title Designer: Daniel Kleinmann
Title Song: “Goldeneye” performed by Tina Turner
Famous Quote: “It’s a gold and honey trap I’ve got for you tonight. Revenge it’s a kiss, this time I won’t miss now I’ve got you in my sight… with a Goldeneye.”
Tina Turner’s brassy and classic theme song harkened back to the John Barry-penned theme tunes of the Connery era – in particular Shirley Bassey’s rendition of “Goldfinger” and Tom Jones’ “Thunderball.” The song was written by U2’s Bono and the Edge after they had learnt that Turner had been invited to perform the theme tune. Nothing much else to add here.
Since Maurice Binder passed away in 1991, the filmmakers turned to music director Daniel Kleinmann to design the title sequence after being impressed by his Bond-inspired music video for Gladys Knight’s “Licence to Kill.” Kleinmann, who has worked on the title sequence for every Bond movie (save for Quantum of Solace) since, kicks off his tenure in style, incorporating many of the film’s themes and plot elements into the sequence. Among the thematic elements included in Kleinmann’s golden-hued sequence are nuclear explosions representing the power of the GoldenEye satellite, literal golden eyes, images of Soviet emblems such as sickles, hammers and statues of Lenin and Stalin being destroyed – representative of the film’s post-Cold War setting, as well as the usual footage of naked women with guns. There’s also reference made to Janus – the two faced God and alter-ego of the film’s main villain. It also still holds up pretty well.
The Big Bad:
Former MI6 agent 006 Alec Trevelyan who fakes his death during GoldenEye’s opening sequence and then reinvents himself nine years later as the head of the international crime syndicate Janus – a name he gives himself after the chemical factory explosion causes significant facial scarring on his face. Trevelyan’s turn began after he found out about his Leniz Cossack heritage and how the British betrayed his people to the Soviets during World War II. Trevelyan is one of Bond’s best foes – a ruthless and cold-blooded killer who is his intellectual and physical match. This comes to play in the finale as Bond takes on Trevelyan in a fight to the death on top of a satellite. As someone who knows the inner workings of MI6, he makes for a worthy adversary – something that would be revisited in Skyfall. Sean Bean’s understated performance goes a long way in establishing these formidable characteristics.
More impressive than Bean is Janssen’s performance as the extremely sexy and dangerous sadomasochistic Georgian assassin Xenia Onatopp whose character traits include squeezing men to death between her thighs, being sexually turned when murdering people – most prominently during the sequence at the Russian Space Weapons Control Center, and getting a weird sense of satisfaction from Bond’s refusal to die at the hands of others. It’s the type of nutty but enjoyable performance that’s emblematic of many of the series best villains. It’s also a big reason why Janssen’s career took off soon after the film’s release.
The other two villains in GoldenEye are Gottfried John’s corrupt Russian General Ourumov and Alan Cumming’s computer hacker Boris Grishenko. Ourumov main purpose in the film is to serve as a red herring for the film’s primary antagonist. However, once Alex Trevelyan shows up, he’s demoted to alcoholic thug duty before getting routinely offed by Bond. As for Gishenko – he’s mostly used a comic foil.
Organization: Janus Crime Syndicate, Soviet Russia
World Domination Plan: To rob every bank in London and then hide his crime by setting off the Russian EMP weapon GoldenEye on the city seconds after his theft has been completed. Little more than a bank robber, maybe. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Brilliant, independent, beautiful and husky-voiced Russian computer programmer turned hacker Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco). Her computer talents coupled with her status as the only survivor and eye witness of the terrorist attack at the Severnaya Space Weapons Center, make her an extremely useful ally of Bond during his mission. She helps them out of multiple tough spots and is depicted as more of an equal, in keeping with the changing times. Although she loses all sense of independence whenever the gun-totting baddies kidnap her, she’s far from the damsel-in-distress Bond girl of yesteryear.
Others: Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) who I had to include here as well, and Caroline (Serena Gordon), the MI6 employee sent to evaluate Bond.
M (Judi Dench)
The casting of Judi Dench as M was a game-changing move for the franchise. By making Bond’s superior a woman, the filmmakers immediately made a statement that they were a progressive franchise determined to distance themselves from their misogynistic and sexist history. Too bad that decision didn’t extend to The World is Not Enough. The relationship between Bond and M is established in their first scene in which she coldly demolishes him – dismissing him as a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur and a relic of the Cold War era. She’s a tough, ruthless and authoritative leader who nevertheless also brandishes a motherly quality. Although she despises 007’s behavior and cavalier attitude, she trusts him to do the right thing.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn)
Along with production designer Peter Lamont, Desmond Llewyln was the only long-standing member of the series to return to the franchise after Licence to Kill. Unlike his previous outing, his role is mostly relegated to one scene this time. It’s a cute and funny sequence that provides the film its best joke.
Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond)
Samantha Bond makes her debut as Moneypenny. She only gets one scene but it’s one in which the friendly and flirtatious rapport between the two is immediately established.
CIA agent Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker)
Joe Don Baker is one of the few actors in the Bond franchise to play more than one role. After his appearance as the villain Brad Whittaker in The Living Daylights, the actor switches allegiances this time around appearing as CIA agent Jack Wade – Bond’s contact in Russia. Wade is a crude and arrogant man – typical of the way Americans are depicted in this series. Wade was also a substitute to Felix Leiter, who after the events of Licence to Kill, was understandably benched by the producers.
Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane)
Making his first of two appearances in the Bond series (he would also play an important role in The World is Not Enough, Valentin Zukovsky, played by the charming Robbie Coltrane, is a Russian mobster and underworld figure who Bond injured during the Cold War. Bond uses his help to set up a meeting with the mysterious Janus in exchange for allowing his organization to steal C4 explosives without action from the authorities.
