This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which Bond races a plane to the ground, a tank and a train play chicken, and Bond deals with a space laser. Again. Oh also he gets a new face. Again.
Alex: Now we get into the movies that I know really well. What can I say? I’m absolutely a product of my generation. And what’s fascinating is that this film, and Pierce Brosnan, feels much closer to what I understand as ‘classic’ James Bond – certainly more than the Moores, although perhaps I’m just biased… there’s the martini, the gambling, the cars, Q… a bit of banter but mostly cold-eyed getting-the-job done-ness. I mean, look at that stance (on the right). Doesn’t it just – well, not scream, but state politely and firmly and with a gun in its hand that this man will succeed?
The film opens with perhaps the most dramatic opening ever:
… marred only by the fact that there’s about three different hairstyles on the man involved. Oh well. Then a bit later Bond throws himself off another cliff and chases a plane to the bottom of a ravine and manages to get into the plane before it hits the bottom. I’m pretty sure there’s a fundamental lack of understanding of physics implicit in this scene. Oh! And we also saw Sean Bean, as Agent 006 (I don’t think we’ve ever met another oo agent?) get killed! (which just shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.) Although then he turns up as ‘starring’ in the credits – hmm, spoiler much?
Anyway then it’s nine years later, after the boob-filled credits, and Bond is driving fast in a car with a woman – at which point I realised: no woman in the prologue! Amazing!! This woman is meant to be evaluating Bond but instead is all gooey and giggly, and quite put out when Bond starts flirting with a woman in a fast red car who nearly gets them all, and a large peloton of cyclists, killed. This is Xenia Ontatopp, whose name makes even Bond pause, and proceeds to kill her Admiral-boyfriend. We know that she’s going to be bad not so much from the killing but because she’s clearly turned on by inflicting and receiving pain. This is clearly coded as abnormal, and as we know by now, Bond villains are generally abnormal in some way. Also, she goes on to steal a brand new fancy pants helicopter. Bad Xenia, bad!
Meanwhile, in Russia, Natalya the computer programmer is having to deal with sexual harassment from a colleague. Apparently this is funny. (This theme is repeated in an exchange between Bond and the new Moneypenny – back to being M’s secretary – who archly points out to Bond that his statement could be seen as sexual harassment and that the punishment is one day having to make good on your insinuations. Way to go scriptwriters, in making sexual harassment at work a sexy sexy thing.) Anyway most everyone is killed pretty soon by Xenia and the space laser – I’m sorry, space-based EMP – called GoldenEye. The EMP is cool but perhaps to most striking thing about this scene is how modern it looks, with its banks of computers. Yes perhaps this dates me – after all they’re all big clunky CRT screens etc – but they’re still on desks, being used by individuals, and there’s a whole bunch of them.
Anyway, because of this event we go back to Britain and get to the best bit of the whole movie: the new M. Hello Dame Judi Dench I love you very much. Seriously the interaction between this M and Bond is the highlight of the entire thing. There’s disparaging discussion about her being a bean counter and then she turns up and is cold, calculating and totally ready to send a man off to die. She’s willing to accept when she’s wrong and she’s willing to do something about it. Also: “if I want sarcasm I’ll talk to my children,” and Bond is “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.” So tough. So real. So human – “come back alive.”
Eventually it turns out that the helicopter was stolen for Alec – Sean Bean – who’s not dead but is scarred (see? abnormal) and who was always going to use his position to hurt Britain in some way because his parents were Lienz Cossacks, betrayed by the British after WW2. In a botched attempt to kill Bond, Alec introduces him to Natalya – and this picture, on the right, reflects no part of the film whatsoever at any point in time. They end up in Cuba, where they foil Alec’s plans for stealing lots of money and – perhaps more importantly – wiping London’s computer records and sending England “back to the Dark Ages.” Actually Alec, in the not-Dark Ages they had print copies so they would have been fine if you’d used an EMP on them. But I guess your history education is a bit lacking. Anyway, this plot idea is an interesting one – not physical destruction but informational. Also, it reminded me a lot of Die Hard with a Vengeance.
My assessment of the first Brosnan Bond? He looks like Dalton, which is interesting. I think it continues the more violent/’realist’ tendencies of Dalton but is somewhat softer; Brosnan already has more quips than Dalton. M is awesome – did I mention that? On the women issue, Natalya is highly competent as a computer programmer – despite being constantly undervalued by her arrogant “I am inVINCible” co-worker Boris. But Moneypenny is a bit sad, and Xenia chews the scenery like it’s going out of fashion, and Minnie Driver is just bizarre as a Russian gangster’s mistress
strangling a cat singing “Stand by your Man.” The explosions are bigger than before, the stunts are incredible, and the chase scenes are fantastic. This is a very enjoyable film.
James: A modern action movie which hasn’t dated as much as I thought it might. I had never realised how like Dalton Brosnan looked either until this re-watch. We’re back to the cold war with great classic gadgets, though we see the rise of product placement with the Omega watch foreshadowing Nokia, BMW and others in future Brosnan films. The portrayal of computer hacking is typical of movies from this era (or full stop?) – the slightly nerdy looking, yet likeable character madly bashes at a keyboard while others look on applying pressure of death or similar and some how when the hack is completed it’s always show in some very cartoonish visualisation rather than they reality of unix terminals and copying files off a system. Q doesn’t disappoint with gadgets like a pen grenade and we introduce one of my favourite good bad guys Robbie Coltrane playing Valentine a Russian mobster. The finale of the movie is magnificent set against the background of Arecibo’s 305m radio telescope dish built into a volcanic crater in Puerto Rico (and it really is). It’s like a less rubbish version of the finale from You Only Live Twice in Japan. 3.5 Martinis.