History, Legacy & Showmanship

A Post Cold War Era Bond: Remembering “GoldenEye” on its 20th Anniversary

November 17, 2015 - 9:49 am   |   by
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Coate: Where do you think GoldenEye ranks among the James Bond movie series?

Caplen: In my view, GoldenEye is Pierce Brosnan’s best performance as James Bond. It has a lighter tone than the Timothy Dalton missions that preceded it but eschews the gimmickry of the Roger Moore era. It’s arguably the best 007 film from the 1985-2002 period.

Chapman: On balance I’d say it’s a fair-to-middling entry in the series. Not one of my absolute favorites but not one of my least favorites either. Mid-table respectability…. From a scripting point of view I think it’s the best of Brosnan’s four Bonds, though now I prefer Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough (the first half of it at least) over GoldenEye despite their flaws. They’d had plenty of time to polish the script for GoldenEye. Tomorrow Never Dies in contrast was a mess, but the action sequences seemed more exciting than GoldenEye.

Cork: It is very, very hard for me to divorce myself from what I think the film means to the series and just focus on the film itself. That said, back in 2012, my son and I watched all the Bond films in order as part of a Skyfall marathon. I actually ranked GoldenEye at 10th on that list. But if I had to make a list of the absolutely essential Bond films to watch, GoldenEye would be on the short-list. It is a film that defines Bond for the 1990s. It is a film that took Bond to an entirely new level. I have lots of little quibbles with the film, but the scenes with M, the joy of watching Famke Janssen, and the feeling that Pierce Brosnan was born to play Bond and play him well, all of that lifts the film up. So take my mid-level ranking knowing that it is conflicted. The film plays like gangbusters. Everyone should see GoldenEye.

A scene from GoldenEye

Desowitz: I would rank it as the best of the Brosnans and somewhere in the middle of the pack overall. It was straight ahead with none of the glib or fantastical excesses that would hamper the later Brosnan films.

Funnell: I think that GoldenEye has stood the test of time and remains one of the most exciting films of the series. The film was directed by Martin Campbell who also directed Casino Royale. Campbell seems to have the “Midas touch” when it comes to successfully reintroducing a new actor in the role of James Bond and re-visioning the series. If the producers decide to replace Daniel Craig in the next Bond film, I hope they consider hiring Campbell as the director.

O’Connell: Like a lot of Bond movies—The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die, The Living Daylights, Casino Royale and, to a degree, SPECTRE—it was a crossroads 007 film that allowed the series to continue. Every now and then a Bond movie puts its neck on the line to justify 007’s very existence. GoldenEye is a prime example, if not THE prime example. GoldenEye is still part of that John Glen era of 007 movie making—with the older Bond guard (Syd Cain, Derek Meddings, John Richardson, Remy Julienne) meeting the (then) new bearers of the production flame (Chris Corbould, Danny Kleinman, Andrew Noakes and Lindy Hemming). I always say that the subsequent Tomorrow Never Dies is Brosnan’s best Bond film (and one of my personal top entries), but GoldenEye is an unabashed 007 movie with the recipe book of Bond open for all to see. Twenty years later one its successes is how it utterly relishes being a Bond movie.

Pfeiffer: I would place GoldenEye probably in the middle of the pack, certainly below the Connery/Lazenby films and some of the Moores. I also favor both Dalton movies over it, but it’s better than some of Pierce’s later efforts and certainly superior to The Man with the Golden Gun and A View to a Kill

Scivally: For me, GoldenEye ranks in the Top Ten Bond films, but not the Top Five. Although there’s much of Tomorrow Never Dies to recommend it, I felt the ending of that one was unsatisfying. GoldenEye—aside from that damn music—holds together from beginning to end better, and is my favorite of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds. And as a bonus, it has Famke Janssen as one of the sexiest henchwomen ever.

Coate: Compare and contrast Pierce Brosnan’s inaugural performance as Agent 007 with that of the other actors who have portrayed the character?

Caplen: Pierce Brosnan seems to balance the seriousness with which Timothy Dalton approached the role of James Bond with the energetic charm and sexual charisma that Sean Connery imbued in the character. But Brosnan’s performance in GoldenEye has, in my view, a different tone than his subsequent missions, which seem less inspiring as they struggle to define James Bond in the post-Cold War era.

Chapman: Watching it now, I’m struck my how young he looks. In the later films, as he bulked out a bit and his temples started to show flecks of grey, I think he had more gravitas. In fact I think Pierce got better as the films went on, even if the films themselves didn’t. In GoldenEye I don’t think he’s as assured as in the later films. He’s perfectly good in the running, jumping and shooting scenes but some of the dramatic scenes are less confident and—although many regard him as a lighter Bond in the tradition of Roger Moore—I didn’t feel that his delivery of the one-liners was that good. There again he didn’t have any great one-liners: in fact, I’m struggling to think of one!

Cork: For me, Brosnan’s performance is perfect for the film, but it is a tense performance. Brosnan seems so much more relaxed and at ease in Tomorrow Never Dies than he does in GoldenEye. Yet in GoldenEye, Brosnan’s tension works for the film. It is like there is the mission on screen and then there is this other mission: can Brosnan save Bond? And he does. You can tell he is an actor in awe of the part, an actor who all his adult life has been told he should play James Bond, and now here he is. And to his great credit, he pulls it off. 

