Reel Talk

GoldenEye and the Post-Cold War Bond


Well everyone, we’ve made it into another bold new era. That’s right, after the six year hiatus where a bunch of legal matters were dealt with it’s time for a new Bond flick. And a new Bond. Actually, a whole lot of new faces. Because not only are we introduced to our new Bond in Pierce Brosnan, we’re also given an almost total facelift to the entire cast. Everyone except good old Desmond Llewelyn. And it all came together to create one of the more successful, and beloved Bond movies of all time. True, a lot of people have a shocking amount of nostalgia for this film primarily due to the seminal video game that bears it’s name, but I’ve actually never played that game (we were a PlayStation family) so all of my feelings toward the movie come purely from what it actually contains. And I’ll admit, I have a serious soft spot for Pierce. He was my first Bond, and the actor who held the role during my childhood. True, now that I’ve become a Bond fanatic who has poured over the film numerous times he’s no longer my favorite, but there’s still something special about your first Bond. GoldenEye wasn’t the first Bond movie that I ever saw, but it was certainly one of the first, and one of the films that I have the most love for. Because this film is probably as strong as Pierce Brosnan’s tenure gets. Despite the fact that it made some promises that the rest of Brosnan’s films couldn’t quite keep.

But I do think that no matter what this movie had been, people would have been excited. Six years is a long time between Bond movies, and the fate of the franchise had probably never been in as much jeopardy. I discussed this a bit yesterday, but those six years weren’t taken because people weren’t interested in James Bond. It was over boring legal questions. Who had the rights to broadcast the 007 catalog internationally. Yeah, that’s what it was all based on. And those lawsuits helped keep James Bond away from he public for six years. And when it was finally time to bring him back, things were very different. Timothy Dalton’s contract had long since expired, and he had no interest in coming back. Similarly, a large portion of the production crew who had been making these films for decades were done with the franchise. So it was time for some fresh starts. After looking at a couple actors, like Mel Gibson and Liam Neeson, they decided to give Pierce Brosnan another shot after the cartoonish set of circumstances that kept him from being Bond in the Living Daylights. And once they had a new Bond, they decided to get a whole new MI6. Besides Q. We get a new M, a new Moneypenny, a new Tanner, and just a whole new feel for the films as a whole. We’re in the 90’s now folks, and Bond will never be quite the same.


The film begins with a flashback to 1986 where James Bond is infiltrating a Russian chemical weapon factory. And once he gets inside the factory he meets up with his friend and colleague, Alec Trevelyan, also known as 006. The two run around the factory, placing bombs, when they’re caught by Colonel Ourumov, who holds a gun to Trevelyan’s head. Ourumov ends up shooting Trevelyan, and Bond has to flee from the factory, blowing it up in the process before flying away in plane. And after a credit sequence that mainly hammers in the point that the Soviet Union has fallen, we check in on Bond continuing to be his regular self, seducing a a psychiatrist who was sent to evaluate him in Monaco. After getting that seduction out of the way Bond heads down to the casino, and ends up coming across a Georgian woman named Xenia Onatopp, who engages in some sexy banter with Bond before heading off with an admiral. Bond is pretty suspicious of Onatopp, and follows her and the admiral to the admiral’s boat, taking some photos of them and sending them to MI6 for further information, learning that Onatopp is a member of a Russian crime syndicate known as Janus. And it turns out that Bond was right to be suspicious, because that night Onatopp kills  the admiral while a mysterious partner takes the admiral’s identification. Which is bad, because the next morning the admiral was supposed to be at an unveiling ceremony for a new helicopter that can withstand an EMP. Bond tries to intervene, but gets caught with the admiral’s body and held for questioning while Onatopp and her partner steal the helicopter and fly away in it.

So now the question becomes, where is that helicopter going? Bond returns to MI6 to use satellites to track down the helicopter, while we get to see exactly where it’s going. Turns out it’s Siberia, where Onatopp and Ourumov land in a remote research facility. We’re introduced to a couple of the computer technicians working there, Boris and Natalya, before learning that the base holds a secret Soviet-era EMP weapon known as GoldenEye. Ourumov takes the GoldenEye device, along with Boris, before Onatopp murders everyone in the facility. Everyone except Natalya. Ourumov then fires GoldenEye on the facility, destroying all traces of him having been there. But MI6 was watching, and saw proof of a survivor. So Bond heads out to St. Petersburg to try and track down the survivor and the GoldenEye. Once in Russia he meets up with a CIA agent named Jack Wade, who is the worst, and gets pointed in the direction of a local gangster named Valentin Zukovsky who has information about Janus. Bond and Zukovsky have a lot of history with each other, but Bond is able to convince him set up a meeting between the two. Zukovsky agrees, and later that night Bond is attacked in his hotel by Onatopp. Bond gets the better of her though, and she brings him to meet with Janus. And, surprise, Janus is Alec Trevelyan. Trevelyan wasn’t actually killed by Ourumov, and was actually working with him the whole time, and he’s been working as a Russian criminal ever since. Apparently his parents were Cossack’s, and since England sent them back to Russia to die, he has a deep hatred of Britain, and wants to get his revenge. Trevelyan then locks Bond and Natalya, who had been captured by then earlier, inside the helicopter they stole, and set it to self-destruct. Bond is able to save himself and Natalya, where they’re promptly arrested by the Russian police.

