Sometimes it’s hard to disassociate a film from the context in which you first encountered it. 1995 was an exciting time to be a Bond fan after a good few years of development hell and the replacement of Dalton for Brosnan it looked like the series was about to be reinvigorated.

Confidence in the production team was clearly knocked though. Aware that Bond had been away from screens for a while, the team developed a pre-production promo tape promising cinema owners amazing thrills from the new movie. Martin Campbell, a hard-working and focused action director promised all this from the site of an abandoned Rolls Royce factory that would be converted into a new, huge Bond soundstage. He makes a point to reassure his audience that the laughs would also be present, the team clearly remembering the controversy over ‘Licence to Kill’.

Budgeted at a less-than-average $58m (‘Heat’ and ‘Jumanji’ both released in December 1995 were budgeted at $60m and $65m respectively) the production team knew they would have to rely on a great deal of model work and keep location filming to a minimum. When you consider that many were still questioning a use for Bond in the 1990s and Brosnan was so far untested, it seemed like the odds were stacked against them.

The team needn’t have worried. ‘GoldenEye’ brought in $352m worldwide, making it the fourth highest grossing movie of the year after ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’, ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Apollo 13’. This was the highest grossing Bond since ‘Moonraker’. It drove MGM/UA to demand a new Bond movie as quickly as the team could manage it.

Watching ‘GoldenEye’ twenty years on is an interesting mixture of the old and the new. Whereas in the past we might have laughed at Roger Moore’s safari suits, Pierce’s blazer and high-waisted trousers reminded me of Simon Cowell, arseing around on yachts in Monte Carlo. Similarly Boris’s ‘INCOMING EMAIL’ alert might drive the average Outlook user nuts today. That said, a lot of Boris’s ‘hacker talk’ is actually pretty permissible by some movies’ standards.

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This is a time of change, not all of it necessarily fast-moving or going in the same direction. The biggest difference is the cessation of the Cold War. During the late 70s and 80s the Bond movies had shown how things were beginning to thaw, meglomaniacs like Zorin or Brad Whitaker were shown to exploit both East and West. Now the old order was being dismantled, brilliantly realised in the credits by Daniel Kleinman who took over from Maurice Binder for the first time here. Soviet Russia gives way to the gangster and shows us a land where everything can be bought and culture is an after-thought. This is particularly relevant when Bond visits Zukovsky, buying his trust while enduring the torture of listening to Minnie Driver’s Irina murdering ‘Stand by your Man’. Luckily for Minnie ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ was only two years away.

This is also a world where the one-time sci-fi technology of Bond had caught up with the real world. Operation Desert Storm had brought round-the-clock live television, satellite imagery and stealth technology to public consciousness. This is reflected in the movie with M, Tanner and Bond watching the Severnaya attack via satellite (compare with Jack Ryan watching the SAS attack an IRA training camp in ‘Patriot Games’ three years earlier), the French stealth boat and EMP-resistant helicopter, hacking and the tracing of data. If ‘GoldenEye’ feels a bit more real that is simply because it is catching-up with technology the viewing audience was now familiar with.

Then there is Bond himself, the ‘sexist misogynist dinosaur’. Brosnan is pleasingly unflappable, tilting his head with ease as he concentrates on priming a mine, grinning with glee as he flings his DB5 down the roads of Monte Carlo and solving problems under pressure as he bashes his head against an ejector seat button on board the Tiger helicopter. At the time Brosnan was praised for seeming a little more ‘sensitive’ than his predecessors though in reality this is only conveyed by him looking into the distance while he sits on a beach in Cuba. 1995 was also the year that ‘new lad culture’ took a side-swipe at feminism and political correctness. ‘Loaded’ magazine had begun publishing in 1994 and the European Championships were to be played in the UK in six months. The return of James Bond no doubt added fuel to that fire. Brosnan’s Bond may not be as condescending as his predecessors, but the notion that life is a game and that women are disposable is undoubtedly there. Importantly though it’s still cheeky and the return of the humour to Bond is very welcome.

The supporting cast are generally very good. Both Famke Janssen and Isabella Scorupco are both compelling and fun in the film. It is only really Simonova’s sudden attraction to Bond following their escape from the train that feels a little at odds with what we’ve seen before. The kiss at that point in the movie seems a little bit forced. Xenia Onatopp is, of course, one of the best Bond girls ever, no one has ever seemed to convey such delight at firing an AK47 as Janssen does in the Severnaya attack. You also forget how brutal her half-fucking/half-fighting scene with Bond in the sauna room really is.

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Equally full-on, and full respect to both Brosnan and Bean here, is the fight in the telescope control room as the two double-0s wrestle with each other. There’s a reality to it that was even missing from ‘Quantum of Solace’s Bourne-inspired punch-ups and is well-handled here. Knowing that Sean Bean can (and will) go a little OTT he reins Trevelyan in quite well. He sneers and quips with Bond, but you never get the sense of someone truly demented. His motivations, as a Cossack descendant who wanted revenge against the British is a little bit out of leftfield, even with Zukovsky’s history lesson. Honorable mention for Robbie Coltrane here too, who perhaps might have been better off as Bond’s help for more in the movie than Joe Don Baker’s Wade, a light rip-off of Darius Jedburgh from ‘Edge of Darkness’. Why is Wade obsessed with gardening? There’s some dialogue that goes nowhere. Zukvosky could have made a good counter-point to Boris. Alan Cumming does a good job portraying Boris as a nerdy, little shit, with a sexist streak somehow more juvenile than Bond’s.

Given that the movie has good performances and resets Bond for the 90s it still feels a little flat. Some of that is the distance and pacing of modern movies. Some of it is to do with the direction and the plot itself. First the plot. One of ‘GoldenEye’s key problems is that it has Bond investigating three thefts, one built on another. First the helicopter, then the GoldenEye satellite codes and finally the money from the Bank of England. Rather like ‘Goldfinger’ it relies on Bond stumbling into something that happens to be important only to be captured, escaping, re-captured, re-escaping and only then finding the enemy base by sheer luck. If some idiot hadn’t fired at his plane, Janus would have got away with their plan.

The locations in ‘GoldenEye’ also aren’t able to breathe. St Petersburg is bland looking, the casino in Monte Carlo gets one establishing shot and then one follow-up shot of an audience watching a bizarre mime involving a puppet. Not quite the spectacle of culture that Bond can deliver. Puerto Rico, doubling for Cuba, is shown to us in a few, odd beach shots that are designed to demonstrate Bond’s brooding over Trevelyan and burgeoning relationship with Natalya. In reality though these scenes really do feel like the film stalling. It feels a little uninspired.

While Campbell handles the fight scenes well and uses his steadicam to drop us in the action, other sequences, such as the tank chase could have benefited from tighter editing, overall the movie feels like it could be a little pacier and rounded down from 130mins to a solid two hours. The other issue with that lack of pace is the music. Without a brassy score to drive the action that ‘flat’ feeling to the film continues. I really quite enjoy Serra’s score in places, the timpani use is undoubtedly atmospheric, but there were times when the music needed more impact and it was a little lacking.

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I said it was hard sometimes to disassociate a film from its context and I think the last 1,400 words have proved that! ‘GoldenEye’ is as much a product of its time as ‘Dr No’ or ‘The Living Daylights’ is. It is an enjoyable Bond film, but doesn’t quite reach the heights that others have been able to. It ambles rather than escalates. It entertains without really impressing.

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