Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Favorite Bond: Alex on GoldenEye

I was 12 years old when I first saw a woman have an orgasm. That woman was Xenia Onatopp.

At the risk of being overly brief, that one trivial fact encompasses the thrust of my relationship with Bond franchise. I lack an encyclopedic knowledge of the series that would be necessary to tell you precisely what GoldenEye does that is particularly innovative or revolutionary when compared with the other installments. But as Patrick expertly noted in his My Favorite Bond entry, the Bond films have employed such an expansive array of tones and tactics that they will inevitably trigger unique responses in everyone who watches them.

I guess I settle on GoldenEye because it was the first Bond movie that really seemed like it was for me. At the time I saw it, I want to say I had seen maybe half a dozen or so other Bond movies across all three decades that saw their releases. They were enjoyable, but in the sort of way that the Museum of Natural History is enjoyable: enlightening, yet distant. Important, yet kind of stodgy. But with GoldenEye, everything from the aesthetic (a deliberate pivot to mid-90s action fare) to the genuinely engrossing story line (hell, it got 12-year-old me reading up on the god damn repatriation of the Cossacks after World War II) felt new and vibrant and dangerous.

Now it's probably fair to say that the reason it felt new was that, at that time I saw GoldenEye, it was, you know, the newest Bond movie. But I think it's worth noting that GoldenEye was released a full SIX YEARS after its predecessor, Licence to Kill -- the longest hiatus between installments in the franchise's history. This was thanks in large part to some legal morass, but also as part of an effort to really attempt to broach some bold new ground. And while you can't deny the energy Brosnan brings to the title character, the real boldness lies in the film's villains. The first Bond film released after the fall of the Berlin Wall, GoldenEye shepherds the series out of the Cold War era while including a critical plotline that deals with the ramifications of that real world event.

Beyond the novelty of making him an MI6 turncoat (he knows ALL OF BOND'S WEAKNESSES!), the most compelling thing about Sean Bean's Alec Trevelyan is that his beef with MI6 seems completely justified. While I can't condone the use of electromagnetic warfare to cripple one of the largest economies in the world, GoldenEye smartly frames Trevelyan's motives for doing so as an act to avenge the death of his parents, which he attributes in large part to the betrayal of the British government. Even Bond laments that Cossack betrayal was "not our finest hour." Is his plan to work his way deep into an elite spy agency to execute a convoluted plan contingent on technology that probably didn't exist when he started this whole revenge kick a little far-fetched? Certainly, but I love that Trevelyan's madness has such a small and personal genesis. Bean is excellent, opting not to stray into the cartoonish territory so well-worn by many of his predecessors.
Which brings us back to Miss Onatopp. Bond has faced his share of female antagonists, almost all of whom used their physical attraction as a tool for their treachery. But I'm hard-pressed to recall a Bond girl who so literally used sex as a weapon. As I hinted up top, the appeal of this character was pretty much X's and O's: I was 12, she was stunning and she was having lots of dangerous sex. I am also both fully aware and appreciative of Onatopp's character. It's what keeps GoldenEye from totally disappearing into the crowd of assembly line action movies in the run-up to the turn of the century. Keeping the film honest are genuinely humorous turns from Joe Don Baker as Bond's CIA envoy Jack Wade and Robbie Coltrane as Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky. Also, there is a blink-and-you'll miss her turn from a very young Minnie Driver as Zukovsky's tone-deaf lounge singer girlfriend. They color up the periphery enough to keep it from playing like an endless string of action set pieces.

And man, are there some set pieces. They haven't all aged well (which actually creates some of the nostalgia that I suspect endears earlier installments to older viewers), but Bond's opening free fall to an abandoned plane careening off a runway and his joyride in a tank through the Russian streets are among the series' more breathtaking moments.

For people of my age, it's impossible to tell the story of GoldenEye the motion picture without discussing GoldenEye the first-person shooter video game originally released on Nintendo 64 (and re-issued on two subsequent platforms due to its immense popularity). A staple of after-school hangouts and sleepovers, the game, which wasn't released until two years after the film, elevated the first-person shooter out of the bleak, stilted constraints of Doom and into a fully inhabitable world. Complemented by a multiplayer battle format that is still being replicated throughout the gaming world, the narrative single-player mode was so immersive that it actually sent me back for repeat viewings of the film to see if i could glean any hints as to how to surpass a particularly troubling stage. This makes zero sense at all, but it speaks to how well one format complements the other. It's also worth noting that the creators of the video game used it as something starter kit for broadening your horizons to different movies in the series.

With the inclusion of specific weapons and characters in the multi-player mode, I was compelled to seek out their cinematic origins. What the hell is The Golden Gun? What is this Moonraker laser? Who the fuck is Baron Samedi? Questions asked and answered.
Best Bond: Sean Connery

Best Bond Theme Song: "GoldenEye," by Tina Turner. It's the way she twangs and carries the "Eye" portion of the title. I have no earthly idea why Bill Clinton didn't just cancel the Grammys that year and instead issue an executive order mandating that everyone listen to this song for three hours straight on the night the awards would have been held.

Best Chase Scene: The boat chase in Live and Let Die

Worst Bond Movie: Die Another Day. A pretty awesome hovercraft chase to open the movie quickly becomes MADONNA AND ICE HOTELS AND A WOMAN NAMED JINX.

