Tuesday, December 9, 2014

GoldenEye


  After an incredibly solid two-movie stint as the titular MI6 agent, Timothy Dalton dropped out of the role due to some lengthy legal disputes between MGM and United Artists. Thus the next installment into the franchise would be held up for several years. That movie, GoldenEye was also in need of a new actor to take over the role of James Bond for a new generation. That man was Pierce Brosnan. "You were expecting someone else?" Brosnan coyly asks the viewer in the first teaser trailer for GoldenEye. The truth is, Brosnan seems to fit the role like a glove. He may be more or less unexpected in the role, but silly us for expecting anyone else. He is Bond. He's a new Bond for a new era. A slick era, the age of rapid fire editing and the self-aware presence of 'cool' in music videos. Bond needed more than just a reason to exist in the 90's and beyond, he needed a style and a rhythm. GoldenEye gave him just that. It set the bar... and it set it really high.

  GoldenEye is a guns-blazing, high-octane action movie. It's arguably one of the most action packed of the entire franchise. Brosnan's James Bond is less of a spy and more of a super soldier. You'd be more likely to find him with an AK-47 in his hands rather than a Vodka Martini. He's still suave and sophisticated, even if the age old trademark innuendo hasn't been upgraded a single bit. Yet GoldenEye has Bond single-handedly taking on dozens of enemy soldiers with nothing but an assault rifle and his wits. It has him leaping off cliffs, swinging from ceilings, and blowing up anything that moves. Even the supporting characters are frequently in awe due to how much chaos and carnage revolves around Bond. He's a super soldier. Not that one could possibly mind in a movie like this. It's very self contained. You could watch this with no other knowledge of the Bond movies and have a great time. It's a rollicking action ride that doesn't mess around.

  It has all the best stuff of the franchise. Exotic locations, fantastic action scenes, beautiful women, colorful villains, a good plot, and decent gadgets. What's even better is that all these elements are put to proper use. A good portion of the movie takes place in Russia. The highlight of which is a collateral damage-filled tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. That's not even mentioning a scene in which Bond and Bond girl Natalya Simonova are trapped in a grounded helicopter that's just fired missiles... aimed to double-back onto the helicopter. Or yet another scene in which they're sealed in a train car that's wired to explode. Bond seems to only just scrape by right before something explodes. GoldenEye is a far cry from the franchise's origins. The spy genre had evolved by the 90's, and Bond had to keep up. This wasn't a bad thing on the whole, but it spelled doom for some aspects of the character and the franchise that desperately needed to stay alive.

  Bond usually had to mingle with two-faced wealthy socialites, or pretend to be an ally to the movie's villain just long enough to find out some key piece of information. He had time to explore the exotic locales, and formally introduce himself to the beautiful woman. It was a spy thriller, not an action movie. Although big flashy action scenes were a mainstay of the franchise from the get-go, it needed a different label to define it. It mixed suspense, sex appeal, and sophistication in equal measure with wit, humor, and violence. GoldenEye doesn't mix these things with equal measure. It's wholeheartedly an action movie. A sexy action movie at that. It's sense of humor is rather on the nose, and I never really found it funny, but thank god it's not the slapstick humor from Moore's era. Bond's wittiness in GoldenEye is largely relegated to one liners, but there's hardly time for anything else. It has a breakneck pace that puts the pacing of any Bond movie that came before it to shame.

  Mainly I believe that's why GoldenEye feels so different. The pacing is that of an action movie instead of a spy thriller. That's okay though. The 90's needed Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Even if he wasn't given the room in GoldenEye to inhabit the character the way Dalton was in The Living Daylights, he was still good.  Between the machine-gunning and the running, the pace of the movie is no joke. Brosnan keeps up and propels the action forward, taking the 'man of action' feeling from the Dalton movies and cranking it up to '11'. One wonders what he could've done with a slower, grittier, and smarter story. He might've rivaled Connery. As is, he's a sly mix of Moore on his best day and Dalton's take-charge attitude. It's not a bad take on Bond, but it feels only slightly lacking. Just slightly. It's easy to ignore when everything is blowing up in your face, but it's there.

  Having said that, when given a quiet moment, Brosnan makes good use of it. He has a detached intensity that I believe Bond should always have. He has the makings of a good spy, if only he had the missions to match the man. The movie isn't overly indulgent in it's wit and charm, and neither is Bond himself. There are parts in GoldenEye that seem to be aware of how actually messed up 007 must really be. Specifically a romantic interlude on a tropical beach, where Natalya asks Bond how he can be so cold and detached. "It's what keeps me alive.", he answers. Bond girls are usually content to swoon and say "Oh, James..." But, GoldenEye realizes that the time for that has passed. The characters have to be more, have to think, and have to respond to the ever-changing times. Even though the moments like this are small and fleeting, they were a massive step in the right direction.

  As a result though, GoldenEye tries to have it's cake and eat it too. It tries to make Bond out to be a new person, with real feelings and the like... yet it also indulges in far too many of the franchise's over-worn cliches. Namely the juvenile and rather dated innuendo, among other things. I don't mean to sound resentful of what GoldenEye is. It's one of my favorite Bond movies ever. In my top 5 even. It introduces Judi Dench's 'M' (my favorite) and it has a slick visual style to it that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. It's a gorgeous looking movie and a heart-stopping thrill ride. A point that the franchise was going to hit eventually. Where the machine guns and the car chases took over. It's not bad at all. It's just different. Depending on what you like in your Bond movies, your appreciation may vary. Regardless, it's hard not to like the villains. Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan, agent 006, Gottfried John as Russian general Ourumov, and the irresistible Famke Janssen as iconic femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp. These are easily some of the most entertaining villains in the franchise.

  Trevelyan's story adds a semi-personal touch to the movie as Bond has to now face a former ally as an enemy. Bean plays the character with a sinister glee that you can't help but love. He's the villain Bond was inevitably going to find himself faced with sooner or later. Then there's Xenia Onatopp. As deadly and as beautiful as any seductress Bond has come across to date, she leaves quite an impression on Bond and the franchise. If you were going to play a psychotic, lust murdering, femme fatale after this, Janssen's performance was one to study. She's fantastic in the role. Unfortunately, this rather leaves Bond girl Natalya in the dust. She's a fun character who holds her own with Bond, but she's also the least interesting character in the movie. She's simple. Beautiful, but very simple. Everyone else is larger than life. She's simply trying to survive. Granted, she's a lot of fun, memorable even, but not very interesting.

  It's flaws are small and subjective, (like the jazzy score that I just can't get into) but overall it's a great movie under superb direction from newcomer to the franchise, Martin Campbell. Make no mistake though, Campbell wasn't done with Bond. He would return in 2006, over a decade later, to helm the fantastic Casino Royale. Brosnan himself was only getting started. He returned next in... Tomorrow Never Dies. All in all, if you're not on board with Bond's new pace and style, then GoldenEye might not hold much appeal to you. For me however, it's one of the best. One of my favorite movies period, and one of my favorite in the franchise. It's a gutsy and bold debut for Brosnan who etches his place into the franchise with gusto (and a laser watch). The 'exploding pen' might get slighted later on, but for it's time, as with every other quirk of the movie, it was great. From St. Petersburg to Cuba, GoldenEye is a big action packed 007 adventure that's wall to wall bullets, explosions. and well crafted thrills. You can't go wrong with this one.

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