PG-13. We have entered the new world of Bond. There is no more casual nudity, but the sexuality somehow became more real. Maurice Binder isn't doing the opening credits anymore, but that doesn't distance the opening credits from being overtly sexual. Bond's violence, like with the Dalton films, is pretty intense. Also, the female villain derives pleasure from painful and violent sexual acts. There's a lot here that deserves the PG-13 rating.
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
Martin Campbell knows how to reboot Bond. In my article for The Living Daylights, I talked about how the Timothy Dalton Bond movies were the equivalent of the Paul McGann Doctor Who. They were these liminal films. I consider the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies the beginning of Nu-Bond. I know. Daniel Craig is officially the reboot years, but there is a lot in common between Brosnan's Bond years and Craig's Bond years, especially with a film like GoldenEye.
Side story: When I was really little, family movie nights often were classic James Bond films. Sure, I'm not showing my kids Bond films until they are way older, but I was mentally pretty excited to watch a James Bond movie when I was little. I have very strong nostalgic memories about the classic Bond films. But my dad died the year GoldenEye came out. I think the first movie I saw in the theater after my dad died was GoldenEye. I held onto that movie tight. Like, it became something bigger than it really was. It changed my nostalgic love for James Bond into a full on obsession. As much as I love Classic Bond, it was the same formula over and over again. The movies weren't cheap, by any means. But they had really failed to evolve with the decades that passed. There were moments, sure, where Bond reflected the culture. But Bond wasn't really treated as cinema with everything following the Connery era. They were entries in a long running franchise. It was a case of not upsetting the apple cart.
But MGM or United Artists (it's very hard to tell who owns Bond at what point) had legal troubles making another Bond movie after Licence to Kill. It might have been the best thing for James Bond because GoldenEye is an honest-to-goodness movie. It's shot stylistically. It seems to be something that can hold weight against other action films of the era. Yeah, it screams a little '90s today, but it still holds up. I would like to point out that this is the second time in the past few years that I tried watching GoldenEye. The first time was with a room full of people who were distracted, so I watched with the assumption that the movie wasn't that strong. There might be validity to that criticism. But when I watched it this week, I was amazed how much the movie held up.
While I love Craig's Bond movies the most, almost equally to Connery's Bond movies, Pierce Brosnan might be an ideal Bond. I know. That's a real dangerous statement to make. Again, I think Craig is the most watchable Bond and Connery is the OG Bond, but Brosnan has everything that makes Bond interesting to watch. Brosnan is coming right off of Dalton's era. Dalton has some really great stuff going on and I encourage you to read my other articles about the Dalton era. But Brosnan's Bond has so much going for him. The opening sequence, mirroring the teasing elements of On Her Majesty's Secret Service because they aren't showing the actor's face for a reason, says a lot about the character that Brosnan built into his Bond. The movie starts with an insane stunt, bungee jumping off of an insanely high dam. His Bond will try to top other stunts: check. He uses technology with a laser watch: check. Upside down, he tells a joke. His Bond has a sense of humor: check. And then he just wrecks the guy. In terms of establishing character and tone, there's so much in those first few minutes.
But GoldenEye might be the most telling of what era it was made in. It's interesting to see how Bond tries, but ultimately fails, to connect to the larger growth of an era. I hear that in No Time to Die, the coronavirus-delayed Bond movie, the new 007 is female. James Bond is still James Bond, but he retired the number to a woman. Cool. But in trying to address how the world is changing, it is only highlighting how behind James Bond is from the times. There's a scene in GoldenEye where Bond and Judi Dench's M square off. M opens the door to criticism and Bond responds. Really, the scene is in the film to justify that Bond is still needed at the turn of the millennium. But I really want to look at the actual words being said by the characters. M calls Bond "a sexist, misogynist dinosaur" and "a relic of the Cold War." Fair. Bond has always embraced everything but the "dinosaur" element of the story. But Bond's thoughts on M are reflected in the idea that he considers this new M a bean-counter. The story centers around this idea --and this idea is kind of lost to a bigger threat --that the only reason that this horrible event happened because a female bureaucrat who doesn't really understand the game made a critical mistake.