Favorite Bond Girl (unpopular opinion edition): Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) from Moonraker. The dimples, you guys.

Coolest Bond Car: Remote controlled BMW from Tomorrow Never Dies. There's a terrific shot of Brosnan laughing heartily while eluding the bad guy while driving the car via remote from the back seat. It's the most human moment in all the Bond films. I'm serious. It looks like an outtake.

Best Bond One Liner: In From Russia With Love:
Tatiana: [trying on a dress] I'll wear this one in Piccadilly.
Bond: You won't. They've just passed some new laws there.

Previously on "My Favorite Bond":
Patrick on On Her Majesty's Secret Service
JB on Goldfinger 


  1. Can I nominate Goldeneye as best Bond videogame as well?

  2. Yes!!

    I have a special relationship with Goldeneye for three reasons

    1.) It was the first appearance of Pierce Brosnan as Bond, who was the Bond of my younger days

    2.) It was the first Bond movie I ever owned

    3.) The freakin' N64 game!!! It was great in its day, and I played it for hours on end with my friends. Good times!

  3. I always thought the Goldeneye theme was hilarious. It's the line 'you'll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child'. I just imagine Tina Turner in an alley (with Batman 89 art direction) spying on James Bond.

    Personally, I like the themes from Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, Living Daylights and Tomorrow Never Dies the best. The License to Kill theme song is a guilty pleasure because it sounds like something you would hear in a doctor's office waiting room.

    1. Yeah, it's time for "F This..." to start franchising. F This Video Game, T This Book, F This Small Kitchen Appliance - the possibilities are endless!

    2. Crap this was meant for Alex's post below - F This Comment!

  4. I'll second the importance of the Nintendo 64 "Goldeneye" game in cementing the movie as a cornerstone of many a Bond fan's infatuatuion with the series (thanks for mentioning it Alex). It might be hard for non-gamers to relate, but this game owned/consumed the free time of millions of gamers for years (mostly guys but a few lady gamers too) and it might be one of the few videogames that were better AS A WHOLE than the original media than inspired it (a little biased here since I don't personally like "Goldeneye" the movie that much). Me and a friend played this, "Mario Kart 64" and "Halo" (on the first XBox) so much it wasn't even funny.

    It took the N64 game's good vibes, repeated frustrated viewings of the flick on DVD and me maturing as a movie lover to finally, begrudgingly, come to appreciate "Goldeneye" as a 'good' Bond movie. As a fan of the series there were so many changes to the formula I was so familiar with "Goldeneye" just felt alien to me when it came out in '95. Eric Sena's music just sounded weird and off to me (you only hear the Bond music once, when Brosnan starts driving the tank); the lack of the Bond music during the gun barrel shot made me salivate like Pavlov's dog denied the ring that signaled it was time to eat.

    I think now that we're so used to Judi Dench as M (the same way most folks were used to Bernard Lee previously in the role) and Sean Bean as a good actor "Goldeneye" is easier for me to accept and buy today than it was following the footsteps of Timothy Dalton's bad-ass Bond. Ironically Brosnan, who at the time I thought was the best part of the new series, is what dates "Goldeneye" now more than anything or anyone else in it. Even the miniature photography (the last by Derek Medding, a long-time Bond alumni) is pretty good, all things considered.

    1. The introduction of Judi Dench as M, man. I don't even think I need to go into how much of a game changer having M upgraded by both character change and having an actor of that caliber in the chair was. If you told me tomorrow we we're going to have a spinoff titled "M: The Early Years" I'd be first in line.

  5. I'm glad I'm not alone in my assertions about the significance of the video game on the film. It could honestly be the subject of a whole separate essay. I'll run it when we get the F This Video Game spin-off site up and running in 2013. Like a dummy, I forgot to add my “Favorite GoldenEye Video Game” to the bottom section. I am partial to double-fisting the DDAA Dostovei handguns.

  6. I haven't watched enough Bond films to have a meaningful favourite, but Goldeneye is probably as close as it gets for a couple of reasons:

    1. Most personally, I was part of a small youth drama group in my teens lead by an old British guy, Peter Oliver, who back in the day had lead a youth theatre group in London (Oval House Theatre) and had been a mentor to a young Pierce Brosnan. They stayed in touch and I remember him showing us a letter he received from Pierce writing from whatever dam they used for the Hoover Dam shot (don't think it was the actual Hoover Dam for some reason) in Goldeneye. Anyway, I'm sure I've bragged about my old director's connection to Pierce far more than he ever did!

    2. As Alex, Adam and John mention above, the video game! Back in university I used part of a student loan disbursement to buy an N64 and one of my buddy's rooms became known as The Vortex - all 4-player Goldeneye, all the time.

    This reminiscing has me thinking it's time to revisit the Brosnan Bonds - still not sure about the older ones - I think my wife would kill me if I bought that big box set...

  7. Great write up, Alex. Goldeneye is my favorite non-Connery bond film. Could it be argued that the popularity of the game provoked more people to watch the film that otherwise wouldn't have? Two years is a crazy longtime to wait to put out a video game adaptation of a film nowadays.

    Quick tangent: I can remember playing that unlockable "Aztec" mission and being blown away: lasers, launch stations built within ruins, Jaws, etc. A friend of mine informed me that this was indeed a reference to an earlier bond film. I then went into Moonraker with super high expectations, which were ultimately shit on by the lasergun-infantry division of the USMC