MI6 trawls the archives to see how critics of the day received Pierce Brosnan's very first outing as James Bond in the 1995 film "GoldenEye"

Time Tunnel: Review Rewind
28th July 2009

New York Times - November 17th, 1995
"Goldeneye" unveils Pierce Brosnan as the coffee-bar James Bond: mild, fashionable and nice in a very 90's way. Mr. Brosnan, as the best-moussed Bond ever to play baccarat in Monte Carlo, makes the character's latest personality transplant viable (not to mention smashingly photogenic), but the series still suffers the blahs.

Today's Bond does have the Internet and a credit sequence resembling a pretentious music video. And he has a girlfriend with advanced computer skills (Izabella Scorupco, a deep-voiced model who looks as good as Mr. Brosnan, which is saying a lot). Still, he often seems adrift. And this film is missing such basics as the cold war and the James Bond theme music. The absence of the latter is sure to throw some audience members into a two-hour Pavlovian twitch.

Judi Dench, as the first woman to play his supervisor, M, is on hand to call Bond "a sexist, misogynist dinosaur" so that you won't have to. But the real problem is not a matter of Bond's antediluvian quirks. It's that "Goldeneye" bears no stamp of Ian Fleming beyond its title, which was the name of his Jamaican home. This film's screenplay, by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein from a story by Michael France, features only flat repartee and fairly desperate homages to the Fleming style.

And so many other action films have borrowed from the Bond formula in the 33 (yes!) years since "Dr. No" that this one has a hard time looking special. A plane, a motorcycle, a huge dam, a bungee jumper and nerve gas all feature in the opening sequence, yet it still lacks the novelty that starts the best Bond films off with a bang. And Mr. Brosnan, who makes a fabulous clothing model and has mastered the one dramatic mode this role requires of him (wry), is not at his most believable during action scenes. When Bond rides in a tank through St. Petersburg during a scenery-crunching chase scene, Michael Dukakis comes to mind.


Clinging desperately to the idea of Russian villainy for old times' sake, the plot involves Russian gangsters trying to exploit a secret space-based weapons program to sabotage financial markets in the West. And its chief villain is 006 (Sean Bean), who was once Bond's colleague and now calls him "Her Majesty's loyal terrier."


Beyond this, it's enough to note that character actors include Robbie Coltrane as a Russian hood and Joe Don Baker as a C.I.A. man, and that settings can be drably industrial unless the film is pointedly visiting Switzerland or the Caribbean, where it practically screams about the scenery.

Though 006 has the poor form to bait Bond about his past, wondering theatrically whether all those vodka martinis can silence the screams of all the men Bond has killed, most of "Goldeneye" is relatively restrained. Martin Campbell, who previously directed the sci-fi prison film "No Escape" with Ray Liotta, supplies shootouts and explosions at reliable intervals, and without any special frills.

The film's gaudiest feature is a vicious Russian named Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), who bites and claws her lovers and has a way of confusing sex with death.

Her nutcracker thighs, not to mention her name, suggest that the Bond babe is as ready as 007 was for a timely overhaul.

In the product-placement department, BMW, Perrier and the becoming Bond wardrobe are all advertised. "Goldeneye" is as much a merchandising event as it is a wishfully nostalgic movie.

Time - November 27th, 1995
James Bond movies are as stylized as a Noh play - or should one say a Dr. No play? - and the 17th film in the series raises only one question. How well do Bond's established conventions survive after a third of a century's hard use, the post-cold war deglamourization of espionage and the arrival of yet another actor in the central role? The short answer is, on wobbly knees. But herewith some further reflections - 007 of them - on a Goldeneye:

001 The Character Issue: Pierce Brosnan is not as gravely witty as Sean Connery, not as insouciant as Roger Moore and not a pompous twit like Timothy Dalton. He's a mid-range James Bond, on whom a certain self-consciousness has been imposed. He continues to register emotions mainly by arching or furrowing an eyebrow. But in the age of sexual correctness they have cut back his double entendres, and people keep telling him he lacks the capacity for mature relationships with women. Worse, he seems to believe them. What next? Sensitivity training? A condom in his wallet? Teetotaling, with perhaps a demand that his Perrier be served in a bottle, not a can?

002 The Supervillain: He may, as usual, have a superweapon trained on a Western capital, but Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), a freelance mastermind operating in today's chaotic Russia, has a dreary back story explaining how he went wrong instead of truly evil elan. Big mistake: we don't want motivation in a Bond nemesis; we want psychosis on a joyous, cosmic scale. Gert Frobe, you are missed.



