December 12, 2011 Leave a comment
Year: 1995. GoldenEye finally saw the dark of the theater in November of 1995 putting an end to the longest hiatus between 007 celluloid adventures ever. This six year gap, like the longest previous gap of three plus years between The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), was due to legal issues. The CliffsNotes; in 1989 Danjaq, the Swiss parent company of EON sued MGM/UA over issues surrounding the licensing of Bond television rights. At the time ABC among others were still making big bucks airing Bond on primetime TV and EON/Danjaq wanted more of the pie. The upshot was a freeze on all further Bond films until the suit was settled in December of ’94 for a reported $13.5 million according to Variety. In the meantime, those jonesing for their 007 fix had to settle for a shot of 003 ½. I wish I were kidding. In 1991 Bond fans could turn on Saturday morning cartoons and catch the animated program “James Bond Jr.” Now, you may be thinking, “But Bond never had kids” and you would be right. I’ll let IMDb.com explain:
James Bond Jr. is the nephew of the famous international spy. Determined to follow in the footsteps of his famous uncle, James Jr. enrolls in Warfield, a prep school based on the grounds of an old counter intelligence training base in the UK. Along with his schoolmates IQ (grandson of Q) and Gordo Leiter (son of CIA agent Felix), James Jr. fights against SCUM (Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem), an international cartel of terrorists and mad scientists.
James Bond Jr. is a fictional character described as the nephew of Ian Fleming’s master spy James Bond. The name “James Bond Junior” was first used in 1967 for an unsuccessful spinoff novel entitled 003½: The Adventures of James Bond Junior written under the pseudonym R. D. Mascott. The idea of Bond having a nephew was used again in 1991 as an American animated series for television in which the title character defeats threats to the safety of the free world. The series was mildly successful and spawned six episode novelizations by John Peel writing as John Vincent, a 12 issue comic book series by Marvel Comics published in 1992, as well as a video game developed by Eurocom in 1991.
Wow! So they didn’t just pull 003 ½ out of their anuses, he’s been around since the days of Fleming. Obviously all of this is absolutely absurd except the idea of SPECTRE being replaced by SCUM. That’s awesome. If only there was a song spelling out how James Bond Jr. has a job to do and he chases SCUM around the world. Let’s go to the videotape!
When a movie as disastrous as Licence To Kill (1989) is followed by a six-year gap only to be filled by 003 ½, well, that would be enough to kill a lesser franchise. Additionally, Bond had to contend with the events of November 9, 1989. On that day crowds of East Germans and West Germans took hammers to the most visible symbol of the “evil empire,” the Berlin Wall, and Germany once again became united as one country. The U.S.S.R., bankrupt thanks to over spending on military ventures in Afghanistan and the arms race with NATO, ceased to be. The cold war superpower once again became Russia and the satellite countries that made up the rest of the U.S.S.R. regained their independence and those living behind the iron curtain were now free to buy all the Levis their hearts desired. Elated to be free at last, free at last, Lord almighty, free at last, the former Soviet citizens took to the street of Berlin in a frenzied celebration cumulating in a concert given by David Hasselhoff. The Hoff, standing on the ruins of the wall while donning a jacket lined with Christmas lights, serenaded the crowd with “Looking for Freedom,” a song that became the unofficial anthem of the historic event. After the Hoff left the stage, many East Germans concluded that if this was freedom then they wanted no part of it. They begged for the wall to be re-erected and the strict media blackout to be once again imposed but to no avail; the wall stayed down and the ex-Soviets had to live with David Hasselhoff like the rest of the world. With the cold war officially over, unless some enterprising individual adopted a white cat and sat down in the long abandon #1 chair at SPECTRE headquarters, James Bond’s services were no longer required. But the redrawing of the world map wasn’t the only major change to pass Bond by, the world of film also shifted while he slept. Young Sherlock Holms(1985) featured a scene early in the film where a Mid-Evil knight etched in stained glass becomes alive, jumps off the pane, and walks down a church aisle. He was crudely animated, two-dimensional and only on screen for a few second but he was the first use of computer-generated imagery or CGI in a film.
Four years later James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) gave us the first fully realized CGI character, a morphing worm-like alien, and the digital genie was not only out of the bottle, he made Robin William’s Aladdin (1992) character an antique. In the following years moviegoers got to witness robots walking through steel bars in T2: Judgment Day (1991), dinosaurs plucking lawyers off toilets in Jurassic Park (1993), and a legless Garry Sinise being a total asshole in Forrest Gump (1994). In some ways I’ve come to terms with my personal CGI demons but the technology still gives me the fits. CGI is one of many tools in a filmmaker’s toolbox and should be treated as such. But it’s a terrifyingly powerful tool and as we all learned from dear Uncle Ben Parker, with great power comes great responsibly. Some can handle it (Peter Jackson with the Lord of the Ring trilogy) but most can not (George Lucas with the Star Wars prequel trilogy). What would Bond producers, they of the over the top stunt, do with this new gadget? Hollywood movies had also shifted in a more fundamental, story-telling way since 1989. The hippest heroes of 90’s weren’t globe hopping action stars but hard-boiled tough guys who ate your tasty Kahuna burger before shooting you in the face. Add it all up and you could picture Bond turning in his double O license and retiring to the Florida Keys where he would pass his days fighting off drug lords and taking the occasional PI case for the local ladies a la Thomas Magnum. But then again Glen and Co. tried something like that with the last film and I would rather watch “James Bond Jr.” on YouTube then witness James suffer such an undignified fate. Thank the movie gods Bond has EON in his corner. The last time it looked like Bond would be put out to pasture, Broccoli and Co. blasted back with the stellar The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the strongest Bond film of the 70’s and 80’s. That’s a lot to ask for once, could EON and 007 actually pull it off twice?
Film Length: 2 hours 10 minutes
Bond Actor: Interior EON Production offices, London. May 1994. Buzzzzzzz “Mr. Broccoli, Mr. Dalton is here for his 10 O’clock.” “Good send him in. Hi yah, Timothy, good to see you, come on in. No, don’t bother to sit down this will just take a second. So, I think it’s fair to tell you that we are going a different direction for the next Bond picture. We just feel the audience should, you know, like James Bond. And our research backs this up. Across the board we found that when people think of Bond, they want to think of him as someone likable, someone who is pleasant to be around, someone they want to spend time with. I’m sure you understand. Anyway Timothy, it was a good run and thanks so much. Talk to the girl on your way out, she can validate your parking, and remember, don’t call us, we’ll call you, or not. OK, good?” Buzzzzzzz “Yes, security, please escort Mr. Dalton to his car and make sure he’s off the lot in 15 minutes. Good luck Timothy, I’m sure you’ll land on your feet. Helen! Can you get me Pierce on the line?” That is made up. This isn’t “I thought Pierce Brosnan was a good choice. I liked GoldenEye. Timothy Dalton never got a handle on the role. He took it seriously in the wrong way. The person who plays Bond has to be dangerous. If there isn’t a sense of threat, you can’t be cool” and “Timothy Dalton has Shakespearean training but he underestimated the role. The character has to be graceful and move well and have a certain measure of charm as well as be dangerous. Pierce Brosnan is a good actor – he added some new elements to it.” Both of those are Sean Connery quotes and who’s going to argue with the man who invented to role? As for my thoughts on Pierce Brosnan’s Bond before I started this project, I didn’t really have any. I refer to the mid to late 90’s as my pop culture blackout period. I was a junior in college when this film came out and at that time I did not read any periodicals, I did not own a TV, and I could not listen to commercial radio. (Nor could anyone truth be told. The bliss of Nirvana and Pavement actually getting airtime on Top 40 radio was replace by 24 hours of Hootie and the Blow Fish and the Dave Mathews Band interrupted only by the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes.” I’m not exaggerating one iota. Seriously, my private hell is FM radio in 1995.) As for other links to the outside world, my experience with that new thing called the World Wide Web at the time consisted of one room on campus. In that room were 12 computers with monitors displaying a green blinking cursor. The only function these terminals could perform was to send something called an “E-mail” which was “the future of communication” according to the sign on the door.
