Movie review: ‘GoldenEye’

The James Bondg efforts by Pierce Brosnan aren’t exactly appreciated by devotees of the film series. 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 and Daniel Craig. Well, I’m not a big fan of Craig as 007 (his most common expression appears as if he’s doing a bathroom function 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 why it is a top-notch James Bond film.

‘GoldenEye’
(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

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 underwhelming Timothy Dalton. Still there was a question. Today, as we approach November’s 20-year anniversary of “GoldenEye’s” premiere, it remains something of a stepchild. It’s not universally praised or mocked, but it also doesn’t get the rave reviews it should.

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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; a 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 Zaragevna 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. 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) 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 – she’s of course beautiful, but has a key role in most major scenes. Scorupco is solid as the only survivor of an attack that gets the bad guys the space weapon. She 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 well. Scorupco doesn’t dispatch the role with alacrity, but maybe a stoic version. The Polish-born actor was in “Reign of Fire” and has only 17 credits in a career that began in 1988. She’s currently in “Sleepwalker” with Haley Joel Osmet, a film in post-production.
  • Sean Bean is bad guy “Alec Trevelyan” here and he’s the former “006” side-by-side with Brosnan. However, he turns (he’s actually a Russian Cossack looking for revenge on the British) to 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 “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 (especially when Brosnan insults his mistress – Driver as “Irina” in only her second film). Coltrane is most recognizable as “Rubeus Hagrid” in the “Harry Potter” franchise.
  • Oscar winner (and six-time nominee) Judi Dench packs the biggest potential acting punch of all the cast and nearly outdoes 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 an 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).

Other films from 1995 that I have reviewed include the wonderful:

Some films I reviewed that are good or just so-so include:

Finally, there’s one that’s just plan crap:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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