Of all the crazy and interesting casts featured throughout the James Bond series, GoldenEye might boast the strongest. After a six year hiatus the franchise was back, with Pierce Brosnan as 007, and Judi Dench in as the new “M.” Set in a murky post-Cold War world, GoldenEye still feels extremely fresh, atmospheric, and invigorating today.
With the Cold War over Bond’s relevancy is briefly called into question. But the GoldenEye, which acts as a sort of mega-EMP device, is stolen by a Russian criminal organization and 007 is thrust back into action. Femme fatale Xenia Onatopp (you read that right) shows up immediately following Daniel Kleinman’s evocative and thematic opening titles, racing Bond in his classic DB5 through winding mountains. Famke Janssen is clearly having an absolute blast, oozing sex and sadism, and carving out a well-earned spot for herself among the series’ best villains. All of the villains in the film have distinct personality, from the booze-happy General Ourumov to the nerdy Boris. Rounding out the cast are the “good guys,” Pierce Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco. The former, in his first outing, displays a bit of restraint and tentativeness while still emitting the smooth charm associated with 007. Scorupco is fantastic, grounding her character almost completely, resulting in the very well rendered, very gorgeous, very human character of Natalya Simonova; one of the best leading ladies of the entire franchise. She and Brosnan have the quintessential electric chemistry in spades.
Martin Campbell, who has now been called in twice to give the series a firm kick in the ass, does just that. GoldenEye hits with like fierce, energetic punch. Here Campbell manages to do it all – he balances atmosphere, character, and action, all the while injecting the film with an unrivaled narrative propulsion. He stages action sequences with real ingenuity and inventiveness, avoiding machine-gun battle staleness that occasionally plagued the Brosnan era. In contrast, GoldenEye is nothing but adrenaline. Working with cinematographer Phil Meheux he drenches the proceedings in atmosphere, bringing the post-Cold War world to life. A perpetual fog floats over the entire film. It feels murky and industrial – unique. Eric Serra’s oft-maligned musical score is equally a breath of fresh air, helping to mold and shape its industrial vibe. It may be the best non-John Barry music of the entire 007 canon.
GoldenEye is a gut-punch of a Bond film; it stands as the mark much of the series has aimed at, but occasionally missed. The script, written in part for Timothy Dalton, even avoids many of the infantile dialogue doldrums of the later Brosnan movies. Rarely in the Bond franchise have directing, acting, cinematography, action, and music come together to create such a stylishly sublime experience. GoldenEye has undeniably earned its now-solidified status as a classic.