Yet, every time I walked past the room all I heard was typing and absolutely no one talking or you know, communicating. The irony was too rich for my 21-year-old mind so I swore I would avoid everything having to do with this “internet.” I guess what I’m saying is at this time in my life I was very focused on me and enjoying it. After spending every Friday night of my high school years at the record store and the local AMC 12 checking out the hot new releases, my head was now very much elsewhere/everywhere/nowhere. I took immense pride in the fact that I was willfully ignorant and cut-off from the rest of the world. “No, I’m sorry, I’ve never seen ‘Friends.’” (Still haven’t, not a single frame of a single episode.) I did still make my way to the cinema on occasion and I know I’ve seen all four Pierce films at some point. In fact, I think I caught GoldenEye in the theater over winter break, but Brosnan is by far the Bond I’m least familiar with/ have the weakest attachment to. So, it’s almost like I’m coming at the next four films blind (almost), which is super exciting. So, we’ve had a Scot, an Aussie, a proper Englishman and a Welshman. Now the Irish get their crack at it and after having the role snatched out from underneath him in 1987, Brosnan is beyond grateful for his second chance. On the DVD extras he is simply giddy when discussing the role. “My names Bond, James Bond! It’s a hoot.” His joy carries over to the film and shows in every frame. From the get go, this is a guy you want to hang out with. I never read any reviews of the Bond films until after I’ve written about them myself. It’s one of the ways I try to keep this as “pure” an experience as possible, but I do enjoy reading what other thought after I post. When I went back to read Roger Ebert’s review of The Living Daylights (1987) I was struck by his take on Dalton. “He’s a strong actor, he holds the screen well, he’s good in the serious scenes, but he never quite seems to understand that it’s all a joke. The correct tone for the Bond films was established right at the start, with Sean Connery’s quizzical eyebrows and sardonic smile. He understood that the Bond character was so preposterous that only lightheartedness could save him. The moment Bond began to act like a real man in a real world, all was lost.” Brosnan not only has the quizzical eyebrows and sardonic smile but he flirts like Cary Grant, he’s as physical as Jason Statham, and he can wear a suit like George Clooney. In short, he is more then a breath of fresh air; he is a brilliant blast of helium. His joy is infectious and I found myself smiling like a fool at points in the film. Perhaps I’m over reacting slightly having just come out from under the wet blanket of gloom that was Dalton, but I don’t think so. I have hazy memories of invisible cars and Denise Richards in our near future so it’s quite possible the Brosnan era goes off the rails but for this film at least, Pierce Brosnan is Bond, James Bond, and it’s a hoot.
Director: Martin Campbell. The great purge continues behind the camera with a new director and for the first time ever, no Cubby Broccoli. Barbara Broccoli, Cubby’s daughter and her husband Michael Wilson, who has been increasingly involved since the mid 1970’s, are listed as the Executive Producers. They worked “under the supervision of Cubby” which I read to mean Cubby was present in name only. Indeed, GoldenEye would be Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’ last film as one of the men most reasonable for the Bond films passed away on June 27, 1996 at age of 87. Campbell, who was well known in the UK for his work on the BBC show “Edge of Darkness,” brought a modern sensibility to the Bond franchise. More importantly, unlike Glen, he is a capital “F” Filmmaker. On the DVD extras, the Kiwi director is painted as a precise craftsman and a tough love taskmaster. The cast and crew talk about how intense Campbell is on set and “There is lots of yelling…” is a familiar refrain but across the board everyone agrees he’s “sharp as a knife” and “keeps your head in it.” Pierce in particular talks about how Campbell pushes but keeps the energy up and can be trusted. Listening to this stuff reminds me of the classic baseball scenario where a “player’s manager” is sacked after losing 90 plus games to be replaced by a spitting-from-the-mouth-screamer who drops F bombs and throws the occasional chair. The players all snap to and in the end are a much better team for it. This is exactly what the lazy Bond franchise needed, a new guy to take over the clubhouse and kick some ass. The #1 best thing about this film, and this goes back to Campbell, is balance. The director seamlessly balances the classic Bond conventions we love with a new modern flare he brings to the picture. The humor and action play together like rhythm and melody in a well crafted pop tune. The use of the old school filmmaking, stunts, miniature models, and actual locations are mixed in effortlessly with minimal, tasteful CGI and quick cut modern editing. The film simultaneously plays out as a 50’s spy noir and updated post cold war thriller. The script even expands on James Bond character, dropping nuggets like the fact Bond was orphaned when both his parents died in a climbing accident. Most importantly the romance is back, and I’m not talking about Bonds relationship with women. I’m talking about the romance of going on an epic adventure with a spy who is out to save the world. From the get go, I couldn’t believe how much more juicy and enjoyable the action sequences were and how everything fit together organically, one moment rolling into the next with expert pacing and seamless ease. Add the numerous nods to James past and winks to long time fans and Campbell delivers everything you want in a Bond film and then some.
Reported Budget: $58,000,000 estimated. Shot in 110 days with a crew of over 500 almost all the money is, as they say, on the screen. At first glance, $58M is some big bucks. Not quite double the $34 million for Moonraker (1979), the most expensive Bond to date, but well over the $32 for Licence To Kill (1989). However, in the context of 1995 big budget films, the number is just about right. Other ‘95 films like Jumanji, Casper, Crimson Tide, Congo, Braveheart, Outbreak, and Nixon all had budgets in the $50 million range. Meanwhile, the big ticket items of the year were Money Train and Under Siege 2 ($60M estimated), Apollo 13 ($62M estimated), Judge Dredd ($70M estimated), Die Hard: With A Vengeance ($90M estimated), Batman Forever ($100M estimated) and one of the most notorious budget busting flops of all time which was also the most expensive film made at the time, Waterworld ($175M estimated). Now here’s the kicker; only two of the above films made more money then Bond.
Reported Box-office: $106,600,000 USA and $351,500,000 worldwide. Nothing will ever come close percentage wise to the 1960’s Bond heyday where seven digit budgets could turn into nine digit returns, but GoldenEye made more in terms of dollars than any previous Bond both in the US and abroad. (The record holder was Moonraker with $70,308,099 USA and $210,308,099 worldwide.) GoldenEye finished at #6 on the year in the U.S. beat by #2 Batman Forever ($184M) and #3 Apollo 13 ($172) while #10 Die Hard: With A Vengeance ($100M), #12 Waterworld ($88M), #52 Judge Dredd ($34M), and #100 Nixon ($13M) staring Anthony Hopkins who passed on playing a Bond villain to play someone much more sinister in Oliver Stone’s film, all fell short of the newly jump started Bond machine. Bond Forever, With A Vengeance.
Theme Song: “Goldeneye” performed by Tina Turner. I love Tina Turner. I could listen to her sing my grocery list. Her sultry, sex vocals work overtime here but the issue is the Bono and Edge penned tune. U2 was in the middle of their post-ironic Zooropa, Pop Mart, super hero costume period and I just don’t think it’s the right fit. Would something from the Joshua Tree or even Achtung Baby vintage have worked? Perhaps but Tina and the pounding, faux industrial lite “GoldenEye” work at crossed purposes. However, when the bridge threatens to collapse under the weight of the tune, Tina belts out “now I’ve got you in my siIIIIIIIIITTTTTTES with a golden EEEYEEEEEEEEEEEE!” to keep everything afloat. As for the clip, I think the stage setup speaks to just how huge a star Tina was at this point. Also, take note of the keyboard player who is clearly a hold-over from Tina’s previous big film soundtrack hit, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Take it away Tina!
