The James Bond efforts by Pierce Brosnan aren’t exactly appreciated by devotees of the film series, as he doesn’t get much respect from a consensus of 007 fans. I believe most think he’s OK in the role, but he’s no Sean Connery, of course, but probably comes in fourth behind Roger Moore or Daniel Craig. Well, I’m not a big fan of Craig as 007 (his most common expression appears as if he’s having a bowel movement instead of acting), and it’s my opinion that Brosnan is the equal of and in places superior to Moore. His first Bond film is “GoldenEye” and it is a terrific 007 adventure with a wonderful cast and a couple of surprisingly excellent performances from the supporting cast. So, today I’m looking at “GoldenEye” and letting you know why it is a top-notch James Bond film.
(1995; 130 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Martin Campbell and starring Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean and Izabella Scorupco)
BROSNAN’S DEBUT AS 007 IS GREAT ADVENTURE
(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion and trivia and the updating of links on May 16, 2020.)
When “GoldenEye” came out in 1995, it was expected to be Bond-ian but not everyone knew whether Pierce Brosnan could be a worthy successor to Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Heck, everyone knew he’d be miles ahead of George Lazenby and at least somewhat ahead of the completely underwhelming Timothy Dalton. Still there was a question. Today, “GoldenEye” remains something of a stepchild in the 007 universe. It’s not overly praised or overly mocked, but it also doesn’t get the respect as a “Bond” picture that it should.
In my opinion, “GoldenEye” is sensational (the chase where Brosnan drives a Russian T-55 main battle tank is one of the best action scenes in the entire franchise) and Brosnan does a terrific job – in some respects is much better than Moore while keeping all of Roger’s good traits as the superspy. Still, not everyone agrees and, in the world of 007, sometimes there’s little room for debate among the truly hard-core Bond fans (click here for a list of all my reviews of 007 films).
A quick rundown of the plot shows it has all of the 007 hallmarks (even though it is the first Bond film not adapted from an Ian Fleming story) with an international plot that threatens the world; an international itinerary from the cold of a newly post-Communist Russia to the balmy breezes of Cuba; deadly women (but no really true one of the so-called “Bond girls” of past years); and a large cast.
In “GoldenEye,” a renegade Russian general has hijacked a space weapon that threatens the world and is in cahoots with a mobster whose mistress delights in killing her targets in a manner consistent with her name (“Xenia Onatopp”). Bond has to save the world and, I guess you already know … he does.
One interesting facet of the film is the computer programming aspect of it and the then-emerging technology of instant communications through computer networks. Two key supporting characters are programmers and computers play a large role in the film.
As for Brosnan, I like him as the second-best James Bond when you consider the physical part he brings to his acting. Moore always looked like a middle-aged dude who needed to rely on gadgets and, when he did action stuff, it was kind of … hmmm, well, affected and today appears remarkably cheesy. However, Brosnan, while not a spring chicken at 42 when “GoldenEye” came out, he was younger than Moore’s 46 in that actor’s debut as 007 in “Live and Let Die” in 1973 (click here for my review).
Brosnan does a terrific Brit (he’s actually Irish) and is a wonderful Bond. He is athletic, intelligent and can be, as he shows in the opening montage of action, a bit gritty. I also like how Brosnan does a good job of conveying the small emotion of trying not to show frustration – first when he criticizes a Russian mobster’s mistress (a Karaoke-singing, Russian-accented Minnie Driver in her second movie) and then he gets really antsy when a character begins clicking a grenade-pen that could blow them all up.
Also, Brosnan continues doing the Bond-ian thing of a pitching a good game with pithy one-liners, sometimes double-entendre ones, and the apparent nonchalance for anything other than fine living and the mission.
Brosnan was much hotter stuff four years later in the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” with Rene Russo (click here for my review), but no so good in the similar, but ragged, “After the Sunset” with Salma Hayek (click here for my review). He was truly a great Brit in the 1988 TV mini-series “Noble House” (click here for my review).
Here’s a rundown of some of the principal cast:
- The female lead here is Izabella Scorupco as “Natalya Simonova.” She is not your typical “Bond girl” who plays only window dressing. Of course, the actor is beautiful, but unlike others, she has a key role in most major scenes. Scorupco is solid as the computer programmer who is the only survivor of an attack that gets the bad guys the space weapon. Scorupco is as tough as needed in each situation, but also manages to convey vulnerability well. Scorupco doesn’t use a tremendous range of emotions in the role, but those she does, she does a good job. Scorupco doesn’t dispatch the role with alacrity, but maybe a stoic version of the character. The Polish-born actor was in “Reign of Fire” and has only 20 credits in a career that began in 1988.