Bond and Natalya are brought before a Defense Minister, who wants questioned answered about the GoldenEye theft. Natalya tells them it was Oumurov, and that there’s a second satellite ready to fire. Which is right when Ourumov comes in, kills the Minister, and takes Natalya with him. Bond has no choice at that point but to steal a tank and chase Ourumov through the streets of St. Petersburg, before finally finding him and Natalya boarding a train. Bond gets aboard the train and finds Trevelyan and Onatopp. He kills Ourumov, but Trevelyan and Onatopp escape, heading off to the next part of their plan. Luckily Natalya is able to trace their computer messages, and finds that their second base is in Cuba. So Bond and Natalya fly to Cuba, with help from Jack Wade, and end up finding the massive hidden dish that controls the second satellite. Onatopp finds them before they can get inside the base, but Bond is able to kill her. Once that’s taken care of they get inside the base, and are quickly captured. But not before Natalya can trigger the descent of the satellite, which would cause it to burn up. Trevelyan explains that he’s planning on robbing several banks in England, and then use the GoldenEye to destroy all technology in London, clearing his tracks and giving payback to the country that killed his parents. Well, until the satellite begins to crash back to Earth and ruin his plan. Boris tries desperately to fix the descent, while Bond escape and chases Trevelyan through the base, destroying it along the way. The two finally end up atop the satellite dish, and after a tense fight Bond gets the upper hand, and drops Trevelyan to his death. Meanwhile, the satellite has burnt up on reentry, and the entire base has gone up in flames, but Bond and Natalya are able to escape, being picked up by the CIA agents and taken home.


GoldenEye is a truly terrific Bond movie. It’s a big boisterous entry to the franchise, serving as a reintroduction to the franchise as well as a mission statement for what it will be from now on. Whether or not they lived up to that statement is another matter though. Because GoldenEye is a hell of a flick. Despite my nostalgia for him, Pierce Brosnan isn’t one of my favorite Bond actors, but this is without a doubt his best performance. His Bond is an interesting mixture of everyone who came before him, switching between some Connery harshness and some Moore campiness on a dime. Izabella Scorupco delivers a delightful performance as Natalya, easily letting her become one of the most competent and integral Bond Girls in the whole franchise. Likewise, Famke Janssen’s performance as Xenia Onatopp is one of the best henchwomen and evil love interests this side of Fiona Volpe. I’m also incredibly fond of the supporting cast to the film. Judi Dench is utterly perfect as M, and it’s shocking how great she is right here in her first rodeo. She doesn’t need a movie or two to hit her stride, she’s immediately fantastic. Similarly Robbie Coltrane as Zukovsky is fantastic. I completely love that character, and his chemistry with Pierce is tremendous, giving one of the best allies Bond has ever had. But the real star of the show has to be Sean Bean, crafting Alec Trevelyan as one of the best villains in the entire series. The idea of James Bond fighting an evil double-oh agent is brilliant, and I’m so surprised that it took this long for them to give it a shot. Having Bond fight a man who he was friends with, and who has all of the same training as he has led to one of the most interesting and compelling villains in the whole franchise. We had a new type of villain, with a new type of weapon, giving a new type of threat, and establishing that the Bond franchise was still viable.

Which was a big deal, because I’m sure there was a lot of questioning if the Bond franchise still had any purpose in the world of 1995. James Bond as a character will always be inextricably linked with the Cold War. There has always been espionage, but the popularization of the spy as a protagonist really took off during the Cold War. The James Bond of the novels was created in order to fight against the Russian government, stopping their various schemes to take down the decadent West. When Bond made the leap to the big screen things tended to focus less on Russians, and more on SPECTRE, but most of the plots still revolved around the Cold War. Be it pressuring nations into World War III or stealing devices to give one of the superpowers a hand up on the other, Bond movies had always been influenced by the Cold War. And then, during the hiatus between License to Kill and GoldenEye something shocking happened. The Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Cold War ended. The world completely changed, and James Bond’s relevancy was thrown into question. Hell, they even have M deliver the famous line “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War,” in the film, cementing the idea that most people would have imagine that James Bond had no place in a post-Cold War world. The 1990’s were a strange time for Bond, with no Soviets left to fight and terrorism not yet holding such a sway on culture it didn’t seem like there would be anyone for Bond to deal with. And yet GoldenEye served as an example that there are always going to be terrible people in the world, and James Bond is always going to be there to stop them. True, there was no longer a massive game of chess being played by two superpowers, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of horrible schemes that James Bond couldn’t be called in to best. It wasn’t really a question of “could they come up with plots that didn’t involve the Cold War,” because of course they could, there were countless action films that had nothing to do with the Cold War. The real question was whether James Bond as a character could still work in this new world. Would people still buy the idea of a spy who had been so completely indebted to the Cold War saving the world. And, it turns out, they will. GoldenEye was a huge hit, critically, financially, and publicly, proving that James Bond didn’t need the Cold War. And, just like how On Her Majesty’s Secret Service proved that the franchise wouldn’t end because Sean Connery wasn’t involved, GoldenEye proved that the franchise wouldn’t end just because the Cold War was over. Because James Bond will always return.

GoldenEye was written by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, directed by Martin Campbell, and released by MGM/UA Distribution Company, 1995.


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