In this PG-13-rated spy thriller, James Bond (Brosnan) teams up with the lone survivor (Izabella Scorupco) of a destroyed Russian research center to stop the hijacking of a nuclear space weapon by a fellow agent (Bean) formerly believed to be dead.
Stylish and silly in one fell swoop, the film succeeds based chiefly on the winning choice of lead but the action-packed story packs a punch all of its own. Making 006 the villain makes for some ace intrigue. The casting of Bean, however, is an intriguing notion all of its own. It takes a strong actor such as this to play off of Brosnan, who makes the part his own by ironically not throwing out previous Bonds with the bath water. Firing on all cylinders with this, his very fun debut outing, it's a pity that the follow-ups lower themselves to becoming so formulaic. Still, the opening scene that finds Bong bungee-cording off of a ridiculously high dam takes a hold on your interest that rarely lets go save for a semi-climatic finale that doesn't come close to matching the gleeful thrills that result from the pre-credits sequence.
Bottom line: Remington Zeal
The immense potential of Sean Bean as Bond's evil twin is mostly wasted, but the film's made watchable by absolutely superb camerawork, Famke Janssen's outrageous vamping as one of the series' most watchable villainesses, and Pierce Brosnan making Bond the paragon of slickness (though he communicates entirely in one-liners).
The fact that this is the first post-Cold War Bond is dealt with in an interesting way, pitting Jimbo against ex-military Russian gangsters, and actually, despite his comment that he used to 'shoot in and out', having him set foot in Russia for the very first time. The themes of trust, betrayal and shifting loyalties underpin a well-written screenplay (frequent flyer jokes aside) about stolen space-based Cold War weaponry, with Bond going up against a former friend and co-00, Alec Trevelyan (spoiler, but he has second billing, so it's no great secret), who is his equal, his own dark side, in many ways. Mr Bean is on fine form as The Arch-Nemesis Formerly Known As 006, lending him a great deal of humour and menace.
Also great are (deep breath) Izabella Scorupco as geek-chic computer whiz Natalya Simonova (one of my top five Bond 'girls'), Famke Janssen as sadomasochistic, thigh-strangling, Ferrari-driving, terrible-ventilation-based-pun-spouting assassin Xenia Onatopp, Alan Cumming as Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, Spike-sending, 'invincible' hacker Boris Grishenko, Gottfried John as renegade general Arkady Orumov, Tcheky Karyo as non-renegade general Dmitri Mishkin, Robbie Coltrane as crime boss Valentin Zukovsky (less cartoony here than in The World Is Not Enough, and funnier for it), Joe Don Baker as official CIA gardening specialist Jack Wade (also less cartoony than in Tomorrow Never Dies), Michael Kitchen as the original Bill Tanner, Samantha Bond as a thoroughly '90s gives-as-good-as-she-gets Moneypenny and Judi Dench as the newly-minted Evil Queen of Numbers. Desmond Llewellyn is starting to show his age a bit at this point, but it's still fun to see grumpy old Q back.
Brosnan does fine too, of course. Since Craig took over, Pierce has actually become my least favourite Bond. That's not to say I dislike him in the role; I just like him the least overall. But I think the biggest reason for that is that he was pretty badly served by the scripts he was given. TND and DAD are among my least favourite movies in the series, and even TWINE, which gives him a few great moments, veers into Moore-ish waters at times. But GoldenEye was written for Timothy Dalton, the most serious and deep-thinking Bond, resulting in a relatively serious, deep-thinking script, and an appropriate performance by Brosnan.
Martin Campbell does a great job of bringing everything together. It looks great, it moves at a cracking pace - for the most part, it all just clicks.
The theme song is kind of a weird one. It's written by Bono and The Edge, fortunately not in the style of U2, but apparently as their take on a '60s-style Bassey number. It's sung by Tina Turner, doing her best Bassey impersonation, and it's produced by super-'90s producer Nellee Hooper, in a '90s electronic approximation of a '60s theme. The result sounds nothing like an old Bassey song, thoroughly modern from a technical perspective, but still like a throwback. But somehow, despite it going against all my criteria for a good Bond theme, and my general musical taste, I really like it.
Apart from a few dud lines, my biggest problem with this movie is the BMW Z3 showcar Bond is given. Regardless of whether it sucks for Bond to be driving a BMW in the first place (it does), my real problem is that so much reference is made to the gadgets (stinger missiles, rear parachute, etc) but none are ever used. I understand this was due to a lack of time to make any tricked-out versions of the car, but it comes off as lame. 'No, the Beamer's totally a spy car. Honest! What? Use the gadgets? Uh...is that really necessary?' Yes. You give James Bond a car with gadgets in it, he's bloody well gonna use them.
But the flaws are more than compensated for by a thrilling story, lots of superbly-staged action, humour, interesting characters and great performances all round. One of the best.