’90s Action Movies, Part IV: “GoldenEye” (1995)

It occurs to me, gentle reader, that perhaps this series has a curious structure to it. The posts are getting longer and, hopefully, building upon each other. However, this structure might make it confusing to read. Maybe it’s better to read it in reverse order, with the posts hopefully cascading to tell a larger story. Like the verses in “I Have  A Song to Sing, O!”

Or maybe not. Anyway, our journey has now brought us to the 1995 007 flick, GoldenEye.

GoldenEye is, in my opinion, the best James Bond movie. Now, my opinion could be biased by the fact that it is the first James Bond movie I ever saw. But I don’t think so. Part of the reason is that Brosnan is not my favorite Bond; not even close, and yet I still enjoy this film the most.

The key thing with all James Bond films is that they are walking a fine line. You can’t take James Bond too seriously, because, well, the whole premise is basically ridiculous. The early Connery films established a somewhat over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek tone.

Unfortunately, the 1970s happened, and this tone got carried to a new extreme during the Roger Moore era, which saw Bond films that ranged from pseudo-blaxploitation to rip-offs of Star Wars.  And that was before we even got to Octopussy and A View to a Kill. <shudder>

The Timothy Dalton era wasn’t really even an era, consisting as it did of only two films: The Living Daylights, which still has some residual silliness inherited from the Roger Moore tradition, and the serious and gritty Licence to Kill, a clear forerunner of the darker tone of the Craig era.

It’s a shame Dalton didn’t sign up for one more turn as 007 in GoldenEye, because it’s the one that finally hit that proper medium. It isn’t outright camp like the Moore films, but it has enough awareness of its genre not to try and be some sort of grim, realistic thriller.

And we should expect nothing less! Because it was made in the ’90s, and the whole point of this exercise is that the ’90s were the halcyon days of action movies. GoldenEye isn’t a great film, and I would grade it as distinctly inferior to the preceding three films I’ve reviewed in this series, but there’s no doubt in my mind it is the best Bond film, and the best that’s likely to be made for some while.

There are even some moments of social commentary, incredible as it may seem. Like when Bond goes wandering amid a wasteland of Soviet relics to meet the leader of the Janus crime syndicate, with the implication being that Bond himself is another holdover from the Cold War. The film asks: with the U.S.S.R. gone, what is even the point of an operative like 007?

The whole movie is kind of a farewell to Cold War thrillers. Large portions of it are set in Russia, with Russian villains, and Russian super-weapons, and a brief discussion of the repatriation of the Cossacks in the aftermath of World War II. It’s a meditation, to the extent that any action movie can be called a “meditation,” on what all the tropes of the spy genre would look like in the unipolar moment.

Because what was a spy to do, at The End of History? For that matter, what were these huge, military-industrial complexes with vast arsenals of experimental weapons built up over decades to do? (The answer to both, GoldenEye suggests, is “fall into the hands of terrorists and madmen.”)

But that’s another story, for another decade. In the ’90s, it was still all just fun and games, and James Bond could be counted on to save the world with his sexy sidekicks and his cool gadgets, and even the blundering, bumbling American CIA could show up for a cameo at the end.

I can’t end this review without mentioning GoldenEye‘s most enduring legacy: the spin-off video game that proved to be one of the most influential of its era, and which remains legendary in gaming circles to this day.  Do they still do video game spin-offs of movies these days? I haven’t heard about any. Games based on movies have a reputation for being awful; and yet we see that it was done successfully at least once, in that strange, gauzily-remembered decade between the fall of the Berlin Wall and Y2K. It seems the knowledge once existed, though it has subsequently been lost. Like Greek Fire.

[Update: check out my friend Pat Prescott’s response to this post. His take on the movie is very different than mine, and while I stand by my opinion, I admit he makes some good points. But then, he’s a real Bond expert, having seen all the films many times. One thing I hope to encourage with this series is for people to post their own opinions on the films I discuss.]

16 Comments

  1. Among the things that make me famous is that I’ve never watched ET, or any Star Trek movies, or … well, I did see one James Bond movie. Skyfall I think it was. That was enough for me. 😉

  2. GoldenEye was pretty good, I thought. Not my favorite Pierce Brosnan 007 movie though, as that would be The World Is Not Enough. I actually enjoyed the Brosnan version of Bond, I think those films hit that happy medium you described.

    Also an interesting time to talk about the Cold War, given current events haha. Seems like the West may once again need a James Bond!

    1. Yeah, I agree The World Is Not Enough is good. I’d probably put it 2nd best of the Brosnan era. It’s funny; I think the Brosnan films have some of the best plots of the whole series; I just don’t really like him as Bond. I think I’m a minority opinion there, though, haha.

      And yes, we could certainly use a James Bond now!

  3. I’ve lived all my life with Bond, James Bond. I like Brosnan the best, Not a popular view. Golden Eye was I think the weakest of the Brosnan films. Before Craig he was the most athletic and believable. Connery was a great Bond, but the action scenes are jerky and frenetic. Lazenby was god awful, not even Diana Rigg could save that one, Moore was too tongue in cheek, but the hottest Bond Girl was Barbara Bach is my all time favorite. Every year between Christmas and New Year my family does a Bond Marathon. We have all of them on DVD. It’s taking longer and longer each year to get through all of them. It’s crazy to watch them backwards and see the devolution of technology.

    1. Haha, we clearly have some disagreements when it comes to 007. Though, I’m with you 100% on Lazenby; he was terrible.

      You’re right; watching them backward would be really jarring.

  4. Good review and commentary of a film which was trying to find a balance in an ever changing pre 9/11 world.
    Sean Bean was good value as someone going rogue and it was a sort of revisit to the ground of Gold Finger.
    Infinitely better than the awful plot of Tomorrow Never Dies and my nomination for the worse crafted Bond villain ever (Jonathan Pryce did the best he could with the ghastly material; give him his due).

    1. To tell you the truth, I barely even remember the plot of “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Something about an evil media mogul? I just remember it was a letdown after GoldenEye.

      1. That’s the one.
        I know we have to suspend some belief in a Bond film, because that’s part of the fun.
        However a media mogul trying to start a war between the UK and China to increase his market….and having the resources to take out UK and military resources?….
        Gimme a break!

  5. I couldn’t for the life of me remember if I’d seen this film! Had to watch the trailer 😂 Yes, I did see it back in the day. Connery was my favourite Bond and while I didn’t mind Brosnan as 007, I think the reason I watched this film was because of Sean Bean, one of my favourite actors.

    Enjoyed your comments about the end of the Cold War and what was a spy supposed to do – good points I wouldn’t mind reading about 😊

    1. That’s good to know. My goal is always to make the post enjoyable reading even if you haven’t seen the film. But I always worry people who haven’t seen it will just think, “Eh? What is he going on about now? What blithering idiocy!”

  6. One of the Roger Moore James Bond movies was the last movie I’ve seen in a movie theater. I’m not a movie person. I liked Moore better than Connery in the role, more than that I can not say.

Leave a Reply to chucklitka Cancel reply