Sunday, January 12, 2014

Double Oh...17: Goldeneye

1995, Martin Campbell

Goldeneye Prologue:  This is where I came in.  When I should have really came in with the Dalton features or even the later Moore pcitures, this was my Bond movie, and my initiation into Bond culture and lore.  While I've always considered Moore to be "my Bond", going through this Double Oh series has revealed that I had next to no actual experience with Moore's films, and the harsh reality is that Pierce Brosnan was my Bond... for better or worse.

I wasn't quite 20 yet when Goldeneye arrived in theatres, and after six years without a Bond feature (the longest pause between films by 3 years), the excitement in media, around my local comic shop, and at school even was tangible.  Goldeneye delivered to my generation its first Bond film, and to moviegoers past a whole new Bond, the first Bond after the Cold War ended, with the USSR was dissolved and the Wall came down.  I loved the film, it was Bond to me, mainly because it's the only Bond I really knew.  I saw it in the theatre, watched it on Laserdisc, copied it to tape, and then watched it on tape.  I watched Goldeneye more times than I watched all other Bond films combined (which is saying that I actually hadn't watched very many). Then came Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, and as much as the film revitalized the franchise, the video game immortalized it in a generation of kids and young adults.

I haven't seen the film since videotape was killed by DVD at the turn of the Millennium, and to be honest, beyond a few images of Sean Bean and Famke Janssen, I didn't remember much of the film at all.  Despite following Brosnan through all of his features as Bond, each successive movie lessened my interest in the character, rather than bolstered it.  I've wondered for a few years now, since at least Quantum of Solace debuted, whether Goldeneye still held up, but I could never bring myself to watch it, just in case it didn't.

Villains:  The opening sequence finds 007 meeting up with 006 (Sean Bean) in a Soviet chemical weapons facility where they're to destroy it.  Unfortunately they trip the alarm and 006 is captured by General Arkadi Grigorovich Ourumov (Gottfried John) and a couple dozen armed soldiers... too much for even Bond to handle.  Ourumov apparently shoots 006 in the head, and Bond's left to fend for himself.
Years later Ourumov reappears as the commander of Russia's space weapons division.  He visits the Severnaya Control Center, where he requests an unscheduled systems check of the Goldeneye protocols, but his associate Natalya kills everyone with sadistic pleasure, after which they target the facility with Goldeneye satellite and make their escape in a stolen prototype of the Tiger helicopter that shields it from the Goldeneye's EMP effect.  Ourumov obviously isn't doing this on the Russians behalf.  Working secretly for the Janus crime syndicate, he returns to his superiors and puts the blame on Siberian separatists and (for some reason) sees it as necessity to resign, but stays on when he finds out there was a survivor.  When Bond and the survivor are captured, he kills his superior but fails to kill Bond.  As the film progresses, he continues to fail and he seems more and more bumbling, drinking heavily, until Janus, tired of his incompetence, just shoots him outright.

Janus is an international crime lord and finances the heist French military's Tiger helicopter.  It turns out to be Alex Trevelyan, 006, which, I remember back in 1995 was mind blowing.  Bond's dead ally was his enemy! Sean Bean at the time wasn't Sean Bean of today, so for a double-oh agent to be killed then turn out to be the big bad guy was incredible.  Trevelyan's parents were Kossaks, survivors of Britain's betrayal, but their misery led to Alex becoming an orphan (they make the best double-oh agents, according to Silva, another ex-double-oh as villain in Skyfall).  Alex has held a longstanding grudge, not just towards Britain, but everyone, MI-6, Bond, he's just angry and selfish.  Bond chides him that, when it all comes down to it, he's just a petty robber.  Trevelyan is not a cartoon villain for Bond, which again differentiates him from the Moore and Connery films, and Bean plays him with a lot of jealousy, pain and anger, highly skilled but his emotions cloud his intelligence.

Boris (Alan Cumming) a genius computer hacker, first seen infiltrating the us department of justice.  He works at the Severnaya Control Center but is spared as he's in league with Ourumov and Janus.  He's egocentric and juvenile, the prototypical tech geek.  He's a total cliche but a very enjoyable cliche, played with utter gusto by Cumming.

Valentin Zukovski (Robbie Coltrane) is an ex-KGB agent, now Russian gangster, who Bond once shot in the leg.  Their tenuous past leads to a tenuous partnership as Bond seeks out information.

