We enter the ’90s this week on 007(x3) Weeks of 007. We have a new James Bond in Pierce Brosnan. We have a somewhat different real world in which the films operate. We have the first Martin Campbell directed movie. What’s more, we have a brilliant film. It was probably in the top three at the time of release and top five now.
But, I’ll tell you this, I’m biased. “Licence to Kill” was the first Bond movie I saw in the theaters, and I was already a big fan of the character at the time. During the massively long break between “Licence” and “GoldenEye,” I want from fandom to closer to obsession and Brosnan is my Bond and “GoldenEye” is my Bond movie. My anticipation of the film actually led us in physics class to do a question about bungee jumps in the run up to the release.
Truly, I think “GoldenEye” is a work of genius. It is a completely updated story, bringing our hero to the modern age while continually acknowledging his roots.
Let’s just look at how it starts, with what has to be one of the greatest pre-title sequences in franchise history. From the first moment, you know it’s going to be great. That run across the top of the Arkhangelsk Dam followed by the bungee jump all occurs without a word of dialogue, not silence, but no words. It is this perfect moment in film, and the sound design draws you in, it gets you curious. The whole setup gets you excited because you know that some sort of Bond action is about to take place and this is the mode of entry to the facility that our hero is going to use to… well, to kill someone or blow something up or both.
Not only that, but that minimalist use of sound is repeated a few minutes later right after Ourumuv shoots Trevelyan. Bond slowly moving the cart laden with deadly canisters is one of the greatest moments in the franchise, and it works in no small part because of the squeaky wheel on the cart – for a few moments the scene is entirely silent except for that squeaky wheel. It is funny, it is serious, and it builds anticipation. The whole thing balances on the edge of a knife, and we know that sooner or later it has to teeter a bit too far, and the squeak of that wheel is it wobbling back and forth on the edge. Soon enough it breaks, guns blare and the music comes on, releasing the tension and opening the action once more.
Finally, when the pre-title sequence ends, it does so with just the first few notes the “GoldenEye” song playing out, letting us know once more that this is Bond. He has seen a friend die, he has made an amazing escape, and we have two more hours of excitement ahead of us. Buh-buh-buh-bum. Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” is a great Bond song, harkening back to those classic Shirley Bassey numbers. Buh-buh-buh-bum.
Ah, the new M. Judi Dench’s first appearance as Bond’s boss. Referred to by Bill Tanner as “The Evil Queen of Numbers,” it is made clear that Bond existed here at MI6 before her arrival, he talks to her of her predecessor liking cognac; later, Zukovsky talks to Bond of “The new M.” We get a little of this M’s life (she has kids); we get a little about her seriousness (she will send Bond to die); and we get that even though they don’t like each other and she sees Bond as “a relic of the Cold War,” she knows he can do his job.
It is M who is going to bring Bond into the 21st Century. As setup in “GoldenEye,” she is the way that the series is going to advance. Judi Dench’s character has a significantly different relationship with Bond (both Craig and Brosnan) than Robert Brown or Bernard Lee’s ever did, and I think that as we get to the present day in our rewatch, we’re going to find that M is the way forward for the series. One huge question for Bond today is with “Skyfall”‘s very old school ending/return of the former status quo, how things will progress. This is just one more thing that worries me about “Spectre,” the ending of the last movie is great, but how do you reopen things. I expect Mendes has a plan.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I find “GoldenEye” to be a perfect Bond movie, it isn’t and I’ll get to where it bothers me in a moment, but I do think it’s fantastic. It has a suitably massive plot and it brings back the idea discussed in “A View to a Kill” about EMPs affecting electronics. It has fast cars, a tank chase, baccarat (they still used baccarat in it rather than poker), explosions, and a Double-0 gone bad.
Trevelyan is the anti-Bond and consequently a great villain. His existence as villain is the knife edge from the pre-title sequence again. Both Bond and Trevelyan have sat on the top of the edge, both with the ability to be good or evil. Bond tilts right and Trevelyan left, but there’s another world in which it happens the other way, in which one of Bond’s vendettas leaves him too badly bruised to continue in the same vein, just as Trevelyan’s Lienz Cossack history, combined with his failure at the chemical facility, did to him. What if Tracy’s death and Bond’s obsession with Blofeld had worked out differently? What if M had tried to clamp down in a different way? Bond may have left the service and taken a very different path, a more Trevelyan path.
As for the bad with “Goldeneye,” I have never, ever, understood the draining of the dish in Cuba. I think that they actually filled it in and ran the footage backwards. Watch the water go out of that thing. At the end, when there’s only a tiny bit left, the water seems to decide to fly up into the air with nothing pushing it to do so. I don’t think water behaves that way. Try playing it in reverse and tell me that doesn’t look better. You’ll find that it does. It is a sloppy moment in an otherwise brilliant movie.
Sadly for Brosnan, this is his best outing. From here, things get bigger and bigger and bigger until the series can’t hide it anymore and has to go invisible (with a car). We will get there. Next week, Bond deals with some bad press as 007(x3) Weeks of 007 returns with “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment