James Bond is definitely back in business with “Goldeneye.” Among the better of the 17 Bonds and, perhaps more important for today’s audience, a dynamic action entry in its own right, this first 007 adventure in six years breathes fresh creative and commercial life into the 33-year-old series. Pierce Brosnan makes a solid debut in the role he almost got eight years earlier, and Ian Fleming’s very midcentury secret agent has been shrewdly repositioned in the ’90 s in ways that will amuse longtime fans and prove engaging for viewers not even born when Bond started saving the world. The very definition of escapist fare, this should restore Bond’s golden touch at the international box office.
Beginning with the outrageous pre-credit action teaser, it’s clear that this revamped Bond, which features many new hands both behind and in front of the camera, is intent on giving the old Cold Warrior an invigorating transfusion.
Everything, including the wild conceptualization of the action sequences, the impudence, the sexual pugnaciousness and the willingness to have a little fun at the expense of the hero, is pushed a bit further than it has been recently, serving to shake loose whatever cobwebs might have gathered and enable this new Bond to establish his own identity.
Prologue is set back in the old Soviet Union, where Bond and Agent 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) penetrate a massive chemical-weapons facility. Alec is killed by Gen. Ourumov (Gottfried John), but 007 manages to get away in one of his most hilariously preposterous escapes ever.
Nine years later, Bond is racing his trusty old Aston Martin down the twisting roads to Monaco against a beautiful mystery woman in a Ferrari. She turns out to be Russian gangster Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a black widow spider who steals a new Stealth helicopter and flies it off to the motherland.
In the frozen wastes, Xenia and the self-same Gen. Ourumov invade a Space Weapons Control station, set a satellite in attack mode and wipe out nearly all the staff, leaving computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) as the only apparent survivor.
MI6 realizes this is a job for James Bond, but things aren’t quite as easy for him at the office as in the good-old-boys days. He and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) still flirt, but not without some threats from her about sexual harassment. M is now an iron maiden played by Judi Dench, who brings Bond and the house down with her greeting, “I think you’re a sexist, misogynous dinosaur.”
At last report, dinosaurs were quite popular, and one of the charms of watching this refitted Bond is that women give him a hard time — but still end up going for him in a big way. None of the femmes are bimbos or pushovers, and nearly all the man-woman exchanges are characterized by feisty sparring and even heavy combat, with conventional romance scarcely making an appearance.
In St. Petersburg, Bond discovers that the shadow figure pulling the evil strings is none other than his old pal Alec, 006.
To keep the momentum high, the picture puts Bond into planes, trains, automobiles, choppers, a yacht and, most unusually, a Russian tank, in which he seemingly destroys half of St. Petersburg.
Just about the only holdover from the old days is Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, who again outfits Bond with a few bizarre gadgets.
Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli’s thinking on how to rehab the franchise has proven smart on nearly every score. Moving Bond into the confusing quagmire of the new Russia has resonance on several levels, and while it may not be easy for viewers to connect all the dots in the sometimes convoluted narrative, it puts no crimp in the fun.
Pic has a fine adversary in Bean’s Alec. The stunning Janssen’s deliciously sadistic Xenia instantly assumes an almost unique position in the pantheon as a potential Bond girl gone very bad, and John is formidable in his own way as the shrewd general. As Bond’s eventual main squeeze, the fetching Scorupco has a rather more conventional assignment, but still puts across a reasonable degree of intelligence and gumption. Joe Don Baker turns up as a CIA operative, while Robbie Coltrane is colorful as a Russian criminal lowlife.
Most crucially, Brosnan makes the grade as 007. He handles the action capably and gets the standard quips out in a commendably straightforward way that’s wry but not dismissive. His is not as gritty as Sean Connery’s definitive characterization, but the nasty streak evident in fleeting moments reassures that the license to kill could be invoked at any moment.
Even if the storyline takes some inscrutable turns, script by first-time credited screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein concocts innumerable lively situations, and there are fewer groaners among the one-liners. The director, series newcomer Martin Campbell, keeps things moving with coherence, energy and even some flair, and commendably seems more interested in the actors than in the hardware. Second-unit and stunt work is terrific, with special notice no doubt in store for the spectacular bungee jump off a dam that opens the film.
One disappointing note is the score by Luc Besson recruit Eric Serra. Other tech contributions are in the best tradition of the series, including the lush main title sequence designed by Daniel Kleinman.