Goldeneye (1995) review – BlogalongaBond #17
Bond is back! But it’s a facsimile of the old swagger, as Brosnan indulges in karaoke acting and the story plays like postmodern nostalgia.
(Martin Campbell, 1995)
In 1989, I was sneaking into my first underage 15-certificate film and revelling in Licence To Kill’s hard-nosed bastard of a Bond. Fast-forward six years and I was a student at the height of Britpop and Cool Britannia, and thus delighting in Goldeneye’s tongue-in-cheek reclamation of Bond as ironic icon. The difference is that, while Timothy Dalton’s finale still holds up, Pierce Brosnan’s debut as 007 looks like I do in my old university photos: very strange.
That lengthy gap between films doubled Bond’s biggest leave of absence, giving the producers ample pause to take stock of their franchise. That explains the cosmetic changes: the arrival of Judi Dench as Lady M, or the decision to give Bond a German car. And yet it’s curious how little has altered; as it turned out, the Bond team had too long to reminisce. Goldeneye is 007 as nostalgia, a film intoxicated by the memory of what had gone before. It has a scarred villain, a sexy sidekick, an even sexier henchwoman, gadgets, cars, explosions, ejector seats and more quippage per square yard than even Roger Moore was entitled to.
In order words, it’s everything we remember… except for one telling giveaway. Eric Serra’s tonally off (and often unlistenable) score is so out of place it inadvertently announces, like Gordon Jackson replying in English in The Great Escape, that Goldeneye is only pretending to be a Bond movie. Where 70s and 80s Bond films threw themselves wholeheartedly into the strutting ridiculousness of it all, this film is too cool and self-aware to really believe in itself.
A lot of that is down to Brosnan, an actor as confident as Connery and as cocky as Moore: a problematic combination. Brosnan smirks his way through proceedings with the nonchalance of a guy who knows the producers have been waiting a decade to cast him and – crucially – behaves like a guy who was born in 1953. Think about it: Brosnan GREW UP WITH BOND. Just look at the way he turns and shoots his gun: the play-acting of every 007 fan’s inner child. And Brosnan pretty much stops acting entirely in his scene with Desmond Llewellyn, which feels like the kind of skit they used to film when fanboy met icon on Jim’ll Fix It.
This would be bearable if the film was being played throughout as a camp joke a la Diamonds Are Forever, because Brosnan is a natural for the twinkly side of the character. Alas, we get mixed signals, since Goldeneye is also trying to be a weighty, art-house treatise on “what it means to be Bond in the post-Soviet age.” Cue meaningful exchanges in which M accuses Bond of being a dinosaur and a relic; symbolic scenes set in a graveyard of Communist statues; and moody shots of Bond looking haunted by his past. Oh dear.
If this sounds churlish, the biggest problem is actually a script that conspires to sideline Bond; fifty minutes into the film he’s still watching the plot unfold on satellite surveillance. Bond spars with Ms Psycho-Thighs like he’s meeting cute in a rom-com, and it’s noticeable that the script requires him to nod off twice during moments of apparent tension. There’s zero threat. It’s a shame, because there was actually a solid idea here – not the least of which is the glorious notion that, for the film time ever in a Bond movie, 007 goes to Russia… and trashes the joint. If only the producers had the courage to drop the cheese; instead, the retro-blowback stifles any progressive impulse.
That it works at all is down to Martin Campbell, an old pro who knows how to roll with the punches. The trad stuff – the opening bungee jump, the St Petersburg tank chase – is proper, old-school 007 but done with a budget and a finesse that it’s actually comparable with rival Hollywood actioners of the era. Campbell seems determined to drag the film kicking and screaming into the Nineties as best he can. So Izabella Scorupco’s Bond girl isn’t a complete idiot, and Famke Janssen’s villainess is such an orgiastic man-eater she deserves her own spin-off as a bizarro Bond! Campbell has also stopped the policy of giving supporting roles to global “personalities” you’ve never heard of , and cast charismatic actors instead: Robbie Coltrane, Joe Don Baker (having far more fun here than he did in The Living Daylights) and Alan Cumming, whose “invincible” Boris damn near steals the film. Aside from the music, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Goldeneye … the problem is simply that very little is right, either.