I will start with an admission that we didn’t watch this film in order. We watched it a few months ago while on holiday. And it was possibly watching this film that inspired us to start this whole Bond film watch project.
It’s been six years since the last film and the world has changed. The Iron Curtain has come down, the Soviet Union has dissolved, the Cold War is over (more or less). This is reflected in the opening credits – not just the usual fire and bullets and women appearing out of guns, there are also falling hammers and sickles and women (wearing clothes at last, hurrah!) toppling and destroying other Soviet iconography. The opening theme tune is fine as tunes go (written by Bono and the Edge from U2!), but I’m not a fan of Tina Turner as the choice of voice for this one.
There are changes in Bond world too. Pierce Brosnan assumes the role of Bond. He was heavily tipped to take the role in 1987 but he was bound in a contract to the TV show Remington Steele and producers wouldn’t release him to take the Bond role. Luckily for him, there was the long hiatus in Bond world due to legal issues, and by the time the next film was casting, he was available.
But the biggest change in Bond world is at MI6 HQ. There is a new M, and it’s a woman, and she’s not taking any shit from Bond.
M: You don’t like me, Bond. You don’t like my methods. You think I’m an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts.
Bond: The thought had occurred to me.
M: Good. Because I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though lost on me, obviously appealed to that young girl I sent out to evaluate you.
Bond: Point taken.
M: Not quite, 007. If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong. I’ve no compunction about sending you to your death. But I won’t do it on a whim. Even with your cavalier attitude towards life.
There’s a new Moneypenny too, and she’s also not taking any shit.
Moneypenny: I know you’ll find this crushing, 007, but I don’t sit at home every night praying for some international incident so I can run down here all dressed up to impress James Bond.
Bond meets the bad woman of the film, Xenia Onatopp (I suppose they could have called her Ivana Onatopp) in Monaco at the start of the film. He discovers she is a former Soviet army pilot now working for a crime sydicate – is it too much of a coincidence she is in Monaco when the heads of NATO are gathered to see the launch of a new helicopter? No it’s not, she’s there to steal the helicopter and Bond is unable to stop her.
Meanwhile in Severnaya, Russia, the good woman of the film, Natalya, is chatting to her colleague Boris at the secret military base where they work. Alan Cumming is splendid as Boris, cocky and fidgety computer hacker. Boris’ colleague Natalia is away making tea when Onatopp and General Ourumov (Russian army but now also working for the crime syndicate) raid the site, killing everyone on site, before activating the Goldeneye weapon that releases a magnetic pulse that destroys all the equipment. The new NATO helicopter is immune to this kind of weapon.
Natalya escapes the destruction of the base and makes her way to St Petersburg. I like Natalya, although she’s way too trusting. But she’s not a stand by and scream kind of woman, she is a fighter and she’s resourceful and she and Bond make a great team as they go after Boris, Onatopp and the head of the Janus crime syndicate.
(*spoilers*) Because the villain of the piece is not Onatopp or even General Ourumov, it’s Bond’s former colleague Alec Trevelyan, who we thought died in the opening scene, but instead now heads a Russian crime syndicate. And his villainous plot is to use the Goldeneye’s capabilities on London – turning all electronic devices into so much dead metal and reducing all electronic records to zero. But not before his trusted hacker Boris has stolen the electronic records from the Bank of England and transferred vast amounts of money away.
Sometimes catching up with old friends doesn’t work out so well:
Bond: A worldwide financial meltdown… and all so mad little Alec can settle a score with the world, fifty years on.
Trevelyan: Oh please, James, spare me the Freud! I might as well ask if all the vodka martinis ever silence the screams of the men you’ve killed. Or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women… for all the dead ones you failed to protect.
(Bond really is getting shit from all sides in this film.)
While Cold War Bond could never film in Russia, the 1995 Bond can, cueing a fantastic scene where Bond steals a tank and pursues General Ourumov through the streets of St Petersburg.
The film takes us to several exotic locations: St Petersburg, Monaco, and Cuba (actually filmed in Puerto Rico as in Cuba, the Cold War never ended).
In terms of spycraft (something I haven’t touched on much recently as it has been missing from quite a few films), what does Bond do when the traditional East vs West fight is over? With the collapse of the Soviet Union, what happens to those Cold War weapons that had been kept so very secret? This film takes a sensible line (and reacts to actual events) with the rise of criminal gangs to replace the authority of the Soviet Union.
Film epilogue: Natalya uses her assistance in the Goldeneye mission to wangle British residency. She goes to work in MI6 cyber crimes department, where her knowledge of Russian military software and systems is put to good use. She sometimes sees Bond around the MI6 office and they exchange smiles but she moved on some time ago, and married a quiet British man who works in archiving.