And for the record, an avant-garde noise infused take on the Bond theme can be fantastic as John Zorn proves on his 1989 album “Naked City.”
Opening Titles: And the hits keep coming. Reimagined yet grounded in tradition, these are the best titles we’ve had since the early 70’s. Right off the bat, the high symbolism that is inherent to the Bond titles tie directly to films theme. Juxtaposed to the shimmering soft bodies of the every present “Bond credit women” are cold, heavy stone statues of imperialistic Russian leaders. So we see oppressive busts of Stalin and Lenin float past inviting busts. Yes, thanks to vertical gun barrels and sickles bulls eyeing hammers there are phallic symbols aplenty but everything here seems to speak to one whole as opposed to just tossing five or six naked dancing women on the screen and calling it a day. All the images finally merge about ¾ through when the women take the hammers and break apart the statues in an obvious nod to the tearing down of the wall. Bond is not running away from the fall of the Soviet Union, he’s embracing it head on and in his signature style to boot. Additionally, everything is shot with a gold tint as if one were observing all of this thorough a golden eye. By the time we get sucked back into the gun barrel (after violently being cased out by a bullet at the top of the sequence) GoldenEye’s credits have upped the ante considerably. When you look at the actual credits themselves; Famke Janssen, Sean Bean, Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane, and Judi Dench as “M”, it would appear that Bond 17 has the cards to win back anything 007 lost in his six year absence.
Opening Action Sequence: James Bond is running. Fast. Hauling ass really. We have seen Bond run many times, but never like this. This is not “actor” running. This is a man who is moving with purpose and actually, really running. He’s in black, with a rope slung over his shoulder, trucking out onto a narrow walkway with reckless abandon. If you, I, or any mortal human were to walk five paces out onto this wall of concrete wedged between two cliffs we would be spinning with vertigo. But Bond is running to the center at top speed. The dam, the film tells us, is the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility, deep in the now defunct USSR. When Bond reaches the middle, he Carabiner clamps himself to the structure and in the first of many stunning shots in the film, he swan dives off the dam in one uninterrupted take. As his bungee cord brings him to near stop, he shots a grapple gun with a motorized winch to draw himself to the ground. Then he pops the hatch and into the enemy’s lair he goes. With the bungee jump, producers immediately demonstrate that this modern Bond is up to date on the latest trends. I recall a trip I took to Orlando in the mid-90’s and the skyline was dotted with crazy jackasses paying $50 a pop to bungee jump off construction cranes in what is now hopefully an illegal form of recreation. While jumping on this bungee trend (snicker), the film wisely avoid another, relying on CGI for everything, especially stunts. Following the proud Bond tradition of “doing it for real,” stuntman Wayne Michaels actually bungeed of the Verzasca Dam in Locarno, Switzerland. When we finally meet Bond up close he is still hanging upside down but not on the bungee. Like our T-Rex friend from Jurassic Park, he is about to take a man who is sitting on the toilet out. “Beg your pardon, I forgot to knock” is well delivered with just the right amount of smirking (upside down smirking for what it’s worth.) The kidding quickly become serious when out of the dark comes a gun, pointed right at James’ head. This establishes the humor/serious back and forth that will play out for the entire film and Brosnan handles the switch from comedy mask to drama mask effortlessly. And hey, good news! The man with the gun is just good old 006. “For England James?” “For England Alec.” As the two break into the main generator room it quickly become clear they have worked together before. Like a QB needs to be in complete sync with his star receiver in order to orchestrate a 2 minute drill, James and Alec work the room as tightly as a Swiss watch; that is until James peeks out to see Alec on his knees with a gun to his head and 50 or so Ruskie soldiers. “Come out with your hands up.” “How original.” It’s all pearls with this Brosnan fellow. Before 007 obeys the clichéd order he resets the timers on the explosives he and 006 planted from 6 minutes to 3. Make note of it, it becomes important later on. The man holding the gun to 006’s head by the by is wearing possibly the best police state military uniform since Ralph “don’t call me Ralph” Fiennes stomped around in Nazi boots in Schindler’s List (1993). He is General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov and his name says it all. Ourumov is a deliciously evil cartoon military tyrant who would fit seamless in with the cast of Dr. Strangelove (1964). Just to prove how nasty he is, he puts bullet in 006’s head when it didn’t quite seem necessary to do so. Make note of it, it becomes important later on. Like every room in warehouse looking structures in Bond films, this room is filled with vats of nasty chemicals and explosives but since this is a Chemical Weapons Facility I guess it’s understandable. Perhaps they ran out of room in the pantry and the just stacked the stuff on empty shelves, like the one above everyone to the left. A quick gun blast from Bond and the canister come pouring down upon all the soldiers’ heads. As the fire starts Bond blots out the door mowing down machine gun toting baddies like he’s a 15-year-old boy on Red Bull playing “Call of Duty.” As Ourumov and half the Soviet army chase him down, Bond jumps into a plane which is headed toward the edge of a cliff. At this point, we expect him to fly off into the night but the film, not for the last time, sweeps the carpet out from under our expectations. When Bond goes to toss the pilot out the door, the pilot grabs Bonds arms and pulls them both out onto the tarmac. Always a great improviser, Bond grabs a Russian motorcycle and jumps on to chase the pilotless plane that’s continuing down the runway to the cliffs edge. While Ourumov looks on with more admiration then disappoint at loosing his prisoner, Bond guns the motorcycle and like he did 18 years earlier on skies, jumps off the cliff into the void. Kicking the bike aside and turning himself into a missile, Bond, Superman like, flies through the air to catch up with the plane, makes his way into the cockpit, grabs a hold of the yolk, and pulls up before going head on into the mountain to cap off what is hands down the most exciting open since The Spy Who Love Me.
Bond’s Mission: After the credits we learn the events in the open happened 9 years earlier, and now we are in the present, 1995. We join James as he is engaged in some high-speed road flirting a al Chevy Chase and Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). The girl is still in a red Ferrari and the guy still needs to peer over a more conservative woman in his passenger seat to catch the red Ferrari girl’s eye however, this time the part of Clark W. Griswold is played by Bond, the green wood paneled family truckster is now the classic grey Aniston Martin DB5, and the flat highway of the American Midwest is replaced by a mountain road in the French Alps. The conservative woman in Bond’s passenger seat (on the left side of the car, though the girl in the red Ferrari is driving from the left. Europe is just crazy…) has been sent by the new M (who we have not met) to observe Bond in the field. She’s a one-dimensional prop who I immediately pegged as a misstep in the film. That was until Bond slams on the breaks to stop the car in the middle of the mountain road, produces a bottle of Bollinger (chilled), and gets an “Oh James…” all in 15 seconds. Ahhh, I get it now. This is silly and outrageous. With this 15 seconds all the ill will of the PC uptight Dalton Bond is erased and we are once again allowed to not take it all so seriously. Not for nothing is 007 in a grey Aston Martin; this is the return of the rakish hero we all know and love. The Bond who drives fast and chases skits is back and not a moment to soon. Need more proof? In the next few shots we see Bond in a tux, entering a casino, drinking a martini made to his liking, and playing baccarat with the girl in the red Ferrari, one Ms. Xenia Onatopp. “On a top?” The first 10 minutes of GoldenEye firmly puts us back into the proper Bond world of hyper-realty where the cars a little faster, the drinks a little stronger, the stakes at the table are a little higher and women …ahhh the women. If Bond’s your bag, you’re in clover. 007 movies generally work best as elaborate case films with twist and turns along the way. GoldenEye, like the classic From Russia With Love (1963), is essentially Bond and the baddies both trying to get their hands on the same technological dingus with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The MacGuffin this go around is the French prototype stealth helicopter TIGER. Not only is it invisible to radar, it can still fly after a magnet pulse from a nuclear blast, an event that would render every other electronic device useless. Not two seconds after we learn how kick-ass the TIGER is Onatopp and her accomplice, General Ourumov, committing Grand Theft Huey. But in a classic film noire twist, the MacGuffin is a red herring! The real MacGuffin, like the Lektor before, is much more sinister and dangerous. Ourumov and Onatopp (not to be confused with Bonnie and Clyde) stole the TIGER to be used as a getaway car in the theft of the Goldeneye. The dingus, named after Ian Flaming’s Jamaican home, is a space-based magnetic-pulse weapon that simulates the shutting-down-all-electrical-devises havoc of a nuclear blast without all the messy fallout. You now see why they needed the TIGER. All of this business is handled in an entertaining and efficient manner that’s on par with mid 90’s pacing but also in a way than demands the audience keep up to speed. In other words, it’s a smart film that treats you, the viewer, as an equal, unlike its predecessor, which fed us garbage and told us it was a gourmet meal. Anyway, now the baddies have the Goldeneye and Bond must get it.
