It's almost impossible to mention 'GoldenEye' without first thinking of the classic Nintendo 64 game. It may have been released two years after the film, but there is little doubt that the enduring status of the film is entirely down to the iconic first-person shooter adventure. I spent many hours playing that game - mostly screaming at friends for essentially cheating by using Oddjob in multiplayer mode - but it makes it nigh on impossible to now sit through 'GoldenEye' and not see or hear the game. The overwhelming nostalgia finds its way into the film like a silent killer, the only difference being that instead of it hindering my revisit, it enhanced my viewing pleasure to no end.
I have loved the Bond films since I was a little boy. Sean Connery's 'You Only Live Twice' was my first introduction to the world of James Bond, and the first Bond film I saw in theatres was 'Die Another Day'. I have seen all of the Bonds multiple times, and I love them all - some more than others, almost all of them jaw-dropping experiences the first time around. I don't remember the first time I saw 'GoldenEye', but it is one that I always look back on fondly. Maybe because of the aforementioned game, but like it or not, Pierce Brosnan was my "childhood Bond", so his Bond catalogue will always be dear to me. It made this revisit an absolute delight, leaving me grinning from ear to ear.
'GoldenEye' is the 17th entry into the Bond Cinematic Universe, and Pierce Brosnan's first as the titular hero. But it wasn't such a straight forward experience in the lead-up to release. It had been six years since the previous Bond, Timothy Dalton's ('Hot Fuzz') commercially and critically maligned 'License to Kill', which was the longest break between Bond films to date. Not too dissimilar to 2006's 'Casino Royale', MGM wanted Bond to be dark and brooding, but unlike 'Casino Royale', audiences in 1989 just weren't ready for it. So the writers and producers were left with a conundrum of how to rejuvenate an icon and bring Bond into the 90s.
The Cold War was over, which had been a bedrock of Bond's missions, and relative to the time, the sexual politics in films had changed. Audiences wanted more than just a "Bond girl" - they wanted a woman who was independent, strong, and someone who wouldn't roll over at the first sign of distress. And who would he even fight if the Russians were no longer a threat? The James Bond character that audiences knew and loved was ultimately a 60s icon, so how can you refurbish the character without making it dark, level up the love interest without losing face, and still maintain all that was familiar in the previous films? An incredibly difficult task. A $60 million budget will help, but it will only go so far. What we needed was a 90s-style action flick, with that old-fashioned comforting British style. Could it be done? You bet. Does it hold up 25 years later? More than you'd think!
Martin Campbell was tasked with manning the director's chair. He hadn't done much of note in terms of feature films previously, but he displays some serious skills in finding the balance of ridiculous stunts with brutal and visceral action sequences. This is the same guy who masterminded other underrated gems such as 'The Mask of Zorro' and 'Vertical Limit', and was it not for him being in "Hollywood Jail" for also helming 'The Green Lantern', maybe we could have gotten more from him. Nonetheless, he brings a necessary energy to the fold, able to softly yet successfully reboot the once-great franchise. It is also worth noting that he was tasked once again in 2006 to reboot the franchise with 'Casino Royale', and mostly, he succeeds again. This is no coincidence, as he clearly not only understands the core of the character but also the necessary campiness to remain familiar to audiences.
There are some seriously impressive visuals, perhaps none more so than the pre-title sequence. You know the one: it's where Bond (in actuality it's stuntman Wayne Michaels) bungees off the now-infamous Verzasca Dam in Switzerland, lasers his entrance into a Russian bunker, and when everything goes haywire, leaps off the cliff on a motorcycle, jumps into a plane, and flies off into safety while explosions go off behind him. The sequence is iconic, masterful, and maybe the most important ten minutes in the franchise. 'GoldenEye' had a mammoth task of re-establishing the love moving forward, and Campbell certainly understood that with this huge sequence. Campbell needed to shed the brooding darkness from 'License to Kill' but keep the scale and humour, and he had to achieve all of that in ten minutes. Mission accomplished. For me, it is the most memorable and best Bond pre-title sequence.
This sequence goes some way in understanding why 'GoldenEye' is such a success. 'GoldenEye' is a film filled with great scenes, and they all come together into a wonderful and coherent whole - which is not always a given for this franchise. The setups are paid off, it feels tight, the storytelling is efficient, and it just kind of rules. That's why after 25 years it still holds up - not just because of the game, but because there just aren't enough action movies (certainly not in the 90s) that can lay claim to this coherence. My tastes may have matured, budgets and explosions may have become bigger, but sometimes you just can't compete with Bond driving a tank through a wall, and then fixing his tie once the dust clears. Suaveness personified.
'GoldenEye' is a film filled with great scenes, and they all come together into a wonderful and coherent whole - which is not always a given for this franchise.
Speaking of, 'GoldenEye' boasts one of the best Q scenes, with constant quips and banter being paraded about that respects the past Bond films, while also giving it a fresh coat of paint. It's self-aware and the right amount of silly, not dissimilar to all the explosions that go off throughout the film. There are places and materials that combust to magnificent proportions, but you dare not question the nature of the combustion. Sometimes they try and provide sufficient proof of its probability, but then you start asking yourself why they would even have explosive chemicals stationed on a satellite dish. Don't go there.
If you're going to question the silliness and Bond tribute acts, look no further than the outstandingly ridiculous name of Famke Janssen's ('X-Men') henchman, Xenia Onatopp. Onatopp by name, Onatopp by nature. She kills by squeezing the air from her prey with her bare legs, a notion Bond finds more amusing than terrifying. It's a nod to the classic names found in the franchise's past, but the way they constantly refer to it and even laugh at it reminds audiences that yes, while these things can be silly, they are what makes Bond everlasting.
In saying that, as mentioned before, the studio still had a "PC" problem on their hands. Bond needed a female facelift, and it came in the form of Dame Judi Dench ('Philomena'), acting in the role of head of MI6, M. This proved to be a stroke of genius, with her magnetic nature and acting proficiency elevating the otherwise unimportant character, "Denching" up the franchise. We know it worked because it resulted in her staying on until her departure in 2012's 'Skyfall'.
So that's one female crossed off (take that, PC police!), now for them to tick off another. Enter Natalya (Izabella Scorpusco), who has the brains and beauty to match Bond's. Sure, she still falls madly in love with him, needs to get rescued quite a few times, and is paraded on the poster as a sex symbol... I forgot my original point - I guess not that much progress has been made. Still, audiences are invested in her character because she's a person! Bond actually needs her abilities on the missions, and she even tries - in by far the worst scene in the film - to unlock Bond's inner emotions. Look, this is so far from progress, but relative to 1996, the studio gave themselves a huge pat on the back. So much so, they made certain to include a scene where M tells Bond in their first encounter that he's a "sexist misogynist dinosaur", as if labelling it on the nose no longer makes it true.
The little silly gestures, the quips, the ridiculous explosions, the questionable Russian accents, and all the references don't disarm the film either. On the contrary, it's what makes this film an ultimate Bond experience. This is far from a perfect film, but those Bond tidbits give 'GoldenEye' the enduring feel it deserves. Looking back - besides the horrendous decision to use a BMW as the Bond car - it's a combination of luck and clever craft that makes this film a success. We as an audience are incredibly fortunate that it all worked out, because had this soft reboot not been a box office success, the chances that Bond would still be around are extremely low. I know for many people it's a tired franchise, and the sooner we see the end of it the better. But for me, they will always be some of my favourite films, and I wait with anticipation to see the next ones. 'GoldenEye' stands the test of time, and reminding us that before there was the best video game ever created, there was one of the best Bond films ever produced.