Retrospective: GoldenEye (1995)

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Dragan Antulov

Nov 25, 2002, 3:14:56 PM11/25/02

A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2002

James Bond, the longest-running movie franchise in history, had
plenty of ups and downs in forty years of its existence. However,
the worst crisis was six-year pause between the new releases that
had occurred between 1989 and 1995. Bond movies were, on
average, released every eighteen months, so many speculated
that such long pause might be actually the end of the series. In that
time many noticed that the release of the last Bond film coincided
with the collapse of Berlin Wall and the end of Cold War. That
coincidence led many to conclude that Bond movies could function
only in the context of that global conflict. When the series was re-
launched in 1995, GOLDEN EYE, the new movie in the series,
directed by Martin Campbell, actually addressed those issues.

The plot begins in 1986, when two British super-agents - James
Bond a.k.a. 007 (played by Pierce Brosnan) and Alec Trevelyan
a.k.a. 006 (played by Sean Bean) - destroy Soviet chemical
weapons facility commanded by Colonel Ourumov (played by
Gottfried John). Bond is the only one to return from this mission
and nine years later he would again be entangled in similar stunts
and meet some familiar faces. This time the Cold War is over, and
the ruins of Soviet Empire are ruled by ruthless mafia
organisations. One of them wants to take control of GoldenEye, ex-
Soviet orbital satellite equipped with electromagnetic weapon able
to knock out every electronic item in the entire cities. Unleashed
on a major metropolitan or commercial centre, this weapon can
cause traffic collapse, mass starvation and completely mess up
world's economy. But Bond is here to save the day, aided by
Natalya Semyonova (played by Izabella Scorupco), beautiful
Russian computer programmer, whose team had been killed by
the gangsters.

Screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Fierstein tried very hard to
give us the new, updated and 1990s version of James Bond. This is
most evident in the scenes that feature British superagent
interacting with his boss M. This time the boss is a woman (played
by Judi Dench), who spares no time and energy to brand Bond as
"sexist, mysoginist, violent" and therefore unsuited to work in
gentler, kinder post-Cold War environment that requires more
"politically correct" men. Yet, despite the attempts to adapt Bond
to the new era, makers of GOLDENEYE seem hopelessly stuck in
the past, especially Cold War past. In many ways, this film is
almost sadistic in its gloating over the sad fate of the country and
people that used to be the arch-enemy of the Western civilisation -
Russia is portrayed as the country drowned in poverty, corruption,
crime and full of emotionally and physically crippled people, stuck
with the reminders of once glorious past and lacking any future.
GOLDENEYE is so stuck in the past that it goes even further than
Cold War - one of the characters is deeply traumatised by the
events that occurred in the closing days of World War 2, half a
century ago.

All this could be forgiven if the character of Bond was played by
some older actor or if the film as a whole was faithful to the
seriousness of its script (as the earliest Bond films were). But
director Martin Campbell is instead more faithful to the more
standard Bond formula and so we have the standard (and rather
predictable) series of scenes which feature all those we have
grown accustomed to expect in Bond films - spectacular action
scenes, beautiful ladies in skimpy clothes, exotic locations, double
entendres, larger-than-life villains. Unfortunately, because of the
seriousness of GOLDENEYE context, some of the flaws of the film
become intolerable. The action scenes are spectacular at the
expense of believability - scene in the beginning defies laws of
physics, while the tank chase on the streets of St. Petersburg
demands the audience totally unfamiliar with the way how modern
armoured vehicles operate. Finally, in the end there is "shocking"
revelation about chief villain and his motives that belongs more to
soap opera than Bond film.

The most interesting thing about new Bond was, of course,
casting. Pierce Brosnan, who was original choice for replacing
Roger Moore in 1980s, seems quite capable for this role. His Bond
is convincing both as a smooth and suave operator and as deadly
killing machine. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast wasn't exactly
by Bond's standards. Isabella Scorupco was one of the less
memorable Bond girls, mostly due to the lack of chemistry
between her and Brosnan. On the other hand, Femke Janssen as
former KGB assassin with homicidal fetish is very effective in
rather thankless over-the-top role. But the greatest waste of acting
resources is Sean Bean, otherwise excellent British actor, here at
complete odds with the role that would otherwise belong to some
other film. The one of the brief light moments comes from Robbie
Coltrane in small but effective role of Bond's former arch-enemy.

If we apply high standards we expect from classic Bond films,
GOLDENEYE is a failure. Yet, the movie was commercially
successful enough to be viewed as a success and triumphant re-
launch of the series. Subsequent films (and some of the
unfortunate real life events) showed that the post-Cold War world
is interesting enough for this kind of hero.

RATING: 4/10 (+)

Review written on November 24th 2002

Dragan Antulov a.k.a. Drax - Filmske recenzije na hrvatskom/Movie Reviews in
Croatian - Movie Reviews in English - Online Film Critics Society

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