Goldeneye Review

For additional Goldeneye thoughts, watch this week’s That Bond Show.

After a six and a half year hiatus, Pierce Brosnan stepped on screen and utterly revived the character of James Bond. 

Goldeneye is a seminal film in the series for a plethora of reasons: an iconic set of villains, sidekicks, story, and a great co-star for James to interact with in Natalya. Yet, the biggest reason behind its lasting power surely has to be its crucial role in making clear that James Bond still mattered in the 90’s post Cold War world. 

This is a movie that, alongside Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me, forms a spine of foundational Bond texts. Each defines its respective era and presents us with a different interpretation of who James Bond is. 

In Goldeneye and in Pierce Brosnan’s hands, he is a man who takes and pulls from all those before him. The rough edges and sex appeal of Connery, the romanticism of Lazenby, the humor and one-liners of Moore, and the brooding more temperamental nature of Dalton are all swirling inside of Brosnan’s performance here. A performance that is pitch perfect throughout and seeks to delve into the psychology and pathos of Bond. 

The seeds of this, which started under Dalton really, are coming home to roost here. From this point on, every Bond movie will in some way deal with analyzing and deconstructing this character. 

Pierce is just such a fun delight to watch, there is a lightness to almost all of his screen performances whether it’s in Mrs. Doubtfire, James Bond, or Mamma Mia that just puts a smile on your face. I think it’s the feeling that he’s always having a bit of a ball at whatever he is doing. Regardless he’s a gem here.

With Pierce Brosnan delivering one of the finest James Bond performances of the series it only seems fitting that the cast around him are similarly standout. Sean Bean in particular delivers a fantastic and nuanced portrayal of Alec Trevelyan, the former 00 agent and close friend of James who faked his death in pursuit of getting revenge on the British government for past crimes. 

Bean is wonderful as this bizarro version of James, both cooly delivering one liners and also displaying such calm and power in the more action heavy moments. By making Bond’s main villain someone with such an intense personal connection with James the series would be transformed, from this point onwards an increasing amount of the baddies would have some note to James’s past, be it through former loves or shared mentors. 

Indeed the arrival of 006 is a fantastic and series-changing point in time. Either eschewing or reinventing so many prior series tent poles for the baddies. This was a standout performance by Sean Bean and the manner in which he plays with the idea that Alec knows every move and thought James has is perfect and allows for the film to delve more into the psyche of the characters and why James does what he does. 

Joining 006 is a standout cast of supporting henchmen and women. Xenia Onatopp is similarly iconic, seared into the brains of countless young boys and girls. Onatopp takes the already high sex drive of James Bond and blows right past it, she is a cartoon character and one who arguably shouldn’t work in a more serious Bond movie like Goldeneye but she unquestionably does and delivers so many great laughs and shock moments throughout. 

Joining them as the 3rd piece of this trio is Alan Cummings’ Boris. Similar to Onatopp, Boris is arguably from a different movie but utterly makes it work in crafting a conniving and razor sharp character. The fact that Boris is less evil and more just desperate to show off how clever he is makes him that much better.

Fourteen movies ago I made mention of the fact that in just the 3rd movie in the entire series, Goldfinger, the series might have already hit the single best duo of villain and henchman in the whole series. Goldeneye stands as far and away the biggest threat to that claim. The baddies here are deep with pathos, comic horror, clever jokes, and troubled histories. Each of them in their own right is great. Onatopp easily ranks as one of the best sidekicks in the series’ history and Trevelyan stands as one of, if not the best villains in the Bond canon. Taken together they form a fantastic spine of this movie that constantly elevates it. The fact that both Xenia and Alec get so many great scenes and moments with James only makes it that much better. 

The final two pieces of the great supporting cast around Brosnan’s Bond come firstly in the form of Natalya, who pops on screen en route to becoming possibly the series’ best female lead up to this point. Combining aspects of more romantic characters like Tracy or Kara, with the more empowered and driven of ones like Anya or Pam to craft a believable three-dimensional woman more than able to stand toe to toe with Bond and call him out repeatedly for his shit and deliver one of my favorite lines in the series ( how good is her delivery on “no, it’s what keeps you alone?”). 

Natalya is such a strong and engaging character that for roughly the first 2/3rds of the movie she carries an entire separate storyline from James and it’s only as the last act begins that the two finally interact with one another. The fact that the film is still able to pull off a compelling and believable romance between the two in just a single act is fantastic storytelling and character work by the two leads. 

The other piece of this great ensemble is Judi Dench’s debut as M. Funny and strong and with a stellar scene in which she calls out James for the character’s 30 years worth of baggage, she is utterly in keeping with the film’s attempts to reinvent and deconstruct the character of James Bond and is a delight to watch. Would have killed for more of her, but it’ll come down the line. 

Goldeneye is, in short, fantastic: ushering in the modern era of James Bond and sweeping away the lingering cobwebs and more problematic elements of the character from prior generations. Pierce Brosnan is utterly charming, engaging, and endlessly compelling with his take on England’s most famous secret agent. He gives this film such heart and energy.

He is only further elevated by one of the strongest supporting casts of any Bond movie or action adventure film, with Sean Bean’s turn as Alec Trevelyan in particular deserving heaps of praise for his world weary, charming, and twisted version of James. A thrilling, moodier, and brilliantly-realized take on the character and world, Goldeneye easily earns its place as one of the most iconic and great films of both the 90’s and the series as a whole. 

Best Moments: 

God, where to begin here. The pre-title sequence is fantastic right from the jaw-dropping jump that kicks it off. The similarly eye-popping satellite dish in Cuba that they use as the movie’s climax is a great show piece. Bond smashing through St. Petersburg in a tank is a great gag and heaps of fun. 

I always get a kick out of the Goldeneye being fired for the first time as well. Ultimately though my favorite moments are a pair of scenes that effectively open and close Bond and Alec’s arc. Their scene together at the film’s start where 006 surprises Bond and their scene together at the close where Alec asks Bond if all the drinks and all the women make up for all the death and loss that constantly surrounds him. Excellent. 

The Villains: 

Alec, Xenia, and Boris are certainly the best trio of villains in any Bond movie and may ultimately be the best combination of big bad and sidekicks in any Bond movie ever. A fantastic mix of characters that each pull something different out of James and Natalya. Just endless fun. Xenia and Boris are The Penguin in The Batman levels of absurdity and fun in this thing. 10/10

Q Lab: 

When I think of Q and his varied gadgets my mind always goes to this film’s Q Lab scene first and foremost. A perfect encapsulation of who this character is, of the fun and level of silliness at its heart and a fantastic interaction between Desmond Llewyln and Pierce here. Easily a 10/10. 

Final Review: 
Goldeneye is great. It is not my favorite Bond movie but it is easily one of the strongest and most important. Featuring fantastic performances by Brosnan and Bean, alongside endlessly engaging ones by Famke Janssen, Dench, and Cummings it has one of the deepest rosters of any Bond movie. A perfect start to the modern run with the character and a great way to stay true to the soul of James Bond while updating him and strengthening him for the times. Great stuff. 9.5/10

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