- Sean Bean is bad guy “Alec Trevelyan” here and he’s the former “006” side-by-side with Brosnan. However, he turns traitor (he’s actually a Russian Cossack looking for revenge on the British) and joins the dark side. Bean is very effective in the role and does a good job of getting that “bad guy look” in his eyes. However, Bean’s ultimate failure is his inability to make the character into someone memorable. A “Blofeld” he is not. Bean was good as a vengeful terrorist in “Patriot Games” with Harrison Ford and is “Boromir” in the “Lord of the Rings” franchise.
- There was a good chance of development of the “Xenia Onatopp” character as the femme fatale here, but Famke Janssen couldn’t pull it off. She has a much different persona than she had in “Rounders” with Matt Damon (click here for my review), but those are two completely different characters and she has the talent to play both. However, in “GoldenEye” she’s just so-so and therefore doesn’t become memorable – much like Bean. Janssen is “Jean Grey” in the “X-Men” franchise (as well as “The Wolverine”) and her second acting credit was from a 1992 episode of TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
- My favorite supporting character is Robbie Coltrane, who plays Russian mobster and former KGB agent and 007 opponent “Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky.” Coltrane is remarkably loosey-goosey in this role and does more with his limited screen time than any other actor. I saw the same characteristic of his with his role in “Let It Ride” (click here for my review) and he’s just a pleasure to watch. Coltrane is most recognizable as “Rubeus Hagrid” in the “Harry Potter” franchise.
- An Oscar winner and six-time nominee (not for this one), Judi Dench packs the biggest potential acting punch of all the cast as “M,” who is 007’s boss and head of MI6. She nearly outshines the 007 character – and that’s saying a bunch. Dench knows her craft and she’s got the nerves of steel needed to play the head of British intelligence. Dench is just right for the role and it was the start of her run the Bond franchise. Dench won her Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love” and among her Oscar nominations are roles in “Notes on a Scandal” and “Mrs Brown.”
- My second favorite supporting role is “Boris Grishenko” played by Alan Cumming. He plays a sexist, egotistical computer programmer who believes he is better than Scorupco and when he’s nervous he likes to click pens or spin pens with his fingers, which causes Brosnan no end of skittishness at one point. Cumming’s talent elevates “Boris” to nearly memorable (certainly better than Bean’s effort) and he has been in “Spy Kids,” “X-Men 2” and TV’s “The Good Wife.”
Lost in the shuffle is Joe Don Baker, who plays CIA agent and 007 ally “Jack Wade” (the replacement character for “Felix Leiter” from previous Bond films) as well as Gottfried John as “Gen. Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov,” who is the Russian bad guy in league with Bean. The two actors’ work is not remarkable, so I won’t remark on them.
“GoldenEye” was the sixth-ranked film with moviegoers in 1995 with $106.4 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. “GoldenEye” was made on a budget of $58 million and worldwide saw $352.1 million drop into the cash box, according to Wiki. It was tough competition that year with “Toy Story” at No. 1 with $191.7 million and the only piece of garbage ahead of “GoldenEye” was the execrable “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” with Jim Carrey (No. 5 with $108.3 million). Here are the other films from 1995 that I’ve reviewed:
- “Assassins” (better drama than expected) – click here for my review
- “Bye Bye Love” (utter, complete crap) – click here for my review
- “Citizen X” (perfect crime drama) – click here for my review
- “Get Shorty” (clever novel adaptation) – click here for my review
- “Heat” (great Pacino-De Niro flick) – click here for my review
- “Jumanji” (great Robin Williams showcase) – click here for my review
- “Man of the House” (wonderful Disney comedy) – click here for my review
- “The Quick and the Dead” (tepid western) – click here for my review
- “While You Were Sleeping” (wonderful chick flick) – click here for my review
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Brosnan kills 47 people in “GoldenEye” and makes this one the highest kill-count of any 007 movie.
- The chase involving the Russian tank took four weeks to film.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “Computer graphics were used to create the famous “gun barrel” opening, making this movie the first In the James Bond film franchise to use CGI.”
- Driver was reportedly paid $5,000 for her short time on screen. It was her second movie, but she already had 15 acting credits from TV. I liked her best in a co-starring turn with John Cusack in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (click here for my review).
- Dench’s glass of “bourbon” was really apple juice (the “ice” cubes were glass) and Brosnan’s “vodka” martini was water.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “In the script, M’s real name is Barbara Mawdsley.”
- “GoldenEye” was the first 007 film released on DVD.
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “The second appearance in a James Bond movie of Joe Don Baker, after playing a villain in The Living Daylights (1987). In this movie and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), he played the role of CIA agent Jack Wade, a Bond ally. Precedents were Walter Gotell, who played villain Morzeny in From Russia with Love (1963), and ally General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and other movies; and Charles Gray, who played ally Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice (1967), and villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever (1971).”
- Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page about the film.
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