Desowitz: It was an auspicious start for Brosnan. His goal was to recapture the spirit of Connery and he carried himself off well with a good combination of intensity and playfulness. He demonstrated that there was still a place for Bond’s confidence and resourcefulness and the script didn’t make too many demands of him.

Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye

Funnell: For me, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in GoldenEye embodies some of the best qualities from previous fan favorites Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Like Connery, he is incredibly handsome (especially in a tuxedo), alluring, and charismatic. And like Moore, he is both charming and witty. I personally prefer Bonds who are wittier as this increases my enjoyment of the film; the darker tones of the Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig films (with the exception of Casino Royale) render them more serious and less adventurous. But at the same time, Brosnan’s Bond is far more action-oriented than Connery’s or Moore’s and his character does treat (some) women in a more positive way.

O’Connell: Brosnan’s best Bond performance is in Tomorrow Never Dies. He is merely stretching his muscles in GoldenEye—including learning how to run, pause and twist. But Bond is not just about his physical dexterity. It is about how he enters a room, leaves a room, talks to the ladies and leaves during the night without warning. In GoldenEye—like all the best Bond debuts—Brosnan makes it look like we have missed two of his films already. There is a great momentum to how he plays those early scenes. Pierce is a great casting bequeath from Cubby Broccoli who thankfully got to see one his Bond hunches take on the baton with all his family at the helm. Brosnan is great in those now iconic scenes with M/Judi Dench. He also never once is out-acted by Dench. Not in any of his Bond films. And that is no mean feat. If anything, Brosnan knows how to pitch the tone and timbre of the role whilst others around him—Sean Bean especially—flounder a tiny bit amidst the Bond tick list ephemera. The classic teaser of Brosnan pausing and walking up to ask the audience if they “were expecting someone else?” was all the reassurances the world needed as a new Bond was on the horizon. It is testament too to how Cubby and Michael were right back in 1986, but the fates had other plans.

Pfeiffer: I thought Brosnan was the right actor at the right time for Bond. He was more serious than Roger Moore and had a lighter touch than Timothy Dalton. The producers have always had an uncanny knack of knowing what actor plays best in certain eras and Brosnan was indeed the best choice at the time, as evidenced by the box-office results. All of his films did spectacularly well. Even when the scripts were weak, Brosnan came out of the film looking good. It’s rather strange because nowadays, Bond fans want an entirely different character on screen—the ultra-realistic, less humorous 007 embodied by Daniel Craig. Doubtless, the pendulum will ultimately swing back again someday. However, during his tenure as Bond, Pierce was an enormous success—and he’s a good actor, to boot. 

Scivally: When I first heard that Pierce Brosnan had been cast for the new Bond film, my reaction was severely negative. Although I thought he was good as the Soviet assassin in The Fourth Protocol, I felt he was nonetheless too lightweight for Bond (and I must admit, I never watched Remington Steele). Around that time, some critic—it may have been Gene Siskel or Rex Reed—was quoted as saying that Pierce Brosnan wasn’t a James Bond, but rather the kind of guy you’d cast in an Arrow shirt ad. I felt that about summed it up. Plus, I wanted to see Timothy Dalton get another shot at the role, since it seemed to me that it took Connery and Moore about three films before they really owned the part. But my trepidation about Brosnan lasted only about twenty minutes into watching GoldenEye. By that point, I was won over. When the film ended, I felt Brosnan’s was the best Bond since Connery, with just the right mix of charm and lethalness.

Coate: In what way was Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan/Janus a memorable villain?

Caplen: Sean Bean portrays a complex villain whose facial disfigurement is reminiscent of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice. Unlike Blofeld, Trevelyan’s background is less mysterious. A former Double-O agent himself, Trevelyan descends from Cossacks, a family history that remained hidden from MI6. The name of his crime syndicate, Janus, alludes to his betrayal of his adopted country and agenda to seek revenge against Her Majesty’s government, which he blames for his parents’ death…. Trevelyan seems, in some ways, like a reincarnation of Dr. No: an emotionless recluse, motivated to crime and global chaos by a personal vendetta. Trevelyan hides behind the shadows of Janus as he orchestrates an implausible scheme to rob the Bank of London. But Trevelyan seems to lack the omnipresence of Dr. No and other villains in the franchise, perhaps an implicit recognition that post-Cold War villainy is decentralized and operating among the shadows. He lacks the gravitas of other villains like Auric Goldfinger, Emilio Largo, Blofeld, and even Karl Stromberg.

Chapman: It was good to have a main villain who posed a real, plausible physical threat to Bond, rather than the supervillain/henchman division that we’d had so often in the past. Sean Bean was in great physical shape back then and you felt that he’s be a match for Bond. In that sense I was reminded of Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in From Russia with Love. The big fight between Bond and Trevelyan is also somewhat reminiscent of Russia…. I liked the historical background for Trevelyan—the idea that his parents had been betrayed by the British to the Soviets at the end of the Second World War so there was a personal as well as a political vendetta—and that the threat was directed at London.

