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GoldenEye

Review by Carrie Gorringe

   

Directed by Martin Campbell.

Starring Pierce Brosnan,
Sean Bean, Famke Janssen,
Izabella Scorupco, Judi Dench
and Joe Don Baker.

In the latest installment of the James Bond series, Goldeneye, 007 (Brosnan) is facing a unique set of crises in the wake of the Cold War. Not only is "Q" now a woman (Dench) who thinks of Bond as "a relic of the Cold War" but his compatriot 006, a.k.a. Alex Trevelyan (Bean), has some hidden and relatively complicated alliances (for a Bond film) which predate the very war in which he and other agents of Her Majesty's Secret Service made their marks. But, as per usual, the plot revolves around the Soviet Union, or at least around the remnants thereof, thereby providing a theoretically comfortable point of reference for former Cold Warriors of all stripes, especially the armchair variety. In the post-Soviet era, an organized crime syndicate called Janus is attempting to gain control of the Goldeneye defense system. Goldeneye works on the principle of electromagnetic pulses, and its implications as a weapon in a world highly dependent upon electronic transactions of all stripes is terrifying. The syndicate’s influence, not surprisingly, reaches into the highest levels of government. After Janus is responsible for the theft of Goldeneye and uses it to destroy a Russian defense station, Bond is sent in to find the only remaining survivor of the attack (Scorupco). With her assistance and that of an American operative (Baker), Bond must locate and neutralize Janus' chief and reclaim control over Goldeneye. The latter goal is, in some ways, more difficult than the former.

It is really difficult to analyze a Bond film with any degree of certainty, because of the way in which the genre is constructed. After all, the genre generally consists of little more than a series of actions, ever more outrageous and breath-stopping in execution (not to mention gorgeous scenery and more gorgeous women). Needless to say, character development during the course of a Bond film is almost an irrelevant consideration. In short, at its best, a Bond film is nothing more than two hours of shameless but utterly entertaining fluff for the mind. Nevertheless, in terms of action, Goldeneye does not disappoint; the action is well-paced, and quite exciting. The first half of the pre-credit sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

This is not to say that some misfires didn't occur: the silliness of the second half of the pre-credit sequence almost obliterates the fine action choreography that preceded it, and the location of the villain’s final lair is unmistakably -- and too obviously reminiscent of the "underwater" station employed in You Only Live Twice. Daniel Kleinman's opening credit sequence appears as a bland distillation of images from the best work of traditional title man Maurice Binder. The title song (written by Bono and the Edge, and sung by Tina Turner) isn't bad, but it's hardly memorable. Nevertheless, some minor kinks in the clockwork is better than some of the more egregious components included in some of Goldeneye's immediate predecessors.

For those of us who have been waiting for a really good Bond film -- or even a really good Bond, for that matter -- it and he are back. Goldeneye may not completely live up to the highest standards of the Connery years, but for anyone who feels that he or she has been living with a Bond drought for many years (a period that extends at least through the worst of the excesses of the late Moore era -- some of the more uncharitable among us haven’t been the same since the release of The Spy Who Loved Me nearly twenty years ago), the new film is a great start in the resurrection of the series. Since this is Pierce Brosnan's first attempt at doing Bond, the thought was that some allowances for inexperience might have to be made. Not at all. Unlike the rather brutal indifference that Connery brought to James Bond, or the at times unbearably arch urbane wit that Moore descended into at his worst, Brosnan has the role down perfectly, with the right blend of wit, charm and ruthlessness. Of course, it might be remembered that Brosnan had some ten years as a Bond-in-waiting before Goldeneye, courtesy of NBC, which wouldn’t allow Brosnan, then the star of the crime caper series, Remington Steele, to be released from his contract with the network. Judging from the charisma he projects on screen, one might say that Brosnan has put his time in cinematic limbo to very good use.

The usual assortment of supporting characters help propel the action along quite nicely. Famke Janssen is a delightfully perverse villain who can crush a man in more ways than one; as Janus agent Xenia Onatop death (insert sophomoric snickers here), Janssen's eyes literally tremble with barely-suppressed ecstasy at the thought of killing. In less skillful hands, Onatop's homicidal antics could seem like a cliched illustration of the link that Freud made between sex and death, but Janssen's wit draws Xenia above such tendentiousness. Izabella Scorupco starts out as a conventionally helpless Bond girl, but demonstrates some surprising strength along the way. As a female version of "Q," Dame Judi Dench brings the right amount of crisply-starched efficiency and secret, if grudging, compassion for her wayward "charge", even if he is nothing more than "a misogynist dinosaur." Sean Bean brings the right amount of sardonic insouciance (pardon the seeming oxymoron) to 006, and Joe Don Baker just brings his patented good ol' boy schtick along for the ride -- in fact, for several rides. Nearly all of the necessary framework is in place in Goldeneye; despite a few flaws, inveterate fans of the secret agent who likes his martinis "shaken, not stirred" can look forward with anticipation, instead of with trepidation, to the next installment.


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