History, Legacy & Showmanship

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

November 17, 2015 - 11:49 am   |   by
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Coate: In what way was Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) a memorable Bond Girl?

Caplen: Natalya is an important addition to what I term the Post-Feminist Bond Woman Era in my book Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond. A computer programmer by profession, she appears self-sufficient, independent, and competent in her field. She’s a survivor, emerging from the rubble after General Ouromov and Xenia Onatopp destroy the Severnaya facility. She’s also resourceful, assisting James Bond in his mission by utilizing technological acumen that he lacks. Although Natalya succumbs to James Bond’s charm (perhaps to M’s chagrin), she ultimately challenges male chauvinism generally (“Boys with toys!”) and Bond’s lifestyle specifically (“You think I’m impressed? All of your guns, your killing, your death, for what? So you can be a hero?”). Her comments offer a refreshing sanity check, reinforcing earlier sarcasm from M and Miss Moneypenny, and revealing a shifting gender dynamic in the film. 

A scene from GoldenEyeChapman: The publicity materials were telling us that this was a different kind of Bond girl: modern, independent, not easily going to fall for Bond’s charms, and taking a crucial role in the narrative rather than being just eye-candy. Well, they’ve been saying that ever since The Spy Who Loved Me! I don’t think she was a particularly memorable character or that the performance is anything special. And I wasn’t a fan of the “boys with toys” line, which a lot of others seemed to like.

Cork: Natalya’s amazingly beautiful, even in that pitiful outfit she’s stuck in for most of the film. Oh, that sounds harsh. I like Natalya as a character. I like her strength. I like that she’s a survivor. When she walks to Bond on the beach in that bikini, every man in the audience is cursing the clothes in the first two-thirds of the film. I also have my reservations about Natalya. She has some kind of crush on Boris? Or just a sisterly affection for him? Seriously? That one is tough for me. When we meet Boris, sure, he has skills writing code, but he’s an absurdly annoying character, completely charmless, misanthropic and misogynistic. Natalya’s emotional connection to him never plays well for me. Her introduction to Bond—screaming her head off—and her continual nagging at him for the scenes that follow do nothing to make me believe that she should be a part of Bond’s world, or that Bond wants to be part of hers. Further, she becomes a character reliant on the cinematic “modern action woman” shorthand when she unexpectedly takes Bond’s Walther, pops the magazine in and out and then cocks it. That business had gotten old and tired even before GoldenEye and in the past twenty years even more of a cliché (I’m looking at you, Madeleine Swann). But Scorupco has charm and holds a scene with her presence. Like Trevelyan, Natalya doesn’t bring that exotic intrigue I so enjoy in Bond women. That is not Scorupco’s fault. It is just one of my nit-picks with the story. 

Desowitz: Simonova represents another reflection of post-Cold War survival. The computer programmer also has to overcome her disillusionment with the help of Bond and become more empowered.

Funnell: Natalya Simonova is notable for being one of the most active and integral Bond Girls in a film. She is unintentionally drawn into the conflict when she survives the attack on her Siberian outpost by Xenia Onatopp; she outsmarts the henchwoman by covering her tracks when she hides in the break room. Her intelligence in addition to her computer programming abilities render her a high value asset. More importantly, she is positioned as a partner (rather than sidekick) to Bond—she is the brains while he is the brawn—and only by working together can they bring down the Janus syndicate. And at times, she even takes the lead such as during the train sequence when she commands Bond to find them a way out while she narrows down the location of Trevelyan’s operation. In fact, she speaks up often and demands the best from Bond, pushing him to perform at his capacity. Overall, Simonova is a Bond Girl who plays a vital role in GoldenEye and this does not always happen in other films in the series.

O’Connell: In a Bond film that not only had to methodically lay out its 007 credentials and aim large spotlights at them, it was savvy to take away the vamp and bombast of the main female lead. That is partly because Xenia Onatopp has enough vamp and bombast for everyone, but it leaves Natalya as an almost anti-Bond girl. She is not helpless, but she is also not trying to be “the match for Bond” either. Scorupco was also a classic Bond casting find—unknown, beautiful and a real ambassador for a film which could have easily gone for a name to bolster its relaunch profile, but thankfully didn’t. Most importantly, Natalya is the audience’s way into the picture—and inadvertently a whole new Bond era. The first half of GoldenEye spends more time cutting back to her story and how it illuminates the plot for the audience than it does Bond himself.

Pfeiffer: Izabella Scorupco gave a fine performance in GoldenEye, but I don’t think the character was used very creatively. As I recall, the role was largely humorless and she was griping quite a bit to Bond about this and that. I know they were trying to bring a more realistic and feminist attitude to the traditional role of a “Bond Woman,” but I thought she was overshadowed by Famke Janssen, who had the flashier and more memorable role. I remember at the time griping that they didn’t even give Izabella much in the way of attractive outfits to wear. She seemed to be clad in a dowdy sweater throughout much of the film. Not her fault, mind you... but the “bad girl” tends to always be more memorable in a Bond film.

Scivally: In the classic Bond films, the “Bond women” are often “angels with one wing down,” women who have been, or are being, taken advantage of by unscrupulous men. Natalya Simonova was more in line with what the filmmakers began with Pam Bouvier in the previous film—smart, independent, and able to hold her own with Bond. What makes Natalya memorable is that, by the end of the second act, she’s able to penetrate his hard exterior and touch him on a human level, as we see in the beautifully photographed beach scene. By the final act, she’s transcended from being a Bond woman to becoming virtually a Bond in her own right, helping 007 infiltrate the control station, using guns, fighting, flying a helicopter... one almost expects her to reappear in a later film as 006, having taken over that now vacant position.

A scene from GoldenEye

Coate: What is the legacy of GoldenEye?

