Despite the relatively disappointing box office performance of “Licence To Kill”, the team began prepping for the next adventure – rumoured to be called “The Property Of A Lady” for a 1991 release. Once again, however, Bond’s true nemesis would rear its ugly head as the takeover of MGM/ UA by Pathé provoked a legal dispute with Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions. As the delay dragged on, Dalton’s contract expired and he announced in 1994 that he would not return to the role if and when production started up again. The producers returned to their original choice for “The Living Daylights” and this time managed to get their man: Pierce Brosnan would finally get to be James Bond.
The world around the Bond franchise had changed enormously since it had been away, though. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the Cold War was over. “GoldenEye” had a challenge on its hands: not only did it need to introduce a new James Bond to the world, it had to convince the world there was still a place for James Bond in it.
When a top secret EMP-shielded helicopter is hijacked from the south of France, Bond believes the theft is connected to a recent explosion at a remote Russian satellite bunker. Following the clues, Bond encounters a face from his past and uncovers a plot to exact revenge against Great Britain by destroying its technological infrastructure.
Although a slick piece of action filmmaking, there’s an air of hesitancy that permeates “GoldenEye”, a self-consciousness that betrays a worry that Bond is somehow clichéd, out of touch or too dated for the 1990’s. As a result, the script clumsily tries to address the issues head on, from M’s dressing down of Bond as a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ and a ‘relic of the Cold War’ to the awkwardly forced conversation between Natalya and Bond on the beach. It’s in these moments that “GoldenEye” is at its weakest and the flimsiness of its plot is most apparent. Taking over from long-time Bond director John Glen, Martin Campbell, perhaps cognizant of the script’s weaknesses, maintains the focus on the big set piece stunts, fitting two of them in before the opening credits alone, and staging a wonderfully Bond-esque tank chase through the streets of St Petersburg. There a wonderfully shot moment just after the opening credits where Bond is racing his Aston Martin DB5 (a reassuring nod to the past despite the clumsy BMW product placement deal which put Bond into his least impressive car, the Z3) down the winding roads of Monte Carlo which is photographed so beautifully it achieves a sort of timeless quality and could come from any Bond film of the past thirty years.
Peter Lamont’s production design is still top notch and Daniel Kleinman – taking over from the late Maurice Binder – delivers some of the best opening titles yet, honouring Binder’s work while bringing it bang up to date and tying it into the plot. The theme song’s a belter too, with Tina Turner delivering a sultry and powerful vocal for the song written by Bono and The Edge who are channelling almost pure John Barry with the composition. Theme song aside, though, the score of “GoldenEye” is absolutely terrible. Éric Serra’s score frequently sounds like a bad ‘Stomp’ audition recorded from the corridor outside the recording studio and just doesn’t work for a Bond movie.
In the film’s plot, “GoldenEye” is a satellite based electromagnetic pulse weapon. For the franchise, it was a big old shiny ‘reboot’ button. Taking its cue from its suave new leading man, it jettisoned much of the gritty, darker emotional baggage of Dalton’s portrayal to provide a lighter take on the character, resulting in a performance which owes as much to Moore as it does to Connery. Brosnan is a wonderfully expressive Bond, grunting, gasping and gurning his way through the fighting and action sequences and even in the more serious moments, there’s a glint in his eye which betrays the sheer gleeful delight of someone who is literally living the dream as he gets to play James Bond. Of all the actors who have portrayed Bond, Brosnan is the hardest to dislike because it’s so obvious that he loves what he’s doing. There’s a new M, played by Judi Dench as a nod to the real life Stella Rimington and, thankfully, a new Moneypenny in the form of Samantha Bond. Saltier than her predecessors, with more of a ‘give as good as she gets’ attitude; the new Moneypenny is a vast improvement over her immediate predecessor and a worthy successor to the great Lois Maxwell. Brosnan, Bond and Dench quickly establish a great chemistry and injecting life and wit into the leadenly politically correct dialogue of their early scenes. In terms of the in-front of camera regulars, only the perennial Desmond Llewelyn survives once again to hand out the gadgets and grumpiness as Q for fifth James Bond.
Sean Bean, here affecting a posh accent (and making an excellent case why he was right to refuse to do so again for “Game Of Thrones”), makes for a decent adversary but lacks a sense of gravitas while his co-conspirator General Orumov (Gottfried John) is hammy and unconvincing. Alan Cumming’s adorably ‘90’s ‘computer hacker’ is just downright irritating and absolutely unnecessary, just adding to the padding which plagues “GoldenEye”’s running time. Nearly stealing the whole damn film, though, is Famke Janssen’s explosive performance as psychotic sex bomb Xena Onatopp. Janssen throws herself into the role of the literal femme fatale with such relish and raw sexual aggression that she completely overshadows Izabella Scorupco’s dull and insipid Natalya. It was a star-making role for Janssen and a great shame for the Bond franchise that she was killed off after only one film.
After the delays, legal challenges, rewrites and personnel changes, the new producer team of Barbara Broccoli (taking over due to Albert R Broccoli’s failing health) and Michael G Wilson had pulled it off: Bond reinvented (one again) for a new decade, proving he could transcend and adapt to a changing cultural and geopolitical world. Bond was back!