Friday, August 31, 2012

BOND-A-THON: GoldenEye

‘GoldenEye’ was released in 1995, six years after ‘Licence to Kill’ – the longest hiatus in the Bond franchise, and the first real gap since the three years between ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. The Dalton films had done well enough at the box office, with ‘The Living Daylights’ earning over $191million from a $40million budget and even the much-maligned ‘Licence to Kill’ – which was considered, comparatively, an underperformer – netting $156million against a lower budget of $35million, so what went wrong?

A load of legal wrangling, that’s what. The Bond films were made by Eon Productions, under the auspice of parent company Danjaq, with financing and distribution from MGM/United Artists. In 1989 Australian corporation Qintex acquired MGM/UA, intending to merge it with Pathe. Qintex licenced Pathe to broadcast the Bond movies worldwide on television, incurring the wrath of Danjaq who had not granted permission for this. Danjaq instigated legal proceedings and production on the next 007 film was thus delayed.

Dalton had signed on for three movies. His third outing was intended to commence filming in 1990 for a 1991 release. 1990 came and went. So did 1991. Ditto a couple more years, and in 1994 Dalton resigned from the role. Almost a decade earlier, contractual obligations to ‘Remington Steele’ meant Pierce Brosnan had lost out in replacing Roger Moore. With no such obstacles in place this time round, the producers promptly cast him.

Albert R. Broccoli acted as consulting producer only on ‘GoldenEye’ – he died a year after its release – and effectively handed the reins to his daughter Barbara Broccoli and long-term Bond alumnus Michael G. Wilson. Writer Richard Maibaum – who had contributed to every Bond film apart from ‘You Only Live Twice’, ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘Moonraker’ – died in 1991; the original draft of ‘GoldenEye’ was by Michael France, with a rewrite by Jeffrey Caine and some script polishing courtesy of Kevin Wade and Bruce Feirstein. The second film in the series, after its immediate predecessor, not to have an original Ian Fleming title, it was nonetheless named after Fleming’s house in Jamaica.

Having approached and been, albeit very politely, turned down by John Woo, the producers offered directorial duties to Martin Campbell who had made a name for himself on the small screen with ‘Reilly, Ace of Spies’ and ‘Edge of Darkness’. After five straight films directed by John Glen, the emphasis was on new blood. Along with Brosnan as the new Bond, ‘GoldenEye’ gives us a new M (Dame Judi Dench, turning in arguably the best performance on offer and redefining the character into the bargain) and a new Moneypenny (Samantha Bond).

The plot, however, is old hat. In an exercise in recycling, we have a renegade Russian general who forms a trio of villainy with a femme fatale and an egomaniac with pretentions to class (shades of ‘Octopussy’) – one of whom has their own personal train (further shades of ‘Octopussy’) – and steal military hardware by means of seducing/impersonating an officer (‘Thunderball’) in order to effect the control of a satellite (‘Diamonds Are Forever’) which they intend to control from their fully kitted-out secret base hidden in a crater (‘You Only Live Twice’) for the purpose of triggering an electromagnetic pulse (‘A View to a Kill’) over London and thereby causing global economic meltdown.

L to the M to the F to the A to the O. Seriously. Trigger the fucker over New York or – more realistically – Tokyo and you’d achieve that. But London? I doubt it’d affect the Dow Jones by more than half a point.

For a film that tries desperately to be of the moment (an inspired title sequence, perhaps the best in the whole franchise, depicts the fall of the old Soviet regime) it seems peculiarly regressive. The Red Menace gets such a bashing you’d think it was still the 80s and Roger Moore was giving it all for Queen and country. The script’s attempts at addressing a more politically correct audience – an aspect of the film that received much comment in the press back in 1995 – consists of Moneypenny giving Bond a mild telling off and M giving him an outright bollocking. Oh, and femme fatale Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) is Bond’s match as a sexual predator.

But apart from that, Bond himself remains the smug cocksman of the Moore years. And even when Brosnan tries for a harder edge to the character, what emerges is still something of a backwards step from Dalton’s Bond.

Ah yes, Pierce Brosnan. Here we come to a major problem with ‘GoldenEye’ – and a major problem with the three films that follow it. In the pantheon of actors who have essayed the role, if we characterise Sean Connery as the definitive Bond, George Lazenby as the awkward Bond, Roger Moore as the suave/smarmy Bond and Timothy Dalton as Bond played straight, then in Pierce Brosnan we have the pouty Bond. There are many attributes I want to see in Bond, no matter who’s playing him: I want to see ruthlessness, tenacity, style, nicely tailored suits, fine wines and vodka martinis; I want to see hardware, fast cars and an effortless way with the ladies. I do not – repeat not – want to see pouting. Pouting is for effeminate sparkly vampires, not for hard-living secret agents with a licence to kill.

To be fair, there is much to be said in favour of ‘GoldenEye’. The title sequence is an absolute belter, a ten-minute movie in miniature that offers suspense, action and a freakin’ great payoff with motorbike chasing plane as both hurtle towards a sheer drop. Then that unexpectedly inventive title sequence kicks in while Tina Turner belts out the theme song. Written by Bono and The Edge, and with Turner channeling her inner Shirley Bassey, the theme song is the best in a couple of decades. The good work continues in the first half, with some actual espionage (it’s always good when the filmmakers remember that Bond is a spy), a winning heroine in the form of Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and a brilliantly noirish scene in what can only be described as a graveyard of statues. The cool stuff culminates with the film’s most outlandish and boyishly entertaining sequence, about which I have only three words to say: tank chase, baby!

On the minus side, the immediate post-credits scene with Bond and Onatopp chasing each other around some hairpin bends is several minutes of pointlessness and the music that accompanies it is awful. Eric Serra’s original score is a whole lot of nothing much. The casting of Joe Don Baker as Bond’s CIA contact Jack Wade rankles. I don’t have any issue with his performance (Wade initially dissing 007 as “stiff-assed Brit” is priceless, ditto his subsequent tendency to address Bond as “Jimbo” or “Jimmy”), it’s just another instance of the producers casting someone in diametric opposition to the character type they played in a previous Bond film. As Charles Grey appeared first as ally (‘You Only Live Twice’) and then as villain (Blofeld in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’), Baker had earlier appeared as villain in ‘The Living Daylights’ and now shows up as one of the good guys.

Regarding Sean Bean as the treacherous former Double-O agent Alec Trevelyan, the decision to portray him as the opposite side of the same coin to Bond underlines the whole Brosnan problem. I can quite easily imagine Bean, particularly at the mid-90s stage of his career when he was winning a legion of fans as Sharpe in the TV adaptations of Bernard Cornwell’s novels, as Bond. The physicality and the rough charm are there; that steely glint in the eye promises ruthlessness. Sean Bean looks like he could kill a man and casually order a vodka martini. Pierce Brosnan looks like he belongs in a shampoo commercial.

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