Villain’s Name: Alec Trevelyan. AKA 006. Well, I certainty didn’t see that one coming. I recalled the dam dive from when I saw GoldenEye in the theater but I didn’t remember this twist at all so I nearly jumped off my couch in a genuine “Oh shit!” moment when Alec emerges from the shadows to revile himself at the leaded of the Janus Gang. The first time Alec came out of the dark was at the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility where Bond was happy to see 006; this time James looks as if he’s seen a ghost and indeed, ghosts are all over this fantastic scene. It turns out, Alec Trevelyan was a sleeper double agent all along and he and Ourumov faked his death at Arkangel. Alec then went underground and after the fall of the Soviet Union rounded up Ourumov and Onatopp and a bunch of ex-Soviet loyalist not yet ready to wave the white flag and stole the Goldeneye. From a structural standpoint the Bond films are perfectly positioned to blindside audiences with this villain switch-a-roo (from Ourumov to Alec). After 17 Bond films we have been programmed as viewers to keep the opening sequences in its own box. Yes, the open can tie into the story or not, but we have come to accept that characters introduced in the open can stay there and not be referenced again, especially if we think that character was killed. Add the fact that nine yeas have passed since the events of the open and it nearly guarantees we’ve all forgotten good old 006 until like Lazarus he comes back to life. We have also become accustom to Bond shedding partners like Spinal Tap goes through drummers. Remember dear departed Sharky from Licence To Kill, Saunders from The Living Daylights, Sir Godfrey Tibbett from A View To A Kill (1985), Vijay from Octopussy (1983), and Luigi Ferrara from For Your Eyes Only (1981) just to name recent examples. Basically, if you team up with Bond and you’re not a woman or named Felix, chances are you’re the red shirted ensign on the away team. The unmasking of the true villain is also shocking thanks to the fact that General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov is so well written. The General could have just been placeholder keeping the chair warm until the big kahuna showed up but Ourumov is credible as the head baddie in both appearance and action. In the open, after he “shoots” 006 in the head, he orders his men to not shoot at Bond for risk of hitting the chemical drums. (Those damn chemical drums again.) Bond grabs a cart loaded with said drums and uses the combustible canisters as cover. The General cocks his head and smirks in wide-eyed amazement as Bond squeaks across the floor. He has a look on his face like a man who’s just flopped the nuts and simply can’t believe 3 players are betting into him. Later, when the tables have turned and Ourumov finds himself in the back of a car trying to outrun Bond, who happens to be chasing him in a tank, all the General can do is go between a nervous giggle and shear panic while pulling off a flask. It’s these little moments that I cherish because they are so simple yet go such a long way toward making movie characters real people. This shift in focus from one villain to the next, much like the shift from the TIGER to the Goldeneye, could have so mangled the plot as to destroy any of the pacing and flow. But in Campbell’s steady hands the shift from one focal point to the next is so expertly handled that it has the proper impact while remaining nearly invisiable.
Villain Actor: Sean Bean, a perfect choice to play Alec Trevelyan. As he proved playing Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) six years later, even when he is the good guy, he’s still got the coiled up intensity of a baddie. You just feel like he could jump over the line at any moment. I hear he’s also fantastic in “Game of Thrones” but I have yet to dive into the series. Hey back off, the wife is reading the books and wants to finish them first. Shesh. Gottfried John, who plays General Ourumov, was born in Berlin and after a quick glace at his IMDB page I think we can official name him the Samuel L. Jackson of Germany for his unwillingness to turn down any role offered to him. He is not pretty man but I just love his look. He looks like he would be at home in front of the local OTB picking up half smoked butts off the sidewalk and finishing them off. He would have no problem hanging out with those dudes who watch old boxing matches on the TV’s at Record Mart in the Times Square subway station. He has a face that just says Character. He’s seen it and you can tell just by looking at em.
Villain’s Plot: Alec Trevelyan planned this one out pretty well. As the head of the Russian space division, General Ourumov is above suspicion and therefore the perfect inside man to pull off the Goldeneye heist. Once he and Onatopp shoot almost everyone at the remote Siberian base that housed the Goldeneye, they use the super weapon to blow up the base and disable all the incoming MIG’s while they take off with the loot in the TIGER. A quick aside, to launch the Goldeneye weapon, two people must turn two separate keys simultaneously. This is a cold war film convention so common at the time as to be cliché, but I had completely forgotten about it. Seeing it again brought a nostalgic joy to my heart. But back to the grand plan, Ourumov, as the head of space division, heads up the investigation into his own theft which he pins on a band of separatist. Meanwhile Alec gets the prize and since he knows MI6 will send their best man after it, he gets revenge against Bond in the barging. It turns out that way back when, 006 didn’t not escape the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility unscathed. Thanks to Bond resetting the timers on the explosives from six minutes to three, Alec didn’t clear out of the room in time and ended up scaring the right side of his face. His gang is named the Janus group after the double-faced Roman God but he could have taken inspiration for the modern mythology of Bob Kane. Like Batman’s foe Harvey Dent, Alec is the physical embodiment of two faced; a man who betrayed Bond and MI6 and has the scars to show for it. So revenge is the motivating factor here, revenge against not only Bond but all of England. Trevelyan descended from Cossacks, a group of Russians that sided with the Nazis during WWII and surrendered to the Allies after Berlin fell believing they would join the Bits in fighting the communist. However, England sent them back to Stalin who had them all shot, including women and children. “Not exactly our finest hour.” Bond declares but I think one Lt. Aldo Raine would disagree.