Bond Girls:

After the opening tease and credits, the film begins with Bond cruising along a winding mountainside highway in his Aston Martin DB5 with Caroline (Serena Gordon) in the passenger seat.  Caroline is an MI6 phychologist who is assessing Bond on his nature, particularly in light of the new M taking charge of the division.  As they cruise along, a red convertible Ferrari driven by Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) pulls beside them in the opposing lane and with a wry, flirty smile, the chase begins.  Caroline is freaking out, and Xenia is a skilled, aggressive driver, which leads to a few close calls as the road keeps winding downhill.  Eventually Xenia spins out in avoiding a collision and Caroline commands Bond to stop (who makes a cheeky comment about having no problem taking orders from a woman).  He uses the moment, her heart racing and completely flustered to totally seduce her, and he does with ease.

M (Dame Judy Dench) is Bond's new superior, and with only a few short scenes, Dench fully takes charge of the role.  While the Daniel Craig Bond films posit her as a mother figure, these put her in slight opposition with him.  She disapproves of his almost pathological sexism and his violent nature, but sees his usefulness.  She calls Bond "a sexist, mysogynist dinosaur, a relic of the cold war".  She also thinks, perhaps not incorrectly, that Bond sees her as an accountant, having not earned her position nor having the fortitude it takes to juggle with people's lives, the "Evil Queen of Numbers" it's said.  She's very severe, in a colorless, collarless suit, but she has poise, and a manner of speaking which seems all about control.

Onatopp is prevalent throughout the film.  She can expertly drive as well as fly a helicopter, she smokes cigars, and is an aggressive baccarat player.  Within her first two scenes she's poised as a match for Bond (even mirroring his drink order).  She walks away from Bond having courted a Canadian Admiral but at the time of their meeting it's obvious to Bond she is in the employ or accompaniment of someone else entirely.  We cut to Onatopp having violent foreplay with the admiral which ends with her orgasmically crushing him with her thighs. Using his credentials, and her sexy, statuesque figure, she infiltrates a new French stealth naval ship and steals the prototype Tiger helicoper.  Later she cuts down the entire staff of a space weapons facility with squeals of pleasure and delight, an obvious sadist, but also a masochist.  She`s extremely tough, strong, a capable fighter.  Invariably she meets her end getting crushed by her harness when the helicopter she's attached to crashes and pulls her into a tree.  I bet she loved it.

Natalya Simonova (Isabela Scorupco) was the sole survivor of Onatopp and Ourumov`s attack on  the Severnaya Control Center.  She`s a second-level programmer, whom Boris (and later Bond) perpetually underestimate, probably because she`s attractive and generally pretty quiet.  She doesn`t flaunt her skills or intellect at all.   Though she`s a primary character of the film, she`s not much of a presence, Scorupco keeping it all rather subdued.  It`s only in the final act, where she shows off her computer skills and demonstrates her weapons training (a kind of out of left field revelation, all things considered) that she shows any interesting spark at all.  She`s really fairly dull.

Samantha Bond takes over as Moneypenny and this time the characters seems well aware of who Bond is, and more than Moneypenny's past, is aware that flirting is just flirting.  There`s not a lot of pining.

Irina is Russian gangster Zukovski's moll, and she's played by Minnie Driver in a delightful cameo.  Her scene involves singing a horrendous rendition of Stand By Your Man in a thick Russian accent, wearing tacky cowboy gear.

Opening Credits/Theme:  This opening credits sequence is an utter breath of fresh visuals after 30 years of Maurice Binder's often brilliant and just as often laughable title sequence.  The sequence, by Daniel Kleinman still features the sexy silhouettes of writhing nude figures, but it also does more than just curiously titillate, it tells a bit of a story in the fall of communism, the shadowy, curvy figures donning industrial tools and tearing down stone representations of Russian iconography.  Beyond that, there's a lot more coordination at work here.  Where Binder's sequences often seemed crude and hastily arranged in the choreography department, all the different figures seem to be in rhythm with one another, as well as with the music.  It's visually quite captivating.
  This, of course, all happen atop the theme sung by Tina Turner, which is in spots quite catchy, though unfortunately not as a whole.  It's definitely got a Bond theme feel, which certainly sets the tone for the film, and Turner's husky timbre fits perfectly the pop and soul mix that the best Bond themes always seem to have.  The song was actually written by U2's Bono and the Edge, which accounts for both its good and bad parts.