GoldenEye takes a big step forward by making M, the head-honcho at MI-6, female. But it takes a bigger step back by saying that because she just doesn't get it, people are now dead. Bond keeps running into red tape at the beginning of the story. He wants to chase down Xenia Onatopp and prevent the capture of the Tiger helicopter. He wants to chase down the lead to this helicopter, but the "evil Queen of Numbers" won't let him follow through on his hunch. It's only once M comes to the realization that Bond is the only one who can make a real difference in this story --once she neuters herself --that the world can be saved. In an attempt to justify Bond for the new era, they're actually making the story more misogynistic. It's kind of why we all love Skyfall. In Skyfall, M is fallible, but it's not because of her lack of understanding. It's because she's more Bond than Bond.
There are more moments like this in the story. I love Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. I mean, her name alone is great. But GoldenEye might be trying a little too hard to comment on the sexual politics of the mid-'90s. Having a joke about sexual harassment while Bond is honestly sexually harassing Moneypenny might be a bit on the nose. I do like the idea that Moneypenny is not waiting around for Bond to call though. Listen, I'm always going to be a big fan of Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny and her tete-a-tetes with Bond. But it completely changed dynamics as Maxwell aged and Bond stayed a young man. Okay, A View to a Kill seemed appropriate. As I remember, Samantha Bond's relationship with Bond became better before she left with Brosnan. But this one is a bit cringey.
But remember how I said that Brosnan was the ideal Bond? You guys all winced. I don't think that there was a problem with Brosnan's portrayal of the character. I think a lot of his weaknesses were based on the quality of the stories in the other movies. As much as I enjoy most of the other Brosnan films (shy of Die Another Day, which is an affront to cinema), GoldenEye is his only real win in the franchise. I even remember reading that people think that GoldenEye is kind of weak. I want to fight for GoldenEye. Sure, it's probably not a lot of people's favorite Bond entry. But it does have a lot going for it.
GoldenEye gets what Licence to Kill gets wrong. To make Bond have a bit of staying power, the threat has to be personal. Craig's films are obsessed with tying the bad guy to the good guy. It's actually beginning to get a bit obsessive. But Licence to Kill introduced this guy who hurt Bond personally. It was this outside character who had no personal tie to Bond. In fact, Franz Sanchez doesn't even know who James Bond is for the majority of the movie in Licence to Kill. Bond is the one carrying the weight of the emotions, while Sanchez is just having a "business-as-usual" attitude. But making 006 the villain of GoldenEye is smart. I like the fact that we have this pre-credit sequence that establishes the intimate relationship of these two guys. Alec Trevelyan is Bond's failure. With the exception of the death of Tracy, failing 006 is the thing that haunts him.
Because of that failure, the entire movie is about haunting James Bond. It's bad enough that he let down a fellow agent and friend. But the movie becomes about those small failures having great big consequences. On one end, it is about ensuring that someone with that much power and responsibility (sorry) maintains the highest standards. When Bond can topple governments, he has to ensure that everything he does is perfect. On the other end, and this comes from Bond's grappling with his internal conflicts, it is about forgiving oneself. Alec Trevelyan, despite the fact that he repeats the betrayal motif, is a bad guy. The line that he's "a common bank-robber" awakens Bond to the fact that this was always Trevelyan's plan. His death was staged. Bond couldn't have known that the events at the dam were always going to end up the same.
But let's talk about the really weird moral choice at the end of the movie. Bond has a licence to kill. Cool. We get that. But I think one of the movies mentions that part of having a licence to kill is knowing when to use it. The movie is begging Bond to kill Trevelyan. The film ends with Bond risking his life to grab Alec's leg as he falls off the antenna. There's a conversation between the two of them and then Bond lets go, causing Alec to fall to his death. (Okay, broken bones right before being crushed by the flaming antenna.) The message is that Bond has been holding out hope that his friend is still his friend. By letting go, Bond has made peace with the idea that Alec really is the bad guy of the story. But isn't that kind of a dark message? Bond really can save Alec in this moment and have him rot in jail. I'm applying both my own morality and the morality of other heroes I appreciate to the story. In Skyfall, he captures Silva, which leads to his escape and destruction of everything Bond holds dear. I think the series really relishes that Bond has no mercy. It's an odd moment that Bond decides to save 006, only to send him falling to his death. It's not like one of those moments where Alec decides to betray him one last time.
Do you know what's a great motif that makes no sense? The six-minutes-versus-three-minutes thing. It's this repeated thing that is super cool, but Alec's mad that Bond changed the timer on a dead body. It's part of this whole betrayal thing and I get it emotionally. But logically, it's pretty dumb.
GoldenEye is a great introduction of Bond into the new world. Brosnan brings something of the classic series while completely grounding the character in a bigger world than we've seen him before. Nothing feels cheap in GoldenEye and it is risky filmmaking, but it pays off.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.