Anywho, with his parents dead young Alec worked his way into becoming a deep mole in MI6 with the idea of avenging his families betrayal at the hands of the crown. In a related note, the 3 by 5 index card application that asked for name, race, gender and birthday in way of a background check for getting into MI6 has been abandon for a more thorough process in direct reaction to what is now referred to as “the 006 incident.” Now, Alec plans on using the Goldeneye to electro-nuke London. And since he knows all of MI6’s tactics, he very well could get a way with it. See, I told you he had this well thought out. It’s also a brilliant workaround as a plot device. Filmmakers solved the end of the cold war issue by just continuing it. Much like the Japanese on Lubang Island who continued to fight well after WWII had ended, the movie gives us isolated Siberian dead enders who are still ready to throw down with those capitalist pigs. These folks are more then happy to hitch their wagon to this very sinister and calculating baddie who is playing both sides against the middle. It all works quite well thank you but… but… but for some reason all of this is not enough for old Alec, or for that mater, the film. Before he blasts London back to Stone Aged level technology, Alec plans on hacking UK banking computers and making off with all the money right before the Goldeneye erases the records of said money. Truth be told, the film handles this development rather well and it almost avoids feeling like a tacked on thread but it’s also wholly unnecessary. I know it’s a quibble but the whole robbery bit kind of undercuts the Alec character. In fact, Bond himself points this out by calling Alec nothing more than a common thief at which point I expected 006 to get all Hans Grubber and scream “I’m an exceptional thief Mr. Bond!” Not that there is anything wrong with being a thief. As Clooney and crew prove in the Ocean’s films, it can be a noble occupation affording one the opportunity to romp around with your mates while correcting the injustices of the world through grand larceny. But back the impending destruction of London at the hands of old Alec. In Alec, we have a villain of Shakespearian scope, a man who literally has spent his entire life planning and scheming to visit tragedy upon many innocents all in the name of vengeance. What more motivation do you need? To add bank robber to Alec Trevelyan’s résumé cheapens it.
Villain’s Lair: When we meet up with Alec again, it’s in a junkyard full of broken imperialistic Soviet statues. The symbolism could be seen as a bit too on the noise but I think it works. Here we have a dead ender still fighting the cold war among the decaying symbols of that war, his face a battered and broken as those of the stone Lenin and Stalin. When not stomping around the junkyard Alec lives on an old train that was used during the cold war to store missiles. The idea was with the train always moving, the West could never track down the warheads. Alec uses this steal tank of a train to hide himself in similar fashion. He hangs out in an over appointed car with all the refinements of a 5 star hotel room while another car holds a helicopter in case he needs to get off the train quickly. (Spoiler alert: he does.) I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, any movie with a train is a success on some level. Finally, Alec and crew manage somehow to take over a Cuban base containing the most advanced deep space tech on the planet, good for, say, controlling the Goldeneye bombs. This base is essentially one huge parabolic dish built into the side of a mountain and hidden under a lake. This is similar to the trick Blofeld pulled with the volcano crater in You Only Live Twice (1967) but Bond is still slow to recognize it. When Bond finally does uncover the base and sets about to stop the Goldeneye, there is a nice bit of fun in 007 stymieing the entire deal by literally shoving a pipe into the gear works; an old fashion low tech solution to disable the most advanced weapon in the world.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Like all the classic Bond villains, Alec has a physical deformity but his was caused by Bond. The scaring on the left side of his melon has come to define the two-faced villain and it’s something he’s quite pissed about. 006 feels as if his old partner betrayed him when he halved the time on the detonators from 6 minutes to 3. This is a bit of the kettle calling the pot black since Alec was a double agent setting up not just Bond but all of England. And, let’s not forget that Bond thought he was dead; a death he faked to betray Bond. So yah, get over it jerk.
Badassness of Villain: General Ourumov, head of the Russian space division, betrayed and killed the best and the brightest under his command. He marched into the bunker where the Goldeneye was hidden and asked the man in charge to fetch the device. “I’m timing you” he announces as the poor bastard scurries off, grabs the dingus, and hand delivers it to the thief. For his trouble, he and (almost) everyone who works at the base get mowed down in a spray of machine gun fire. And Ourumov is just the opening act. For the main event Alec has mastered the mind screw. Both Bond and he were orphaned and adopted by MI6, so Alec is able to call out Jimmy B as only a sibling who is out for blood can. (To continue the analogy, that would make M the dad, regardless of gender, Moneypenny the mom and Q the crazy, drunk uncle.) Yes, Alec knows how to turn off Q’s hidden detonators but it’s when he calls Bond out for using martinis and one night stands to wash away the guilt he feels for all the men he’s killed that he hits a nerve. He is, in fact, one of the few villains to actually rattle Bond and it’s a thrill to see the unflappable 007 become flapped. All Bond can do is raise an eyebrow, curl his lips knowingly, and look to the ground as if to say “well played.”
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Both henchmen are future X-men. This factoid has no doubt bridged the Bond/ Marvel universes in such a way that Daniel Craig’s 007 will report to Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury in The Avengers III: West Coast Avengers Assemble staring Ryan Goslings as Hawkeye, coming in the Summer of 2015 to a theater near you. Oddjob had his bowler, Jaws had his teeth, Necros had his walkman and Xenia Onatopp has her thighs. As Onatopp, Famke Janssen is deliciously campy and in full on femme fatale mode with the outfits and blood red lipstick to match. A black widow, Onatopp not only crushes her prey with her legs but appears to climax while doing so… unless she’s faking. In the wrong hands, err, legs, this could have been beyond silly and sucked us out of the film but here the gag is played with just the right tone as to be bizarre, a little hot, and in one scene, delightful fun. A dozen years before Viggo Mortensen’s rightly celebrated naked sauna brawl in Eastern Promises (2007), Brosnan and Janssen slammed each others heads off the title in a steamy Russian bath. Sadly, they are both wrapped in towels but it still registers as a violent and visceral scene, even if Pierce proves to be more of a gentleman then some of his predecessor and refuses to slap a lady around. Alan Cumming also goes balls out as the Russian computer nerd Boris Grishenko and while it works in some scenes, by the end he’s gone to 11 and it proves to be a bit much. That said Cumming is given an impossible role. With the invention of the internet thrillers have had to solve the problem of finding drama while characters type at a keyboard and stare into a monitor. See another film that came out in ’95, Sandra Bullock’s The Net (1995) for a master course in how difficult it is to make people working on computers exciting. Most directors solve the problem by having their characters scream at the screen like drunken football fans during the third quarter of the 4PM game. “Come on, down load GOD DAMN IT!!!!!” It seldom works. Cumming does all he can, spitting out “I spike dem, Slugheads” like a rabid weasel with Tourette’s and while it’s over the top, he is still entertaining at points, like when his jittery persona sets up a great gag involving his nervous clicking of a pen.
Bond Girl Actress: Izabella Scorupco. The Polish born actress immigrated to Sweden as a child and appeared in a few films before making her English language debut with GoldenEye. More beautiful then hot she is a throw back to the good old days of classic beauties playing Bond girls. The problem is she’s in the same film as Famke Janssen and well, when you’re up against Marvel Girl crushing men with her gams, you’re going to be runner up every time.
Bond Girl’s Name: Natalya Simonova, a handle even Bond has trouble getting his tongue around. The two at introduced in one of the better meet cutes Jimmy B has had. Bond has been knocked out and tied down inside the cockpit of the TIGER. He is awakened by Natalya, who is tied up in the seat behind him, screaming and kicking. “WAKE UP!” Again, we have seen Bond do so many amazing things we sometimes take the “smaller” moments for granted. So, picture, if you will, you’ve been knocked out and when you wake up your tied in the cockpit of a helicopter with a strange Russian woman behind you screaming and kicking your seat while the stinger missiles from the chopper launch, crisscross in a 180 degree turn, and are now haling ass right at you. Me personally? I would need at lest two cups of coffee before I could even consider my options. Not Jimmy B. He head butts the seat eject and that folks is why he gets the girl, every time and twice on Sundays. Well, not at first. Natalya gives him a swift kick in the shin the first chance she gets but she comes around, they all do. She is a computer programmer who survives Ourumov’s attack on the Goldeneye base and therefore knows the General and her co-worker Boris are with the Janus group. The scene is one more example of the film playing with the idea of technology failing. Surrounded by flames and exploding equipment, Natalya can’t get out of the collapsing base because the voice recognition lock is destroyed. She climbs the crippled satellite antenna, not unlike the survivors of the capsized Poseidon climbed the Christmas tree, to escape the base only to find herself standing alone, in only a blouse, in the Serbian night. She is saved by a decidedly low tech dog sled. As a skilled technician she is not the useless damsel in distress but she still falls into Alec’s clutches and needs to be rescued. However, this routine story point remains fresh thanks to the absolute creepiness of Alec. “You know James and I shared everything. Everything…” Gross.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: There is a scene on a Cuban beach that could have been something more. Natalya calls Bond out in a way no Bond girl ever has. He’s distant and she chastises him for not letting her in. Bond then feeds her a line about needing to keep his angst close and inside. “It keeps me on the edge, sharp, where I got to be.” Actually, that was Pacino in Heat (1995) which I’m sure was playing across the hall when I saw GoldenEye in the theater but you get the idea. And besides, Al says it better. Anyway, Natalya takes this macho posturing and throws it back in Bond’s face “No, it’s what keeps you alone.” This one exchange hits harder and is more “dark” then anything Dalton ever did with the character. Sadly, it’s also totally undercut by the fact that (a) Natalya enters the scene wearing a white bikini that (b) we see in a close up crotch shot. One of the few missteps in the film.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Natalya. “Do you destroy every vehicle you get into?”
