So ended the world’s greatest game of pass the parcel. After much to-ing and fro-ing between them, and with the various shenanigans and machinations of the past six years behind them, the baton finally passed from Timothy Dalton – who was first considered as early as 1969 – to someone who’d been in the frame since the early Eighties, and whose chance looked resolutely to have gone when he had to drop out before The Living Daylights. Maybe that sense of relief is what explains the shit-eating grin that Bond wears at random moments in Goldeneye…
Yes, Pierce Brosnan was the fifth man to inherit the on screen mantle of Britain, nay the world’s, greatest not-that-good-at-being-secret secret agent. His performance in Goldeneye, in the best Bond Legacy tradition, seemed to call on something from each of his predecessors in the role; he had the stern insistence of a man with an English accent who wasn’t actually British (Lazenby), the effortless sophistication and grace that make him look good in a dinner jacket, but also the belief he could handle himself in a fight (Connery), the hard-edged distance of a man that’s seen a lot of suffering (Dalton) and a louche theatricality with a one-liner that made him seem almost dangerously cheesy (Moore, although that maybe does a little disservice to old Rog).
For some reason, when attempting to capture what made the quintessential Bond film, Martin Campbell and the Broccolis made what everyone thought the stereotype of a Bond film was, rather than replicating an actual Bond film. Consequently the style and the stunts are all there, but so are the worst extremes of Seventies Bond, and there’s a moment with Bond and Wade in Cuba when their aside to camera feels closer to the music hall than it does to a classic Bond film. However, audiences lapped it up and this new Bond, serious one minute and leering the next, would largely provide the template for the Brosnan era, for better and for worse.
Goldeneye is without doubt the best of that era, thanks to a number of key elements. Sean Bean’s creepy smoothness as Trevelyan gave this new, modern Bond the ideal mirror in which to view himself, and their fight late on has a crunching physicality to it, a no-holds-barred approach that would also come to categorise the Bonds that followed. Isabella Scorupco might have been a Polish model turned singer turned actress, but she was still able to act rings around many Bond girls that had gone before her, and Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp (also a former model) camped it up delightfully; if you don’t enjoy her delivery of the line “He’s going to derail the train!” then you maybe need a little more joy in your life. But the key elements were the revitalisation of Martin Campbell’s direction and the knowing script that just about managed to avoid tipping over into self-parody. Just.
Thankfully, just like the sixteen films that preceded it, Goldeneye still has something to offer in dictating the path of what is to come.
1. No relic of the Cold War after all
The one doubt in everyone’s mind was whether, in a world without Russian enemies and with high-powered American action movies, Bond was still really needed. The relative failure of Licence To Kill in America and a few other territories had, somewhat unjustly, caused speculation as to if Bond could still cut it. In terms of box office and adjusting for inflation, Goldeneye took nearly twice the total of its predecessor and more than any Bond film since Moonraker, and Goldeneye really showed, for the first time, that Bond could move with the times. Sure, the franchise had often made reference to the latest fad or fashion and tried to hang on the coat-tails of the other big movies of the time, but the Nineties showed how Bond could still thrive in a world without the Iron Curtain. (We’ll gloss over the fact that half of the film is still set in
2. Campbell’s soup-er when it comes to reboots
Martin Campbell had made his name with the TV adaptation of Edge Of Darkness, and he proved key in bringing Bond back to the big screen. So key, in fact, that when Bond returned after another four year hiatus and producers were again looking to put a fresh spin on proceedings, Campbell returned and once again proved his ability to keep enough familiar elements while injecting a shot of individuality and freshness. He’s now in his early sixties, so he should still have enough good years left in him when Michael Fassbender, Andrew Garfield and Will Poulter line up for their reboots in the next twenty years. (Especially when everyone says how much the Poulter years are a return to form after that Garfield fiasco.)
3. Kleinman’s the man, but Serra’s an error
I’ve wrapped the last two lessons together, but they are both salient warnings to anyone attempting to make a Bond film in the future. Daniel Kleinman takes the work of the likes of Robert Brownjohn and Maurice Binder and makes it fresh and exciting, capturing the feeling of its predecessors but still managing to take the opening titles forward. Consequently he continued to get the gig right up until Quantum of Solace. Eric Serra was also hired to write the score, and has produced some fantastic work for Luc Besson’s movies, especially the prior year’s Leon. His work on Goldeneye is similarly great, with the sweeping string accompaniments for Bond’s Caribbean detour evoking just the right mood. Trouble is, the score as a whole is categorically wrong for a Bond film; so wrong that the producers had to bring in John Altman – who, fact fans, also arranged Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life for Life Of Brian – to Bond up the tank chase in St. Petersburg. Consequently David Arnold, to the relief of everyone everywhere, got the gig for the next five films. The moral of the story is, feel free to have a little play with the key elements, but if Bond Legacy has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t mess with the fundamentals.
Next time: The irony of a film about a media mogul gone mad whose title is based on a misprint. It’s Tomorrow Never
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