Pierce Brosnan nearly had the role of Bond before Timothy Dalton. The story goes that Brosnan was about to be released from his Remington Steele duties with the show on the bubble for cancellation, and he was offered the iconic role by the Bond producers. NBC was given 60 days to decide whether or not to renew Remington Steele, and a few hours before the deadline, as the press conference announcing Brosnan as Bond loomed, they renewed Remington Steele for a fifth season. Then, five episodes into the season, they cancelled the show anyway. Licence to Kill being the divisive film it was meant, by 1994 Dalton had retired as Bond and the door reopened for Brosnan to become the fifth man to introduce himself as Bond, James Bond. The question now was which kind of Bond Brosnan would be, and was there still a place in the world for a cold warrior now that the Cold War was over:
Safe: Watching Goldeneye after the bloody, unflinching Licence to Kill feels as though the movie is kneejerk reaction to change. The producers had gone down a new route with Licence and found fans alienated by the new approach. Rather than have another crack at a different take on the material, they went back to Bond 101 instead.
Goldeneye is a perfectly capable Bond movie, much like Pierce Brosnan is a perfectly capable Bond. He looks the part: handsome, charming, confident, but occasionally veers into smugness. The awful one liners he seems to endlessly spout show producers wanted someone more Roger Moore, less Timothy Dalton. The Brosnan years represent the most that the franchise has tried to play it safe and produce movies in the Bond formula, for better or worse.
New Additions: Goldeneye’s crowning achievement is that it introduces Judi Dench’s M to the franchise. A female M instantly injects something different into the formula, and the fact that she is no-nonsense and unimpressed by Bond is a huge advantage. Bernard Lee had been a great M in the early years, but the role gradually depleted into simply smirking while giving orders and then being shocked to find Bond in bed with his leading lady at the end of the movie. Dench’s M has some speed bumps, but as her tenure progressed, she became integral to the franchise.
The movie also introduces two new semi-recurring characters in Jack Wade (played by Joe Don Baker) and Zukovsky (played by the legendary Robbie Coltrane). Wade is a Felix Lieter replacement, and I enjoyed the fact that unlike Bond or Lieter, who is the American Bond, Wade is uncouth and crass and drives an awful little shit box car. Zukovsky is an excuse to see Robbie Coltrane on the big screen and his character being an awesome Russian gangster is simply a bonus.
Violence: Otherwise, Goldeneye is by the numbers for Bond. It is a safe introduction to a safe Bond. There is some great action. The opening bungee scene is amazing and the tank chase is great too. The only issue I had with a lot of the action sequences is that they tend to dissolve into loud, aimless gunfights as filler until the set piece could continue. This also meant that during the scene in the middle of the movie in which Bond is trying to escape from Russia, he ends up gunning down a lot of Russian soldiers who are simply doing their job. As far as they know, he is a prisoner trying to escape, killing them indiscriminately. They aren’t bad guy henchmen. They’re just soldiers. It is strange that this sort of mass killing of faceless characters is fine, but Licence to Kill’s character-based violence, e.g. Felix and the shark, is frowned upon for being too brutal.
Overall: It’s an entertaining movie that ticks a lot of the Bond boxes, but after so many other similar movies, it lacks the bite of something new and edgy. With each new Bond the producers have the chance to move the franchise in a new and fresh direction, and with Brosnan they forego this chance for the sake of keeping it safe and simple.