003 The Supervixen: She's got the right sort of name - Xenia Onatopp (get it?) -the right sort of attitude - sado-masochistic - and the right sort of wardrobe - parodically sexy - but Famke Janssen is more aggressive than seductive. You know too soon where she's coming from - out of an abnormal psychology text.


004 The Henchman (or -woman): Oddjob, Jaws, Rosa Klebb - this is a job for grotesques. Gottfried John as a rogue Russian general looks weird all right, but he has no unique killing skills - just a sneer and a routinely itchy trigger finger. Richard Kiel, you are missed.

005 Vehicular Manslaughter: The usual planes, trains, automobiles crash and burn with noisy, deadening regularity, sending many a nameless extra to his unmourned, uninvolving and unimaginative doom.

006 M: Big switch - a sex change, no less - here. Judi Dench, the distinguished English stage actress, is now running Bond. She has a butch hairdo, a brusque Thatcherite manner and a license to kill with unkindness. She calls Bond a "sexist, misogynistic dinosaur" right to his face. There's a chic in her cheek the rest of the movie direly misses.


007 Q: He's still being played by Desmond Llewelyn as a cranky English eccentric, still making fountain pens that explode and wristwatches that do more than tell time. He's the last link to the boyish silliness that once animated this series. One wishes him good health and long life, for if, as the closing credits threaten, "James Bond Will Return," they - and we - are going to need him.

Entertainment Weekly - November 24th, 1995
Telling people that you didn't much care for the new James Bond film is a little like saying that you don't like popcorn or Coke. After all, what's not to like? Even a middling entry in the Bond series - and that certainly describes Goldeneye - is sure to feature all the stuff that lures us, over and over, to the latest 007 extravaganza. Really fast cars! Exotic games of baccarat! Amazing gadgets! (In this one, there's a belt that conceals...a lengthy utility cord.) All those naughty double entendres that might have been cribbed from a 20-year-old copy of Playboy! Are we having fun now or what?

As you've probably gathered, I think the Bond series, after three decades and 17 films, has entered a near-terminal state of exhaustion. (For the record, I still like popcorn and Coke.) Goldeneye, like all Bond films, has some good moments; I enjoyed the lavishly preposterous opening sequence, in which Bond motorcycles off a cliff and free-falls toward an airborne propeller plane.

Pierce Brosnan, to his credit, inspires less nostalgia for Sean Connery than did his dour predecessor, Timothy Dalton, who always looked as though he were trying to solve a math problem in his head. Still, just about everything in Goldeneye, from its rote nuclear-weapon-in-space plot to the recitation of lines that sound like they're being read off stone tablets (''Shaken, not stirred!''), has been served up with a thirdhand generic competence that's more wearying than it is exhilarating. Brosnan, for all the blitheness of his throwaway style, has a presence that's as light as balsa wood. You never really believe he's James Bond. He's just a spryly presentable British preppie - the empire's new tux.


The excitement of the Bond series was its cock-of-the-walk celebration of jaunty masculine authority, which it made both cheeky and hip, injecting it into suave thrills that were unavailable anywhere else. Now, however, those same thrills are available everywhere, and usually in a more high-octane form: in Bruce and Arnold and Steven Seagal movies, in Tom Clancy thrillers, in The Fugitive, Batman Forever, and Lethal Weapon XXVII. I sat through the labored action histrionics of Goldeneye - run-of-the-mill explosions and ''breathless'' escapes, Bond rolling a tank over cars in St. Petersburg - in a déjà vu stupor. In a sense, the series' creators have stopped even trying to surprise us. The opening-credits sequence, which might have been scored to, say, a grungified Courtney Love anthem, instead features the overly established Tina Turner (singing a tuneless drone cowritten by Bono and The Edge). In place of the megalomaniac sci-fi villains of old, we get stolid, normal-looking Sean Bean as a former comrade of Bond's who's out for vengeance.

In one regard, Goldeneye does try to nudge Bond out of his anachronistic rut. Sprinkled throughout the movie are references to the new power of women. Bond gets accused by his latest flame, Natalya (Izabella Scorupco), of being cold and scared of commitment. He has to endure Moneypenny's japes about sexual harassment. And, most entertainingly, he comes up against the Russian assassin Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a psycho vamp who combines the lethal movements of Bruce Lee with the sexual fantasies of Madonna, crushing victims to death in the midst of orgiastic S&M bouts. (She's such a pain freak that when the train she's on is about to crash, she grins with lascivious pleasure.) I don't know whether the Bond series has a future, but if Xenia Onatopp ever returns to try for world domination, he may finally get a battle worth fighting.