Bill Tanner (Michael Kitchen)
MI6 Chief of Staff Bill Tanner briefs Bond about the stolen Tiger helicopter at the film’s opening, before choosing an inopportune moment to insult Q.
Pin Code Cracker: Used by 007 and 006 at the chemicals factory during the opening sequence to open restricted access doors of the factory.
Piton Gun (equipped with metal-cutting laser): Used by Bond during the film’s opening sequence after bungee jumping off the dam. He uses the gun to pull himself to the roof of the chemical factory. The laser is used to cut through the roof.
Digital binoculars: Used by Bond to gain information on Xenia Onatopp in Monaco. The binoculars functions as a digital camera, capable of taking photos, recording video and equipped with powerful zooming lenses. It also is able to upload data directly to MI6.
Aston Martin DB5: Not much use of Bond’s trademark car in this installment. It’s used in the post-credits car chase sequence with Onatopp (with no gadgets highlighted) and then to print out the dossier on Onatopp sent by Moneypenny after Bond transmits the photos he took on his binoculars to MI6.
BMW Roadster: Because BMW was only able to secure a deal with EON little before production began, the Roadster doesn’t play much of a role in GoldenEye. It shows up in a sequence in Cuba, showing off its radar gadget but little else. Among its other gadgets are missiles behind the headlights, an ejector seat, an emergency parachute and a self-destruct system – standard Bond car stuff.
Ball-point Parker pen loaded with a grenade: Perhaps the most crucial gadget in the film. It plays a major role during the film’s climax when Boris clicks it just enough times to set off the detonation device and destroy Alec Trevelyan’s secret under-lake satellite dish base.
Omega watch with Laser: The watch’s laser is used by Bond to help him and Natalya escape from Alec’s dungeon train headquarters after the latter locked them inside and set off a timed bomb.
Belt with Rappelling device: Used by Bond to swing through the Russian military base and escape the building by jumping out the window.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[M’s total demolition of Bond during their first briefing at MI6 headquarters]
M: You don’t like me, Bond. You don’t like my methods. You think I’m an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts.
James Bond: The thought had occurred to me.
M: Good, because I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.
James Bond: Point taken.
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[Boris’ lame and childish catchphrase that’s more home in a cartoon for 5-year-olds than this. Then again, you could make a good case that Bond movies could be for 5-year-olds too]
Boris Grishenko: I am invincible!
Most Memorable Moment:
The entire opening sequence – from the bungee jump over the 750 ft dam to the moment where Bond escapes as the chemical factory explodes leading into the first beats of Tina Turner’s theme song. A new Bond for a new generation – executed with style.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
The shoehorned romantic interlude beginning with the moment Bond and Natalya first kiss in front of the burning train to their second love-making session in which she asks him if she really didn’t mean anything to him. Dumb, cringe-worthy and just a distraction.
[After Q has shown Bond all his new gadgets, Bond picks up a sandwich, looking at it carefully as if it were a gadget. Q, looking alarmed, grabs the sandwich from Bond, loudly exclaiming]
Q: Don’t touch that! It’s my lunch!
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
For a second, I was tempted to go with the tank chase through the streets of St. Gettysburg but in the end, there was only one choice – the sky dive on the motorcycle after the airplane during the opening sequence. It’s an absolutely preposterous sequence but it’s executed so well that I can’t help but love it.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[After watching Xenia Onatopp’s excruciating death after getting pinned to a tree]
James Bond: She always enjoyed a good squeeze.
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
[After shooting at the ventilator shaft thinking Natalya was hiding in there]
Xenia Onatopp: I had to ventilate someone.
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
The bungee jump may be the film’s best stunt, and the skydive off the cliff from the bike to the airplane may be the most outrageous moment, but neither are its best action scene. That’d be the sequence in which Bond commandeers a military tank and drives it through the city of St. Petersburg destroying everything in his path in order to rescue Natalya from Ourumov and his soldiers. Sure, it’s ridiculous but it’s a lot of fun as well. And the brief moment where Brosnan fixes his tie while driving the tank is fantastic.
Most Dated Reference:
Eric Serra’s awful score dates the entire movie. Also, every computer screen in the film.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 3 (Once with his MI6 evaluator Caroline, and twice with Natalya)
Number of people Bond kills: 27
Best Kill: This was a close call between Xenia Onatopp’s bone-crunching death and Alec Trevelyan but in the end I went with the latter. As Alec is about to kill Bond at the top of the satellite dish, he’s distracted by the appearance of his private helicopter, whose pilot is being held at gunpoint by Natalya. Without wasting a moment, Bond kicks Alec and then kicks up off the satellite. But before Alec can fall to his death, Bond grabs him by his feet. Looking up at James, Alec asks one final time, “For England, James?” to which Bond coldly replies, “No, for me” before letting Alec fall to his death. The icing on the cake is when the entire satellite dish explodes causing the machinery to crash right on top of a dying Alec – thus incinerating him.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Soviet Union, Monaco, London, Severnaya, St. Petersburg, Cuba
Misogyny Meter: 1/10
With the advent of the 90s and the re-fashioning of Bond, the filmmakers were very careful with the way female characters were treated this time around. As a result, there are very few, if any, instances of misogyny in GoldenEye. The only thing that comes close to it is Bond’s seduction of his evaluator Caroline at the beginning of the film.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 2/10
Some stereotypes of Americans being loud, arrogant and stupid, and Russians being drunks but nothing overt.
Box Office: $106 million ($198 million adjusted for inflation, making it the 12th highest grossing film of the series).
007 Chronological Listing: 17/24
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenwriter: Michael France, Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Feirstein
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench
Producer: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
Running time: 130 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM/UA
Rating: PG-13 (for a number of sequences of action/violence and for some sexuality)
The 007 Collective will return in:
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)