Number of Woman 007 Beds: Two. We barely get settled into our seats and have yet to open our Milk Duds and Bond is boffing a babe in the middle of the road. (Cue the Beatles “No one will be watching us, why don’t we do it in the road?”) More notable on the location front, this make-out session is taking place in an Aston Martin. Now, I know Q has put some extra options on the car but dude, that’s a tight fit with an inconveniently placed stick shift. Bond and Natalya get off to a slow start, what with the exploding chopper and shin kicking and kidnapping and all but then after fleeing an exploding train Natalya proves that she knows Bond, perhaps even better than his late wife. She looks at 007 and asks “Do you destroy every vehicle you get into?” Bond turns and stares into her eyes as if to say “you understand me so well” and the two go at it for the first of three confirmed times. While in Cuba they engage in the Havana Mahna Mahna (Do do daaa do-do) at least twice. They try for a third before getting caught up in the proud tradition of getting caught. All the baddies are dead, all the bases have been destroyed, and Bond and Natalya are all alone in the jungle. Or at least that’s what Bond assures his lady until they are interrupted by the CIA and US Marines who insists the couple march off to be debriefed at the near by Guantanamo Bay Navy base. Wow, remember when Guantanamo Bay was nothing more than a place where Jack Nicolson was God Damn right he ordered the code red and not a living, breathing monument to our national shame? Ahhh, the 90’s what an innocent time.
Number of People 007 Kills: Classified. Or more accurately, the official Blog, James Blog spotter can’t confirm an accurate number. Such was the killing in GoldenEye that our official body count man not only lost track but curled up into the fetal position and begged for Ben & Jerry’s. Needless to say we wish him well and hope he recovers in time for Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). And with that, onto the carnage! In the open Bond gets his hands on a machine gun (you already see the spotters issue) and did in at least five Ruskies while running about with his finger firmly on the trigger. Then, after he jumps off the cliff to catch the plane to pull up and fly away the entire base explodes. We know Alec made it out with roughly 90% of his face intact but as for the others? Bond again gets a hold of an automatic weapon when fleeing a St. Petersburg jail and mows down at least ten more. He then manages to use the machine gun like a snipers rifle and shoot old Ourumov in the head while missing Natalya who the General was using as a human shield. He kills a helicopter pilot while someone is tied to said chopper (that someone to be revealed below!) and shoots at least three guards while escaping the Cuban dish base; a base that yes, gets blown up and unlike the Dr. No (1962) lair destruction, we don’t see any baddies running out before the big boom. So yah, countless folks met their end at James’ hand including one Alec Trevelyan. I’m happy to report that the final battle between 006 and 007 lives up to its billing as the title bout. The hand to hand feels tougher then some fights we’ve seen in Bond films which is to say when the punches land, they hurt. Yes, by the time the two combatants end up hanging on the end of the satellite antenna like Luke under Cloud City it’s a bit much and your right; Natalya showing up in the helicopter to scoop up James as Alec falls to his death is a huge cheat but since our official spotter had his face in a pint of Chunky Monkey by this point we missed it and just enjoyed the whole rig falling on Alec’s crippled body stuff. “For England James?” “No, for me.” Kick ass!
Most Outrageous Death/s: Bond actually opens his eyes twice to find himself in helicopter danger. The first time he is blasted into consciousness by Natalya kicking his chair. This time he wakes up to Onatopp kicking him in the face. She comes slipping down a zip line hooked to a helicopter that hovers overhead and proceeds to get all crushy with her python femurs. Bond gets out of this tight spot, which is to say between Onatopp’s legs, by getting a shot off. Not at Onatopp but at the chopper. Since his assailant is still tethered to the aircraft when it goes crashing down she goes flying up to be crushed between to huge tree branches. “She always did enjoy a good squeeze.” The other outrageous death involves the other henchman, Boris. Just as Natalya stood alone in the burning ruins of the Goldeneye base, Boris finds himself the soul survivor in the destroyed deep dish Cuban base. As he raises his hands in victory a bath of liquid nitrogen washes over him freezing him in his Rocky pose. Those damn chemical vats again. There are several circular and repeated themes that tie GoldenEye together and it just a delight to have someone behind the camera thinking about these things after the flat set up/action/switch location/repeat formula the Bond films took on for the 1980’s. After the Glen years I almost forget Bond films can be so well crafted.
Miss. Moneypenny: Samantha Bond. The latest Moneypenny has the correct look, demeanor, and yes, age. Caroline Bliss was a little too young and a little too hot. Samantha is a more sophisticated beauty and she has the wisdom to pull of the witty banter. “What would I do with you Moneypenny?” “As far as I can remember, you’ve never had me James.” That’s good stuff. Loyal readers know about Blog, James Blog’s soft spot for dear Moneypenny and while we think we will grow to like Samantha, she has too little screen time in her debut so the jury is still out. We hope to see more of her in the future. The other point of note here is MI6’s offices have been blasted out of the 60’s and landed squarely in 1995. Gone are the classic wooden desks and grand book shelves, replaced the sleek, sterile, teck look of Silicon Valley chic. While I will miss the warmth of the old office, this is 100% correct in keeping with the times. Bond has always been about technology when it comes to the gadgets and the British secret service office should be a buzzing war room full of the latest and greatest inelegance gathering gizmos. Thumbs up.
M: Dame Judi Dench. In a first when it comes to recasting in Bond films, Dench doesn’t seamlessly replace M. In the past when a new actor came in for James, Moneypenny, Felix and even M, that actor simply became that person. No one in the Bond world acknowledged the new face associated with the name. Felix was always just Felix. Dench does indeed come on board as M, the head of MI6, but she is not Sir Miles Messervy. Her M is Barbara Mawdsley and the characters in the film know she is not the same person who sat behind the desk in the past. Dench’s M proves to be the deepest and best established of the series in her very first film. In the past, hints of M as a person were given but basically he existed to (a) offer exposition and (b) harrumph and wring his hands when Bond Fed up. Dench’s M is a three dimensional real life boss and I have a feeling that Dench being cast in the role had a ton to do with the deeper direction of the character. She can act and carry the weight of anything she is handed and unlike past M’s, she has, in her words “the balls” to trade body blows with Bond. She kicks it all off with a wonderful entrance. While king douche Mr. Tanner is insulting her as the “evil queen of numbers” she appears behind him. The scene establishes her as a modern intelligence officer, one who analyzes the data and makes decisions based on research. She sees Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the cold war.” Bond and M mistrust each other from the get go and even chafe on the most baseline issues. “Your predecessor kept some brandy in the cupboard” Bond offers as both a way of being polite and proving he knows the ins and outs of MI6. “I prefer bourbon” M shoots back. Touché. By the end of the exchange, M has verbally put Bond in his place and all he can do, like any good poker player, is fold, go out into the field, and hope to draw a better hand. This is a classic “Moneyball” conflict, new fangled smarts vs. old school gut reactions. I couldn’t be more thrilled. This is the kind of boss Bond should have, one who is just as smart and serves as a counterweight to his swashbuckling pirate. Goldeneye does so many things so well but this reimagining of M might be the masterstroke simply because it lays a foundation on which future films can build. Oh, and Dench, as always, is flawless. She even hits the humor with pitch perfect delivery. “Unlike the American government we prefer to not get our bad news from CNN.” If just for M alone, I’m beyond optimistic about the Brosnan era moving forward.
