23 May 2012

BlogalongaBond- GOLDENEYE Review

Martin Campbell has been at the helm for the last two James Bond reboots, and having loved Casino Royale, I found the experience of revisiting GoldenEye to be a disappointing one. With Licence to Kill having flopped at the box office, Eon ran into legal troubles that held up a proposed third outing for Timothy Dalton for a whole six years, and he quit before he could resume being a magnificent bastard.

Enter Pierce Brosnan, who might never have had to remember his tour-de-force performance in Taffin if this role hadn't propelled him to stardom. He gets off the blocks quite quickly, when he gets into some bother with Russians, completely forsaking the international bromance established in the Moore era. A crime syndicate, ran by the mysterious Janus, then hijacks the Russians' GoldenEye satellite- a secret weapon that fires an EMP discharge capable of wiping out electrical equipment all over the world.

In the new series of Doctor Who, the Doctor's trusty TARDIS still looks like a police box, but the prop used by the BBC Wales production team has always been a modern, shiny affair, with a paint job sprucing it up even more when Matt Smith took over the lead role. In many ways, GoldenEye feels like the TARDIS paint-job- a bit of obsolescent modernisation that doesn't reinvent a British icon so much as preserve it in gloss. This would be fine, if it were following A View To A Kill, but it came after The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, two of the best instalments so far, featuring the best Bond of all.

Indeed, the first 20 minutes or so of the film seems hell-bent on including as many tropes of the series as possible, with the unfortunate effect of a few of Moore's leftovers making it into the mix, i.e. the startled cyclists whose bikes inexplicably fall to bits when Bond and Xenia Onatopp whiz past them in fast cars. Heh. Don't get me wrong, the pre-titles sequence is deservedly appreciated as one of the best in the series, and I submit that Sean Bean is never better in this film than he is at the very beginning. But once that's over, the film seems to take a step backwards in extensively reiterating the franchise formula, complete with car chase, casino scene, catchphrases and innuendo.

The film then turns into more of a deconstruction of those tropes, while still working within that framework. The script does a good job of establishing the new gender politics, Bond's female field examiner notwithstanding, by making Samantha Bond's Moneypenny more sparky than her predecessors, and, of course, casting Judi Dench as the new M. Her dressing down of Bond as a relic of the Cold War is one of the film's better moments of self-awareness, but M and Moneypenny only really exist in this plot in order to set up the new status quo.

The other ladies are markedly different too. Xenia Onatopp is a far cry from previous female antagonists like May Day, or Bambi and Thumper, and Famke Janssen does a terrific job of making her slightly sexy, and mostly bat-shit crazy and menacing. Izabella Scorupco plays one of those needlessly gorgeous female scientists, but she does a damn sight better than Denise Richards will in a couple of months' time, and her banter with Bond, along the lines of “You mean nothing to me”, makes a refreshing change to the usual attitude to capture and rescue, when it comes to Bond girls.

All of that stuff is good, but there's some frankly awful dialogue thrown into the mix too, of which Sean Bean's Alex Trevelyan/006, a Liensk Cossack who turns heel and dubs himself Janus, gets far more than his fair share of the blather. Bean fits the profile to play Bond himself, if the idea of a Yorkshire Bond appeals to you as much as me. Regrettably, his otherwise great dynamic with Brosnan's 007 is affected by sanctimonious and over-expository dialogue about Bond's past transgressions and mistakes, which tells us how the world has changed around him, and kind of left him behind, rather than showing us.

Onto the lead actor himself, then, seeing as how Brosnan was the Bond that I grew up watching. With the context of the previous films in mind, he's a manful, hairy-chested throwback to Connery, even if some of the humour is unfortunately lifted from Moore's films. Listeners to Adam and Joe have long heard the duo extolling the virtues of his grunting, and his terrific running is always enjoyable. On the other hand, my main memory of Brosnan is that his Bond rarely ever seems to like the women in his films (the exception comes next month) all that much. Sure, there's sexual chemistry, which might be all you need from Bond, but certainly in this instalment, he seems to have more fun interacting with Bean's bad guy, than with Scorupco's Nadya. They shared everything, apparently.

The plot makes less sense than usual- we definitely see Trevelyan getting shot in the head at the start of the movie, and the later explanation of MI6's background check makes no sense at all. Most of all, considering how well he knows Bond, he goes on to make many of the same mistakes as their usual adversaries, with admittedly elaborate and entertaining traps. I've gotten to the point where I don't mind two-bit megalomaniacs doing this, but Trevelyan starts out saying that he's anticipated Bond's every move, and that they shared everything, and yet constantly puts him in situations he can escape. It seems like his heart isn't really in it- there's some major Foe Yay going on there.

Look at him! STILL smirking. Bastard.
It's such a reversion to type, nostalgic for the early Bond films, that I'm convinced that this film is the main reason why casual viewers seem to remember Dalton in such poor regard. Just when the series was taking a different direction- much the same as the Daniel Craig movies have taken- in comes a dollop of the same, slightly touched up for the 1990s. This nostalgia gives Desmond Llewellyn, as the main holdover from the previous films, one of his best ever scenes, but I'm not sure how much it helps the reboot overall.

All of which sounds like a more harsh assessment than GoldenEye deserves. It does a lot of things right, even if the smirking, self-aware manner of its modernisation rubbed me the wrong way for most of the film. In his first outing, Brosnan proves himself in the role without really bringing anything new to the table, except for being the best runner out of all the actors to play the role. Most of what is new about the film comes from Campbell's direction, which departs from the long run of John Glen pictures. Given how the rest of the Brosnan era isn't exactly fondly remembered, it's a less impressive start than I might have liked.

#17- Amongst Bond's many superpowers, he can get himself and Xenia dressed, out and about, presumably while still holding her at gunpoint.

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The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Tomorrow Never Dies... in June.


Rachel May said...

Goldeneye was always a better game than it was a film (N64 FTW), even so it’s the one I grew up with so I remember it fondly :-)
Pierce Brosnan was terribly attractive wasn’t he???

Pip said...

Really good review! After the possibilities Dalton brought to the series GoldenEye was a letdown.
Brosnan was good-looking in this, but his looks faded along with the quality of his subsequent films. There's no true beauty without decay!