Jake’s Take: One Image from GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995)
The death of the Cold War marks the moment of the inside villain.
“Did you ever ask why? Why we toppled all those dictators, undermined all those regimes, only to come home: ‘Well done, good job, but sorry, old boy, everything you risked your life and limb for has changed.'”
In this frame, we see the franchise effectively putting the final nail in the coffin of the Cold War and the Cold War villain. Licence to Kill had already opted for a drug kingpin in advance of the Berlin Wall coming down, but with the inauguration of the Brosnan era, we also begin the era of the inside villain—sometimes the former agent, sometimes the organization itself. This notion plays out not just in future Bond films but several other espionage franchises (Bourne most notably).
Double agents or internally corrupt organizations are obviously generic staples of espionage, but it is far more common to leverage those when you lack an easy antagonist. In this case, Alec Trevelyan 006. Though his scheme to wreck England’s financial infrastructure really does “[boil] down to petty theft,” as Bond says late in the film, Trevelyan’s status as a former 00 instantly makes him dangerous in a way like no other previous villain. After all, we know what Bond is capable of; what happens when he faces someone as well trained and ruthless as he?
By making Trevelyan a friend and showing them on a mission together years prior, the script wisely engages Bond at a personal level once more. In her office, M (Judi Dench) instructs Bond not to make the mission personal. Under his breath and looking away from her, Bond replies, “Never,” which I’ve always found to be a wonderfully subtle callback to the events of Licence to Kill. Individual Bond films may course correct, but they ultimately never forget what’s come before. Bond’s patriotism comes into play here, both in the quote below the image and elsewhere, beginning the transition into making that a bigger emotional motivator for Bond.
There was and is an electricity to GoldenEye that is lacking in the other Brosnan efforts. Combined with what was largely viewed as a return to form by Martin Campbell, that electricity makes this film among the very best in the series. The action scenes are exceedingly well shot. The tank chase in particular is quite entertaining, as is the fight between Bond and Trevelyan that I mentioned in my post on From Russia with Love. That fight sequence is one of the very best of the last 30 years. Famke Janssen provides an unforgettable turn as Xenia Onatopp (okay, giggles allowed), and Izabella Scorupco provides an unexpectedly multifaceted performance that is puts her in the higher echelons of Bond women. The star actress here, however, is Judi Dench, but more on her later. Low points are the CGI and the Eric Serra score, for which the word “experimental” is often charitably used.
From a storytelling standpoint, GoldenEye is the apex of the Brosnan era. From a performance standpoint, there’s more yet to consider.
2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
5. From Russia with Love
8. The Living Daylights
10. Dr. No
11. For Your Eyes Only
12. The Spy Who Loved Me
13. Licence to Kill
17. You Only Live Twice
20. Live and Let Die
21. A View to a Kill
22. Diamonds Are Forever
23. The Man with the Golden Gun