Monday, October 22, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 17: GoldenEye

After a seven-month break, I now return to my reviews of each James Bond film. In April, I took a break at the close of the Timothy Dalton years. Now we look at Pierce Brosnan and later, Daniel Craig, including the newest film, Skyfall, which will hit theaters on Nov. 9.

But first things first - Brosnan's first outing as Bond in GoldenEye. This movie broke new ground, installing a woman as M and ensuring that James Bond could survive the Cold War - which was by no means a guaranteed thing at the time.

Synopsis: Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bond must stop a former 00 agent from using a satellite to take out London and cause a global financial crisis.

The Villain: Alec Trevelyan, the former 006, fakes his death in Russia in 1986 (depicted in the pre-title action sequence), only to return much later as the dreaded leader of the Janus crime syndicate. He has a bone to pick with Britain - he's a descendant of Cossacks who collaborated with Nazis during WWII. He blames the British for the death of his parents. He plans to steal a giant pile of money from the Bank of England, then use an electromagnetic pulse from the GoldenEye satellite to destroy the bank records and ruin Britain's economy. Trevelyan is ably portrayed by Sean Bean, so you know he dies at the end. Sean Bean's characters always die. As a villain, he's somewhat classier and more Bond-like than many of them. Much like Scaramanga, he is sort of a dark antithesis of Bond himself.

The Henchman: She's one of the best: Xenia Onatopp, a sadistic killer who appears to derive sexual arousal from violence and death. This was the first time most audiences saw Famke Janssen in anything, well before she ditched her villain status to play a good guy. Xenia is somewhat over-the-top and obvious, but he best henchmen are, and, like most women in Bond movies, she's easy on the eyes. A less attractive henchman is rogue Russian General Ourumov, who abuses his leadership of Russia's Space Division to further Janus' schemes.

The Bond Girl: She's not Bond's first Russian, but she might be the best-looking. Natalya Simonova, a computer programmer. She is the only survivor of an attack on a Russian satellite station orchestrated by Janus to steal the control disk for the GoldenEye satellite. She's played by Izabella Scorupco, a Polish singer, model, and actress, and I'm surprised we haven't seen more of her. Like most of the Bond girls of this era, she's far more self-reliant and talented that earlier Bond girls, but she's not above swooning for our suave double-0.

The Sidekick: Rather than focus on Bond's sidekick (which is pretty much the Bond girl, although he does get some help from the Russian mob in the form of Robbie Coltrane and an American CIA agent, Jack Wade) I'll focus on a character that could be considered Trevelyans's sidekick: the computer programmer Boris, played by the underrated Alan Cumming. He helped Janus hijack the GoldenEye satellite in the first place, and serves as the lead computer expert for the bad guys. Supposedly a friend and coworker of Natalya, he betrays her. His  habit of clicking a ball-point pen leads him to a bad end and helps Bond save the day. Boris is one of those humorous bad guys that you kind of like in spite of yourself.

Gadgets: The most important is the grenade pen Bond gets from Q; he gets it into obsessive-pen-clicker Boris' hands to cause an explosion that helps him save the day toward the end of the movie. Bond also uses a normal-looking belt that disguises a piton in the buckle, which he uses to escape the Russian archives. Finally, there's a laser watch Bond uses to cut a hole in a train and escape just before it explodes.

Music: Bono and The Edge, of U2, wrote the theme song. It was performed by the less oddly named Tina Turner, and I think it has good use of traditional spy-type Bond music in a pop context. French composer Eric Serra, who composed the music for The Fifth Element, did the score after longtime Bond composer John Barry declined the job. Serra's score was a departure from the big, brassy sounds of the past, and met with mixed reviews. This is evident in the very beginning, when Cerra toyed with the traditional Bond music during the famous gun-barrel sequence that starts each film.

The Director: Martin Campbell directed two Bond firsts - this, Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond, and later, Daniel Craig's first in Casino Royale. He got the job after John Woo was offered the helm and declined it. Despite only having done a handful of films, Campbell was able to bring a certain intensity to GoldenEye that was regarded as a successful resurrection of what many considered a dead franchise.

Fun Facts: This was the first Bond film not to use material from Ian Fleming stories as inspiration. However, the name is an homage to Fleming, who, while himself an Intelligence officer during WWII, wrote a plan called Operation Goldeneye - a contingency for the possibility of the Nazis invading Spain. Joe Don Baker, who plays Jack Wade in this one, previously played a villain in The Living Daylights.

Favorite Lines: Trevelyan has a good one when, after delivering a scathing remark during a confrontation with Bond, says, "What's the matter, James? No glib remark? No pithy comeback?" Judi Dench as M says to James, "...I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur." Bond himself is rather short on memorable quips in this one.

Other Stuff: It's worth noting this was the first film where Judi Dench played M, a not-so-subtle reminder that in real life, Mi5 had been taken over by a woman, Stella Rimington. The film also spawned a very successful series of first-person shooter console games that were highly regarded at the time.

Next up we look at Tomorrow Never Dies, in which Bond prevents war between Britain and China.

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