“The name is Bond … James Bond.”
Lifelong 007 fans can agree that Sean Connery is James Bond, but man alive, when Pierce Brosnan says the immortal line in “GoldenEye” for the first time, I got chicken skin.
The way Brosnan first uttered it 20 years ago, with a dash of arrogance and seduction, gave viewers the feeling he’s been practicing the line his whole life, just waiting for the opportunity to unleash it. He speaks those words early in “GoldenEye,” his first Bond vehicle, the first post-Cold War 007 thriller, and the first Ian Fleming-themed thriller after a lengthy hiatus. It even spawned a video game all its own.
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A lot was riding on the film. Even with a spectacular prologue, the awesome imagery during the opening credits, and the cool sass of Tina Turner’s title song, Brosnan still gives us the famous line early on. It all but seals the deal: “GoldenEye” aims for classic Bond and mostly gets there, because it loves shaken martinis and Secret Service agents in tuxedos as much as we do.
The 1995 “Return of James Bond” has one of the best pre-credits openers, with not only a jaw-dropping free-fall but a far less plausible, still-thrilling motorcycle dive, off a cliff, onto an unmanned plane (!). The plot involves control over a satellite dish that can alter power sources and be used as a weapon. The real narrative drive is how the world of 007 isn’t rebooted (commonplace in today’s movie, Bond or otherwise) but updated.
“GoldenEye” loves shaken martinis and secret service agents in tuxedos as much as we do.
The title song, penned by Bono and The Edge, is a cheeky reflection on how one views the man from a distance (sample lyric — “If I had him, I wouldn’t let him out”). Dame Judi Dench’s killer putdown (she calls Bond a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”) and the running commentary on Bond’s inability to turn down sex are more pop culture commentary than celebratory.
It also reminds us that the filmmakers are using nostalgia and self-awareness to suggest that, yes, decades later and different actors and all, this is the same character from “Dr. No.”
Brosnan is a perfect Bond, evoking Connery’s cool detachment, Roger Moore’s wryness with one-liners, and the forever underrated Timothy Dalton’s cold, no-nonsense approach. The latter’s interpretation of the role is very much in line with the man Fleming wrote. and a pre-cursor the Daniel Craig take.
Comparing Brosnan to prior and subsequent Bonds doesn’t seem entirely fair, as each actor brought a different sense of gravitas, danger and occasionally winking self-awareness to the role.
Brosnan’s much better than George Lazenby, and much looser than Dalton but, like Moore, the degree to which he took the role seriously seemed to loosen with each installment.
On the other hand, Brosnan’s post-Bond career is outstanding. Like Connery, Brosnan exited the legendary role and dove into a gallery of versatile, character-driven dramas, comedies and action movies.
Some of these roles commented on his days as 007, particularly Brosnan’s rich, nasty turn in “The Tailor of Panama.” Before Bond, Brosnan’s film roles were mostly B-movie types (such as “The Lawnmower Man” and “Nomads”) but once he shed the tux and License to Kill, along came “The Matador” and “The Ghost Writer.”
In fact, in between his Bond performances, Brosnan found time for Tim Burton (“Mars Attacks!”), Barbara Streisand and was a brilliant choice for the 1999 remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
With four films opening this year (including the just-out “No Escape”), Brosnan has only made one giant blunder: his brave but misbegotten attempt at musical comedy, in the nevertheless popular “Mamma Mia!”
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“GoldenEye” marked Dench’s entrance as the new M. Her testy dressing down of Bond is so well written, you wish there were more for her to do. I missed Bernard Lee as M, though Dench is so superb, the transition goes smoothly. It’s always great fun to see the late Desmond Llewellyn as Q, who was feisty as ever and had a nice rapport with Brosnan.
Made just before CGI overload, the spectacles on hand are big and impressive.
The screenplay is so overwritten that there are meaty but not entirely necessary supporting roles for Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cumming (annoying as a Russian computer hacker), Joe Don Baker (playing a very different role from the villain in “The Living Daylights”) and even Minnie Driver (playing a bad Russian lounge singer!).
The music by composer Eric Serra is strange and distracting. On occasion, he uses strings to evoke not only the classic Bond sound but a beautiful love theme. However, much of the score is obviously done by synthesizer and overly reminiscent of his work on “The Professional.” Serra’s offbeat compositions worked for Luc Besson’s film, but not here.
The following installment, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and the first hour of “Die Another Day” (before it devolves into utter camp) are preferable Brosnan Bonds, but “GoldenEye” is still a lot of fun. Made just before CGI overload, its spectacles are big and impressive. The only thing more delightful than watching Bond drive a tank (in a particularly messy car chase) is watching him pause to adjust his tie.
The Bond Files: Actors Who Donned Character’s Tuxedo
Sean Connery: The first, and the best by most accounts: “Dr. No,” “From Russia with Love,” “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball,” “You Only Live Twice,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Never Say Never Again.” The latter film isn’t considered an official Bond feature.
George Lazenby: One and done. The actor took over for Connery in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and then found his fictional license to kill revoked.
Roger Moore: He brought gadgets and a sense of humor to the franchise: “The Man with the Golden Gun,” “Live and Let Die,” “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Moonraker,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Octopussy,” “A View to a Kill.”
Timothy Dalton: The British actor served only twice as the charismatic spy: “The Living Daylights,” “License to Kill.”
Pierce Brosnan: From “Remington Steele” to James Bond proved an easy transition: “GoldenEye,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The World Is Not Enough,” “Die Another Day.”
Daniel Craig: Grittier, deadlier and a dearth of old-school gadgets: “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall,” “Spectre” (Fall 2015).