Q: When Pierce walks into Q’s lab it’s like Norm walking into Cheers after he’s been gone for two weeks. He looks around and exhales; even though he’s been gone everything is in place and as it should be. This is Desmond Llewelyn 15th Bond film and at 82 years old he is absolutely thrilled to be back after 6 years. Showing more energy then he has in years, Q jokes (“Sorry about the leg Q, skiing?” “Hunting”), makes like its 1964 and breaks out Goldfinger (1964) era lines (“I’m particularly proud of this, headlight singer missiles!”) and even turns his cranky character upside down. When Bond reaches out to touch a sandwich on a plate, Q scolds him as he would if Bond were about to touch an explosive device. “Don’t touch that!” He then picks up the sandwich adding “It’s my lunch.”
List of Gadgets: The winch/laser cutting gun at the top is not the sexiest gadget but it’s the unsung hero in making the extremely sexy bungee jump possible. Moments later 007 uses a keycard lock pick for a blink and you’ll miss it break in. After racing Onatopp down the mountain Bond takes her photo and with the push of button sends the image from his camera to Moneypenny at MI6 who faxes him Onatopp’s bio, a fax he receives on his car fax machine. This is another in a long list of Bond gadgets that were fantastic at the time but have becoming commonplace in the world of today. Q hands Bond a few goodies while he’s in the lab including a watch that can trigger a bomb and shoot lasers, a belt with a 75 foot repelling cord built into the buckle, (which gives us the opportunity to learn Bond has a 34” waist), and a pen that doubles class 4 grenade. Three clicks arms the four second fuse, another three clicks disarms it which plays beautifully into Boris’ nervous tic we mentioned above. Q also has a tea tray the doubles as a document scanner just incase you forgot this is after all England.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Bond manages to get both cars, the Aston Martin and the Beamer back in one piece. However, the French owned multi-million dollar prototype TIGER does not make it back. This is huge lose when one considers the never previously, and never will again, develop a weapon.
Other Property Destroyed: Indeed, Natalya could have said “Do you destroy everything?” and left it at that. Yah, he drives a motorcycle off a cliff and blows up a base in the open but here is the larger question. To get to that base, he jumped off a dam. Now, I think it’s safe to say that when one explodes a chemical faculty attached to a dam said dam is not going to be in good shape. So, how much of the Russian country side ended up swimming around like Clooney and crew at the end of O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)? In addition to the TIGER, Bond downs the Onatopp chopper and while it’s technically Natalya and Boris that blow up the deep dish Cuban base, Bond wreaks enough havoc to keep a dozen insurance adjusters busy for years. Then there is the historic city of St. Petersburg. Located at the mouth of the Neva River, this port city was renamed Leningrad in 1924 and like the rest of Russia was shut off to the outside world for most of the cold war. Then, in ’91 after the fall of the wall, St. Petersburg retook its original moniker and opened up its doors reminding the world that Russia’s second largest city was home to some of the most stunning architecture in all of Europe. Four years after that James Bond tore it all down. Natalya is kidnapped by General Ourumov. They take off into the streets of St. Petersburg in a government car and Bond grabs the only set of wheels, err, treads available, those under a tank. The first shot where we see Bond come crashing through a brick wall is in 2D better 3D then anything any director not named Martin Scorsese has ever done. Perhaps inspired by 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis’ famously wrong headed photo op, Bond proceeds to drive the tank with his head pop out of the top while wearing a suit. And just like that photo destroyed Dukakis’ presidential run, Bond destroys all of St. Petersburg. He barrels the 12 foot wide tank down six foot wide allies, he crushes car after car and wall after wall, until finally, in what is played for humor more than blatant product placement (although it is also that) Bond splits a Pierre truck in two sending bottles of water flying everywhere. And for his parting bow, 007 rams the base of a bronze horse statue in such a way that the horse becomes perfectly balanced on top of his tank until it’s knocked off, a la the double-decker top in Live and Let Die (1973), by a low bridge. But Bond still has one more trick up his sleeve for the encore. Ourumov and Natalya join Alec and Onatopp on board Alec’s iron plated missile train. Like Alec did twice before, Bond appears from the shadows to surprise his former comrade, only this time the shadows are the mouth of a railroad tunnel the train is rushing toward and the gun is the barrel of a tank. James jumps clear before the unstoppable train hits the unmovable tank and while not as thrilling at the train derailment in The Fugitive (1993), it’s a hell of a wreck.
Felix Leiter: I guess that whole having his leg bitten off thing sidelined the CIA’s man of lukewarm mediocrity. In his stead the US chose to send their latest medical and scientific break through, Agent Jack Wade. Agent Wade is the first and to date only known successful patient to come out of the super double secrete program known as Operation Zombie or Oz for short. This experimental and highly controversial program involves collecting the deceased from government assassinations; in this case the body of international arms dealer and all around nut-ball Brad Whitaker who was killed by British agent 007 in Tangier in 1987, and reanimating these once dead enemies as a CIA agent. You figure with this technology the US could just grow another leg for Felix but truth be told, Wade is just more fun. The man wears Hawaiian shirts for crying out loud, you know he’s a blast. OK, that zombie stuff is all bullshit (or is it?) Truth is, EON probably felt bad about saddling Joe Don Baker with the worst villain in Bond history and decided they needed to make it up to him. The Jack Wade character is basically the rube American Sheriff J.W. Pepper updated for the 90’s minus the slapstick and racism. And you know what; I like him, especially when he calls Bond Jimbo. In everyway the anti Bond, Wade drives a piece of shit car, he looks like a goof wearing the big Russian hat, and he has a tattoo on his waistline that says “Muffy.” And of course, just when you start to think he’s as useless as Felix, he comes though in a pinch and keeps Bond on the right track. Bond also has a contact in the Russian underground and in a film chock full of great names like Xenia Onatopp and General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov, I must give the blue ribbon to Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky. As played by Robbie Coltrane the ex-KGB man lives up to his fabulous handle and before we even met him he’s a legend. When Wade tells Jimbo a man with a pronounced limp named Zukovski is his contact, Bond is none to happy. “You know him?” “I gave him the limp.” Bond visits the underground boss in his night club and introduces himself by … stepping out of the shadows and putting a gun to his head. (Man that happens a lot in this film.) Zukovski, without looking to see who is holding the gun, delivers a line for the ages. “Welter PPK. Only three men I know carry one and I believe I’ve killed two of them.” Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever find yourself in a spy film, you want that to be your first line. None to happy about the limp, Zukovski is even more reluctant to help Bond after 007 insults his mistress Irina’s singing. (Hey look! Irina is played by Minnie Driver!) I’ve touched on this in the past but anytime Bond hooks up with underground contacts I’m a happy guy, all the more so if there is a history. For a spy, Jimbo doesn’t do enough of this.
Best One Liners/Quips: Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky, mulling over why he should help Bond; “He stole a helicopter? I have 6.” “Three” Bond corrects him, “and none that fly.”