Caplen: Licence to Kill marked the end of John Glen’s directorial tenure with the franchise. Its successor, GoldenEye, reaffirmed James Bond’s relevance after the fall of the Berlin Wall and did so while introducing a new actor as Agent 007. Pierce Brosnan responded with aplomb, revitalizing the series and redefining gender roles for 1990s audiences…. Outside of the film itself, GoldenEye became a significant edition within the gaming community. The game for the Nintendo 64 console was one of the original—and most celebrated—first-person shooter adventures that paved the way for current popular titles. The game received numerous accolades and effectively introduced James Bond to an even wider audience, expanding the James Bond footprint into interactive media.

Chapman: Put simply it’s the film that repositioned Bond at the forefront of popular action cinema. If GoldenEye had failed, there might have been one more but that would have been it. Instead it proved that Bond could compete in a crowded market for action adventure movies. In hindsight it’s a more traditional Bond than, say, Casino Royale, which Martin Campbell also directed. But without the success of the Brosnan Bonds, we might not ever have had the Daniel Craig Bonds…. It was also the first post-Cold War Bond movie—a motif brilliantly employed in Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence. The Bond movies had always responded to shifting geopolitical conditions, and GoldenEye demonstrated that the end of the Cold War didn’t have to mean the end of shifty heavily-accented Russian villains! General Ourumov’s ambition to be “Russia’s next iron man” might uncannily have anticipated the rise of one Vladimir Putin?

Cork: The legacy of GoldenEye is James Bond’s continued survival. My previous comments can’t properly reflect just how good the film is, how well the film plays, how spot-on the pacing is, how tight the dialogue is, or how well Bond is portrayed and defined in the film. Had GoldenEye failed, that would have been it for 007. The stakes with the film were incredibly high. A huge amount of credit needs to go to Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Martin Campbell’s tight direction and eye for spectacle lifts the film up. Each writer involved brought great additions to the movie. What exoticness is missing for me in the characters of Trevelyan and Natalya is right there in Peter Lamont’s production design, in Derek Meddings’ miniatures, in the amazing stunt work, and in the great supporting performances. Most of all, the film belongs to Pierce Brosnan. He not only had to carry the burden of filling some very large shoes, he had to convince the world that James Bond still mattered. He did that. All my nitpicks aside, from that first look around a corner in the pre-credit sequence to the unflustered flinch as a bullet ricochets next to his head near the climax, Brosnan is Bond.

Desowitz: The popularity of GoldenEye was a franchise game changer, returning a sense of equilibrium to Bond after the extremes of Moore and Dalton. It reaffirmed the strengths of the franchise were and what fans desired. It served as a template for Wilson and Broccoli and the success that it leveraged throughout the Brosnan era enabled them to take a chance with Daniel Craig and Casino Royale as an origin story.

GoldenEye posterFunnell: GoldenEye should be remembered as the film that resurrected the franchise after a six-year hiatus, adjusted the gender politics and geopolitics of the series, and revitalized James Bond and re-introduced the iconic hero to a new generation of filmgoers. The film also inspired the development of one of the best first-person shooter videogames, GoldenEye 007.

O’Connell: It drew in a massive new demographic of Bond fans who were just too young to catch the film’s predecessors at theaters. It forms an accomplished tick list of everything Bond onscreen is about and there is no better way to appeal to new fans and audiences than laying the DNA of 007 so bare and accessible as GoldenEye does. Also, Martin Campbell. In hindsight I find the direction of GoldenEye effective but maybe not as creatively fluid as what Mendes is now treating audiences to. Bond ’95 put Campbell on the 007 map which ultimately led to 2006’s glittering Casino Royale—which is a far better directed movie and of course the beginning of a second golden age of Bond. Just like The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, GoldenEye was a vital Broccoli/Eon gambit that paid off. It proved massively successful for Eon Productions, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson and no doubt got the studios reassessing what they thought of the longevity of the Bond franchise after its six year sabbatical. It offers the first inkling of Barbara Broccoli’s long-term project to pepper the Bond films with top-end talent (Robbie Coltrane and of course Judi Dench). It is worth noting too that the massive impact and importance of the Nintendo 64 GoldenEye game should not be underestimated. Not only is it held up as one of the important notches in the history of gaming, it—like the film itself—enabled a massive swathe of new fans into the Bond world.

Pfeiffer: GoldenEye made Bond relevant for a new generation. It also spawned an amazingly successful computer game that did much to make Bond cool with younger fans. Until then, the demographics were not on the side of the franchise. The primary people going to see Bond were those of us aging baby boomers who grew up on the films of the 1960s. So you have to give credit to the producers for not only bringing Bond back in a big way but also making the franchise more popular than ever. That’s quite an achievement for a 53 year old. 

Scivally: GoldenEye will be remembered as the first Pierce Brosnan Bond film, and the one that brought Bond squarely up-to-date with the modern era, repositioning a Cold War character in a post-Cold War world. It also signaled a willingness on the part of the studio(s) to invest more in the budget so that the film could provide bigger, more spectacular thrills. And, beginning with this film, Michael G. Wilson, who had scripted some of the earlier films, stepped back and brought on board younger writers to usher Bond into the new millennium. All the gambles paid off, and after a six year absence from movie screens, GoldenEye attracted a whole new audience of James Bond fans, ensuring that the series would continue into the 2000s (and by that, I don’t mean the year, but the number of films they’ll probably end up making before they run out of steam).

Coate: Thank you, everyone, for participating and for sharing your thoughts about GoldenEye on the occasion of its 20th anniversary.




Selected images copyright/courtesy Eon Productions Limited, Danjaq LLC, United Artists Corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. 

  GoldenEye CD single    GoldenEye Blu-ray Disc

The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Thunderball” on its 50th Anniversary.

- Michael Coate



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