The score for Goldeneye, unlike the majority of Bond features, was not done by John Barry, but instead by frequent Luc Besson collaborator Eric Serra.  Serra's penchant for prog synths really dates the soundtrack of the film, and at times is wincingly painful.  The best scored sequence of the film is during the tank chase, which he did not compose, instead provided by John Altman, which felt perfectly Bondian.  Serra provides the end credits song, a full-on Peter Gabriel pastiche, "The Experience of Love" which is either full-on corny or quite good, depending on which side of the Gabriel-pastiche fence you fall.

Bond: The film opens with Bond running along the top of a dam and making a formidable bungee jump off of, firing off a harpoon gun with self-reeling cable to reel him safely to the entrance hatch.  He infiltrates the base and meets up with 006 where things fall apart but Bond escapes by chasing a light aeroplane down the runway on a motorcycle, doing a freefall off the cliff edge and catching the plane as the facility explodes.  Both sequences are utterly amazing (though his use of a machine gun is perhaps too unbelievably effective), and easily some of the best Bond stunts ever done.  It immediately sets the tone for Brosnan's arrival.
  With Bond's seduction of Samantha which at the same time high-speed flirting with Xenia, he's got the ladykiller part down.  Unlike Dalton's Bond, Brosnan is effortlessly quippy and seeping both refinement and charm.  While we know already things go downhill from here for Brosnan, he totally fits the part immediately.  He was ready for it a decade prior, but he gets a great introduction.
  The best part of Bond in this film is his repeating of "yes sir" to the various women in the movie, as if willing himself into getting comfortable with his new boss.  Beyond that there's a great scene where he improvises a towel as a weapon while he's infiltrating Xenia's boat.  It's quick but a very cool moment.  Brosnan is also the most physical of the Bonds (until Craig), doing a lot of sliding around during gunfights.

Movie:  Overall, Goldeneye still holds up as both an action movie and as a Bond installment.  The very minor sub-plot involving M and Bond's acceptance of her is perhaps it's finest touch.  It still fits withing the usual Bond structure, balancing its over the top aspects like the tank chase with its sharper scripting, particularly in the Janus reveal.  It still feels like a big, event movie, even if some elements haven't aged well (if you look closely you can pick apart the visual effects, the greenscreen and the miniatures).  It still feels modern but it suffers somewhat under the weight of what Brosnan's Bond will become.  There's a time for acceptance and forgiveness for Die Another Day, but that time has yet to come.
  The template of this feature was originally supposed to be Dalton's contractual third (final) entry and you can see in certain aspects where Dalton's more serious Bond would fit, but other elements were tailored for a new Bond, the tongue firmly planted in cheek. and it feels somewhat distant from License To Kill.
  The weakest spot of the film is, as always, in the romance part.  Bond rarely handles romance well, and it's just as clunky here.  Natalya seems to fall in love with 007 far too quickly, too eager to risk her life for him, and too invested in making him open up to her.  The film's worst moment finds them on a beach, the sun setting and Bond looking longingly out on the ocean.  Natalya confronts him about his duty/vendetta and she gets angry, and he kisses her forcefully.  It's movie romance at its height and there's no honesty in the scene at all.  Were it excised from the film it wouldn't be missed.
  Finally, in one of the odder casting notes, Joe Don Baker returns to the Bond series as 007's Russian CIA contact Jack Wade.  It's odd, since Baker was the ultimate villain two films previous in The Living Daylights.  Here he's in American blowhard form (he kind of excels at these parts) and he  teads dangerously close to J.W. Pepper territory, calling Bond "Jimmy" or "Jimbo" and just generally being a broad character... but the film is actually balanced enough to allow it without much difficulty.

Q Gadgets -  telescopic spy cam that feeds wirelessly to HQ,
The car's CD player is a printer
Behind the headlights - stinger missiles
Leather belt with 75 foot repelling device
Rocket launcher leg cast
X-ray document scanner serving tray
Pen grenade
Telephone booth airbag
Laser Watch

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.7 -- most of it works, some of it doesn't, but it's got some great Bond moments