Variety - November 15th, 1995
James Bond is definitely back in business with "Goldeneye." Among the better of the 17 Bonds and, perhaps more important for today's audience, a dynamic action entry in its own right, this first 007 adventure in six years breathes fresh creative and commercial life into the 33-year-old series. Pierce Brosnan makes a solid debut in the role he almost got eight years earlier, and Ian Fleming's very midcentury secret agent has been shrewdly repositioned in the '90 s in ways that will amuse longtime fans and prove engaging for viewers not even born when Bond started saving the world. The very definition of escapist fare, this should restore Bond's golden touch at the international box office.


Beginning with the outrageous pre-credit action teaser, it's clear that this revamped Bond, which features many new hands both behind and in front of the camera, is intent on giving the old Cold Warrior an invigorating transfusion.

Everything, including the wild conceptualization of the action sequences, the impudence, the sexual pugnaciousness and the willingness to have a little fun at the expense of the hero, is pushed a bit further than it has been recently, serving to shake loose whatever cobwebs might have gathered and enable this new Bond to establish his own identity.

Prologue is set back in the old Soviet Union, where Bond and Agent 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) penetrate a massive chemical-weapons facility. Alec is killed by Gen. Ourumov (Gottfried John), but 007 manages to get away in one of his most hilariously preposterous escapes ever.

Nine years later, Bond is racing his trusty old Aston Martin down the twisting roads to Monaco against a beautiful mystery woman in a Ferrari. She turns out to be Russian gangster Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a black widow spider who steals a new Stealth helicopter and flies it off to the motherland.

In the frozen wastes, Xenia and the self-same Gen. Ourumov invade a Space Weapons Control station, set a satellite in attack mode and wipe out nearly all the staff, leaving computer programmer Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) as the only apparent survivor.

MI6 realizes this is a job for James Bond, but things aren't quite as easy for him at the office as in the good-old-boys days. He and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) still flirt, but not without some threats from her about sexual harassment. M is now an iron maiden played by Judi Dench, who brings Bond and the house down with her greeting, "I think you're a sexist, misogynous dinosaur."

At last report, dinosaurs were quite popular, and one of the charms of watching this refitted Bond is that women give him a hard time -- but still end up going for him in a big way. None of the femmes are bimbos or pushovers, and nearly all the man-woman exchanges are characterized by feisty sparring and even heavy combat, with conventional romance scarcely making an appearance.

In St. Petersburg, Bond discovers that the shadow figure pulling the evil strings is none other than his old pal Alec, 006. To keep the momentum high, the picture puts Bond into planes, trains, automobiles, choppers, a yacht and, most unusually, a Russian tank, in which he seemingly destroys half of St. Petersburg.

Just about the only holdover from the old days is Desmond Llewelyn's Q, who again outfits Bond with a few bizarre gadgets.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli's thinking on how to rehab the franchise has proven smart on nearly every score. Moving Bond into the confusing quagmire of the new Russia has resonance on several levels, and while it may not be easy for viewers to connect all the dots in the sometimes convoluted narrative, it puts no crimp in the fun.

Pic has a fine adversary in Bean's Alec. The stunning Janssen's deliciously sadistic Xenia instantly assumes an almost unique position in the pantheon as a potential Bond girl gone very bad, and John is formidable in his own way as the shrewd general.

As Bond's eventual main squeeze, the fetching Scorupco has a rather more conventional assignment, but still puts across a reasonable degree of intelligence and gumption. Joe Don Baker turns up as a CIA operative, while Robbie Coltrane is colorful as a Russian criminal lowlife.


Most crucially, Brosnan makes the grade as 007. He handles the action capably and gets the standard quips out in a commendably straightforward way that's wry but not dismissive. His is not as gritty as Sean Connery's definitive characterization, but the nasty streak evident in fleeting moments reassures that the license to kill could be invoked at any moment.

Even if the storyline takes some inscrutable turns, script by first-time credited screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein concocts innumerable lively situations, and there are fewer groaners among the one-liners. The director, series newcomer Martin Campbell, keeps things moving with coherence, energy and even some flair, and commendably seems more interested in the actors than in the hardware. Second-unit and stunt work is terrific, with special notice no doubt in store for the spectacular bungee jump off a dam that opens the film.

One disappointing note is the score by Luc Besson recruit Eric Serra. Other tech contributions are in the best tradition of the series, including the lush main title sequence designed by Daniel Kleinman.

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