Bond Cars: Back again to this idea of balance. For every new update Bond gets in this movie Campbell wisely gives us a link to his past. Nowhere is this more pronounced then in Bond’s two cars. The first shot we see of Bond after the opening credits has him racing on a cliff side road in the classic grey Aston Martin DB5. My neighborhood of Astoria Queens is home to the largest population of Greeks in the world outside of Greece. Whenever the older Greek men and women walk past an Orthodox church they cross themselves in a sign of reverence and respect. I do the same thing when I see Bond driving a grey Aston Martin DB5. But this is also a 90’s Bond and along with that comes product placement. I remember when this film was in theaters much was made of the multi-picture contract BMW signed with EON. The blitz was huge and even featured Bond tie-ins to BMW ads in print and on TV. If I may for a moment, I watch a ton of sports. 85% of the ads during any giving sporting event are for alcohol products or cars. Now, when I’m watching the game and see an ad for say Jim Beam, I may say to myself, “Hummm, it’s been a while since I’ve had some bourbon. I think I’d like some now.” However, I can’t picture getting up for the seventh inning stretch and thinking “You know, maybe I will drop $45,000 for a two seated car that gets shit gas millage and can’t move more then two blocks if there is a flake of snow on the street.” I could be wrong about this, I haven’t owned a car in years and clearly companies wouldn’t be spending money on ads if they didn’t work but still, who the hell buys a car because they saw an ad for it on TV? Right, BMW Z3 Roadster, baby blue convertible with the Q adjustments that Bond never gets to use. Cool looking car. Maybe I should look into getting one…
Bond Timepiece: A handsome Omega Seamaster. What appears to be a black face is actually blue on this stainless steel cased chronographer with precision Swiss automatic movement and stainless steel interlacing band. It’s also got a laser.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: You mean other then his smile, his charm, and ability to turn every head in the room? Oh that Pierce is just dreamy…
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: … and he can drink! He keeps a bottle of chilled Bollinger in the armrest of the Aston Martin. You know, just in case. Not two minutes after popping the cork on that baby he’s tableside in the casino ordering a martini, shaken not stirred. He has a bourbon on the rocks with M and though we don’t see it I’d bet dollars to doughnuts he has a glass of vodka with Zukovsky.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: And we get some baccarat! Oh be still my heart. Martin Campbell once again proves he’s done his homework by giving us a similar set up to the baccarat scene in Dr. No where Bond is playing against a sultry woman who he is simultaneously trying woo and beat. She takes the first hand we see and proposes rising the stakes. An agreement from Bond and a nod from the pit boss and the next hand is double or nothing. Bond takes the pot down and Onnatop storms off. Bond catches up to her and wonders why she’s so sour. After all, “One rises to meet a challenge.”
List of Locations: Unable to sit around dormant for six years Pinewood went ahead and rented out the 007 studio for a variety of productions. Hey, we all gots to pay the bills. When EON finally came calling the soundstage the Bond built was booked. Long time Bond set designers Peter Lamont found an abandoned Rolls-Royce factory at the Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertordshire, England and converted it to create, say it with me, one of the largest soundstages in the world. I think working in this new location was key in helping Brosnan feel like he could make Bond his. Extremely conscious of the legacy of past Bond’s, Brosnan talks on the DVD extras about the “factory having a good feel because there are no ghosts of Sean or Roger.” (Funny, he never once mentioned Timothy.) Shooting inside Russia for the first time, St. Petersburg is the background to the biggest set piece, the tank case. That said, several St. Petersburg streets were recreated on a back lot so the tank could smash walls without smashing real walls. Cuba however was still a no go zone so Puerto Rico stood in for the island nation. The deep dish base is actually a real dish radio telescope located at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Also seen in Contact (1997), the 1000 feet wide dish with a 500 foot transmitter is used to look for signs of alien life and is the largest radio telescope in the world. The Principality of Monaco, a country so small it could fit inside Central Park, is home to the Casino de Monte Carlo where Bond first meets Onnatop. The opening bungee jump took place at the Verzasca Dam in Locarno, Switzerland where tourist can bungee jump from the same perch as Bond if they are so inclined. MI6’s new exterior is the actual Ministry of Intelligence building on the River Thames which is just so cool. Finally, the train and tunnel bit was shot on the same stretch of track as the Octopussy circus train sequence. I thought I recognized it …
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Let us get the driving bit out of the way shall we. He drives a boat, a Russian tank, and a motorcycle which he jumps off a cliff to catch a plane. Speaking of airplanes, at one point Jimbo is piloting a Cesena which catches on fire. So, Bond simply makes like Captain Sully and lands the plane in a creator lake. He not only smacks the eject button on the TIGER with his brow but he uses his head in others ways. Thank you! Try the veal. After taking Onnatop’s money at the tables Bond figures out her game by picking up her Georgian accent and IDing the license plates on her red Ferrari as fake. This is no small thing since it’s this bit of info that prompts Bond to tail her so he learns she ripped off the TIGER which is linked to the Goldeneye which gets Bond in touch with Wade who leads him to Zukovsky who hooks him up with Alec which ends with Bond saving the world. It’s all in the details.
Final Thoughts: If Goldfinger (1964) is the high water mark by which all Bond films are judged then GoldenEye comes damn close. (And look, both titles are gold body parts!) The script is one of the best Bond has ever had to work with. It’s rich in detail and the twists and turns keep us (and Bond) on our toes. In many films, we as an audience know what’s going on well before the characters and it makes the hero seem dumb for not picking up on the dropped hints. Here, we learn everything with Bond, and therefore experience the same emotions he does. It’s a basic but fundamental element of the film that sucks us in and makes us care about Bond and everything going on around him. I’ve written at length about the balance and repeated themes that Campbell brings to the film and not since Terrence Young has someone so well understood both what makes Bond tick and what makes for an exciting Bond film. The subtle but ever present theme linking the fall of the Soviet Union to failures in their overreliance in technology and rigid ideals hits home more today then it possibly could have in 1995. Are we in The West not now seeing the fall of our society and culture due to faith in technology that gave us incomprehensible financial models and the ability to move billions of dollars in mere seconds? Are we still to this day not continuing to rocket forward with this failed system under the false idea that this is what capitalism is a about? Heavy stuff for sure but this Bond movie has a thought or two in its head and as much as it tied to a time and place, the newly free Russia of the early 90’s, the timeless theme of governments collapsing under their own hubris then needing to reinvent themselves hangs over everything. So we have that, plus a rock ‘em sock ‘em, gadget filled, sexy, slick Bond film; everything humming along in perfect balance. In the past, I’ve complained about Bond filmmakers feeling the need to go big, and here, from the first shot, everything is big. The difference, it not just the explosions but also the themes and ideas that are big and thanks to the balance between all these moving parts, it all works. As for Pierce’s debut, I will say this; in GoldenEye, he gives the best Bond performance since Connery. I know I’m touching the third rail here but please understand, I am not saying Pierce is the second best Bond (working on the assumption Connery is the best), but simply that in this film, taken as a single entry, Pierce’s performance as Bond is better then any of the previous entries going back to the Connery days. Let’s put it another way. If a 12-year-old boy came up to me today and asked “Who is James Bond?” out of all the 17 movies up to this point, GoldenEye is the film I’d show him. Is it the best one yet? No. Maybe not even top 3. But the 17-year-old and counting GoldenEye still feels up to date enough to hold the attention of a kid raised on Harry Potter and “Halo” while also laying out all the classic elements that define Bond and Bond films. While watching the helicopters fly off into the sunset in the final shot, I did think of Pierce and Campbell and Wilson and Lamont and everyone else involved in this project as heroes. With GoldenEye, they made the movie that saved the franchise.