Cork: First, let me say, I love Sean Bean. I think he’s a great actor who continues to do fantastic work. That said, the world can hate me, but I never bought into the idea of 006 as an intimidating villain. Trevelyan says, “I was always better.” Really? No other secret agent is anywhere close to Bond. That’s why we watch Bond films. Originally, Trevelyan was supposed to be Bond’s mentor, and the part was offered to Anthony Hopkins who turned it down. It was then decided to make the character Bond’s peer. Bean has the unenviable task of acting between Famke Janssen (who is just brilliant in the film) and Alan Cumming (who cannot be taken seriously). As a result, his reality-based character is diminished. Trevelyan is not larger than life, which, when one is in scenes with others who are, is a very tough place for an actor. Of course, he has one of the best Bond villain lines out there: “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed? Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” That was a Michael France line, and originally it was this somewhat catty exchange when Bond randomly met Trevelyan on the street in Russia, stunned to find him still alive. Everyone who read the line knew it was brilliant, and draft after draft, it stayed in the script until it found the place it deserved, the point where it looked like all was lost and the villain had Bond defeated. Bean delivers it perfectly. So, despite my quibbles, Bean does a great job with the role. Let me also offer up a huge amount of praise for Famke Janssen in GoldenEye. She is a major key to the success of that film. She serves up all that demented, oversized, sexualized evil that one wants in a Bond villain. She owns the part of Xenia. 

Desowitz: Bean’s two-faced baddie wound up being one of the best in years and provided a sense of gravitas. He’s Bond’s mentor turned bad and revealed the dark side of spying and what happens when you don’t survive the Cold War. It was personal and a trial by fire for this Bond.

A scene from GoldenEye

Funnell: Alec Trevelyan is such a memorable villain because he is the first to be a former 00 agent turned British traitor. Long before Raoul Silva embarked on his mission of revenge in Skyfall, Trevelyan had an axe to grind that led him to enact a plot designed to financially incapacitate, if not ruin, Britain. Importantly, Trevelyan is given a tragic backstory, which helps to humanize him as a character and enhance the torment experienced by Bond as he goes up against a surrogate brother. Sean Bean plays the part to perfection and offers a compelling villain.

O’Connell: Sean Bean is one of the miscasts of the series. Not so much his [younger] age. It is forever jarring to have a very known Northern actor trying to sound like an English spy marinated in that Eton-educated, bespoke world when all he clearly wants is a pint down the local with the lads. In a film series that strays from accents and colloquialisms, I would have had Bean keep his Yorkshire accent. It would have marked him out as different to Bond, which the script wants. I also find the performance sees Bean playing someone trying to play a Bond villain. There is no reality to it and—like a lot of the later Brosnan Bond movie dialogue—he speaks in knowing, moustache twirling italics. The villain’s backstory is interesting (the Lienz Cossacks and their betrayals and bungled repatriations) but it is ultimately a human cost and character damage the Craig films eventually did a lot better. Trevelyan also underlines how some of the Brosnan villains suffer for being most interesting in their past rather than the here and now of their fore-story. But the idea of a bad Double O agent is great. It sets up that MI6 world and its relevance to the new world order. I just wonder what the likes of Anthony Hopkins (one of the reported early casting hopes) would have done with it.

Pfeiffer: Sean Bean was well cast in the role of Trevelyan and he had very good on-screen chemistry with Brosnan. The problem from my point of view is that the Bond villains became less memorable. They lacked the grandiose egos and personalities of Goldfinger, Dr. No, Blofeld, Largo, etc. There seemed to be a conscious effort to make them more believable, but to me having a larger-than-life villain is an essential element of the Bond franchise. There have been some wonderful actors playing Bond baddies since GoldenEye, but few of the characters resonate the way the earlier films did. I would say Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies and certainly Javier Bardem in Skyfall came the closet to having the mojo of the classic villains. I think the producers are now able to get “A” list actors for the villains. In the past, there was still somewhat of a stigma about being in a Bond film, as though an actor could not be taken seriously. However, in recent years, they have had some great actors playing interesting characters. I am very enthused to see Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE. It’s a real casting coup. I think we might be going into another “Golden Age” of Bond films.

Scivally: Sean Bean, a contender for the 007 role, did a great job of playing a Judas character, one that our hero initially trusts but who turns out to be the baddie. He delivered the dialogue—and Trevelyan had some of the best villain’s lines in years—with aplomb and, in the final half of the film, a real sense of menace beneath the charming exterior. The flaw in his character is that he starts out as a fellow 00 agent, and once we figure out that he’s the bad guy, we don’t think he’ll pose any real threat to James Bond, because, hey, they make movies about the best British secret agent, not the second best, so we know 006 isn’t going to able to get the best of 007 long before we reach the inevitable climax. That said, the fight scene between Trevelyan and Bond almost rivals the one between Bond and Grant in From Russia with Love; it was fun to have a villain who was evenly matched with Bond from a physical standpoint, which is more than one can say about, oh, you know, Karl Stromberg.

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