An outsider’s take on the James Bond saga: ‘GoldenEye’ (1995) (Movie review)

W

ith “No Time to Die” coming out in November, I’m looking back at the eight modern-era James Bond films from the perspective of a newcomer, from July 11-26. First up is the 17th Eon-produced film and first starring Pierce Brosnan, “GoldenEye” (1995):

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Brosnan, a 1980s TV action star on “Remington Steele,” smoothly takes over for Timothy Dalton in this first Bond film in six years — the longest gap since his screen debut in 1962. (It’s the 19th overall “Bond” and the 17th produced by Eon.) The MI6 agent is suave, preternaturally confident and he looks good in a suit.

Xenia moans in pleasure while mowing down her enemies with machine guns, and there’s no difference between her sex scenes and murder scenes because she combines them.

The story and action are cheesier than the “Mission: Impossible” films, which launched one year after this, and which I prefer. Yet “GoldenEye” isn’t as aggressively silly as, say, the “Fast & Furious” saga; I think the “Bond” saga intends to lean slightly more toward serious than ridiculous. But 1995 was also the year of “Bad Boys” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” so something like Bond ripping up the buildings of St. Petersburg, Russia, at the wheel of a tank slots right in.

From what I’ve seen — “The Mask of Zorro,” “The Green Lantern” — director Martin Campbell’s action films flirt with being boring, but “GoldenEye” has more energy than those. Still, when my gamer friends said “007” in the late ’90s, I knew they were referring to the hugely popular first-person-shooter video game. The movie it comes from is decidedly less groundbreaking, but it’s a harmless diversion.

TITLE/SONG

U2 and Tina Turner, slightly past their popularity peak but still great, team up to perform the earworm “GoldenEye” (codename of the story’s weapon, and the name of Bond creator Ian Fleming’s house in real life) over a montage that includes the smashing of the USSR’s Hammer and Sickle emblem. This is the first Bond film since the fall of the USSR in 1991, but the baddies are an awful lot like old Soviet villains, so it seems the “Bonds” aren’t quite ready to move on – similar to how action franchises have found ways to use Nazis as villains for decades since World War II. Then again, to a casual outside observer, the differences between the USSR and modern Russia aren’t obvious.

BOND GIRL

Computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) has a character arc that goes like this: First, she’s the terrified lone survivor of a terrorist attack on the Siberian base where she works. Second, she meets Bond and almost immediately becomes his confident sidekick and love interest. I guess this is how “arcs” work in the “Bond” films, though, right?

VILLAINS

Famke Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp – get it? Onatopp? – to the hilt, more than anyone else in the film, except computer programmer Boris (Alan Cumming, another “X-Men” connection) who says “I am invincible!” when he pulls off whatever he’s doing at his console.

Xenia moans in pleasure while mowing down her enemies with machine guns, and there’s no difference between her sex scenes and murder scenes because she combines them. Then again, Janssen has twice the energy here as in her “X-Men” role of Jean Grey, and I’ve spent all these words talking about her when Xenia isn’t even the main baddie, so she did something right.

The main bad guy (twist alert!) turns out to be turncoat Agent 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), whose parents were wronged by the British government decades ago. His revenge plot is technologically progressive: to electronically steal money from British banks, then blow up London with a satellite-guided nuclear bomb. It’s a variation on the “Live Free or Die Hard” plot from 12 years later.

BEST ACTION SCENE

Since “GoldenEye” is introducing a new Bond actor, it starts off with its flashiest sequence, as Bond infiltrates and escapes a Russian base. He chases a plane on a motorcycle, right off a cliff. Then he free-falls into the plane’s open door, takes the controls and flies to safety. All while the base is blowing up from the bomb he set.

MOST RIDICULOUS MOMENT

Bond commandeers and drives a tank through St. Petersburg like a bull in a china shop, smashing up all kinds of architecture and statuary. At one point, the enemy cars switch into reverse as the tank pursues them. It’s staged too flat to be funny, but it’s memorable for its brazenness.

BEST GADGET

Q (Desmond Llewelyn, returning from previous “Bonds”) gives Bond a pen-bomb. Three clicks sets it off. By the law of Chekhov’s pen-bomb, we know it’s going to be used in the climactic showdown. I blinked and missed how this happens, but it conveniently ends up in the hands of fidgety Boris, who accidentally sets it off.

SEXUAL/GENDER POLITICS

Since this is the start of the “modern” Bonds – in the sense that the internet comes to the fore – is it also the point at which the sexism is toned down? Well, not quite. In the opening sequence, Bond is being observed and rated by an MI6 official, and we see that Bond’s reckless driving will be beside the point because he has seduced her.

Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench, the first woman to play the role), is aware of her charge’s behavior, and basically admits he gets away with it because he’s good at his job and everyone likes him. He’s Bond being Bond, I guess.

Further emphasizing that he’s operating under special status, Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) – 007’s researcher – warns Bond about workplace sexual harassment, but in a playful fashion. When he asks what the penalty is, Moneypenny says he has to make good on his innuendos.

CRINGIEST ONE-LINER

Bond (after Xenia – attached by a towline to a helicopter — is squeezed to death against a tree): “She always did enjoy a good squeeze.”

Schedule of Bond reviews:

Saturday, July 11: “GoldenEye” (1995)

Sunday, July 12: “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)

Wednesday, July 15: “The World is Not Enough” (1999)

Saturday, July 18: “Die Another Day” (2002)

Sunday, July 19: “Casino Royale” (2006)

Wednesday, July 22: “Quantum of Solace” (2008)

Saturday, July 25: “Skyfall” (2012)

Sunday, July 26: “Spectre” (2015)