GoldenEye (1995)

After six years, the longest gap ever in Bond history, James Bond returns with a new lead, a new director and a new take on Bond. In many ways, this is possibly the most thrilling Bond film to date, with a number of outstanding action pieces and a strong narrative. But while GoldenEye might be one of the most iconic and loved films in the series, it’s a bit rough in parts.

What isn’t rough is the opening sequence, an astounding and lengthy infiltration sequence where James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) works alongside another double-O agent, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). The concept alone adds for some more dynamic action moments and sets up a strong story rooted in a more personally fueled narrative.

The doomsday weapon called GoldenEye is an EMP device that ends up being stolen by a fringe terrorist group. While this could just be another evil group of baddies, the series finds an interesting way to connect it to the Russian government and also tie it back to Bond. One of the twists is glaringly obvious, but it still works well and helps make Bond’s threat feel a bit more fully realized than most Bond plots.

The film also is served well by introducing Judi Dench as the new M. There’s a fantastic scene where she chews out Bond as being an outdating, misogynistic vulture who relies more on whim and gut instinct than hard intelligence. The sad part is she’s only in the film briefly, but her performance makes for one of the best scenes in the series.

Of course, the big new addition is Pierce Brosnan himself. He’s great mix of charm, physique and detachment. A bit of every past Bond has made its way into Brosnan. He delivers one-liners with the smoothness of Connery, has the brutality of Dalton, the looks of Moore and the athleticism of Lazenby. Anyone who’s liked a previous Bond will likely find something to like in Brosnan’s Bond.

It’s unfortunate that the film has a good core cast and a couple of terrible fringe decisions with some of the minor characters. Perhaps the worst character is Boris Grishenko (Alan Cummings) a stereotypical nerd who’s a degenerate when it comes to dealing with women. He also has this annoying habit of yelling “I am invincible,” one of the most miscalculated jokes in the movie.

The Bond girls are also lackluster. One of the main henchmen is actually a woman, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). She’s aroused by violence and while it might have sounded good on paper as some interesting Freudian psychosis, in action, it results in a couple of tasteless scenes, one where she achieves orgasm in the midst of gunning down a bunch of innocent people and another where she simultaneously fights and seduces Bond.

The main Bond girl, Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) starts off as a more grounded and average. She’s directly tied to the plot and a bit bewildered when she gets caught up into this world of spy action, but she quickly transforms into a woman who’s actually invested in the action and also comes on way to fast to Bond. Either character could have worked as a solid Bond girl, but instead she’s inconsistent.

Also inconsistent is the action. Some of the sequences are astounding and exhilarating–the opening sequence and an escape scene are masterful–but the middle of the film has an absurd vehicle chase scene and a couple of the sequences are ruined by poorly done special effects and anticlimactic moments.

GoldenEye might be the finest Bond story to date and it boasts some fantastic action set-pieces, but some poorly implemented characters and a couple of miscalculated sequences bring it down. GoldenEye still stands as one of the better Bond films, but it’s just at the cusp of being among the best.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing