After the unfairly lukewarm critical and commercial response to Timothy Dalton’s second and final James Bond film Licence to Kill, the series’ relevance in a post-Cold War context was questioned. Once the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later, people were unsure that there was any use for the world’s most famous spy.
Six years after LtK’s release, Pierce Brosnan and new director Martin Campbell proved the doubters wrong with GoldenEye. A typically thrilling and slick, yet fresh outing for 007, for my money GoldenEye is the best Bond film to date.
The film owes much of its success to its casting. The charismatic Brosnan was tailor made for Bond. Having made his name on US television as the suave con-man Remington Steele, the Irishman captured both the hard edge of Connery and Roger Moore’s ludicrous lechery while making the role his own. Although his further three Bond films didn’t quite reach this peak, Brosnan was excellent throughout his tenure.
In another series debut, Judi Dench is excellent as M. Her first scene, during which she calls Bond “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War” is the series’ most effective attempt to examine and challenge Bond as a character. Dench is the perfect actress for such a scene and she takes no prisoners in her dressing down of the smug spy.
A Bond film is only as good as its villain and Sean Bean is also on top form as Alec Trevelyan, a former MI6 agent gone rogue who plans a cyber terrorist attack (how modern) on London. Trevelyan’s motives are presented sympathetically, and he is a realistic foil for our hero. The two are opposite sides of the same coin. You can probably guess if he makes it out of the film alive though.
The film’s action is also one of its greatest aspects. It opens with a spectacular bungee jump into a Russian facility and the brutal concluding fight between Bond and Trevelyan is the series’ best since the train fight in From Russia With Love. Its finest moment, however, is the tank chase through St. Petersburg. This preposterous scene is hugely entertaining cinema and embraces the brazen nature of Bond without letting realism get in its way.
The combination of a talented cast, brilliant action and a fresh approach made GoldenEye a great Bond film and a superb action film in its own right. More importantly, it proved that Bond didn’t need the Cold War. In fact, it was helped by no longer having to abide by such a Manichean structure.
For England, James?