‘Goldeneye’: James Bond 007’s ‘90s Reboot Is a Period Piece Now
This year was supposed to bid farewell to Daniel Craig as James Bond in No Time to Die. Circumstances of 2020 delayed that film into 2021, and pretty soon the search for a new 007 will begin. 25 years ago saw the long-awaited introduction of a new James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, in Goldeneye.
Goldeneye was not as drastic a reboot as Casino Royale. However, it did introduce not only Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond, but also the first James Bond movie after the Cold War. Because it had been six years since 1989’s Licence to Kill, the last Timothy Dalton movie, there was a big question about Bond’s relevance. By 1995, Russia made up with the US and the Berlin Wall fell. That, in itself, is a quaint relic of simpler times.
The post Cold War setting of ‘Goldeneye’ is nostalgic now
Goldeneye begins in 1986 when James Bond thinks his 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) dies on a mission in Russia. In 1995, Bond must return to Russia to investigate Goldeneye, a satellite weapons system.
The idea that Russia was no longer a national enemy in the ’90s flummoxed many James Bond spectators. The country and its nefarious agents fueled such Bond adventures as From Russia with Love, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy and The Living Daylights.
Goldeneye still managed to do retro Cold War in 1995. Bond must travel to St. Petersberg and his adventure features landmark locations in Russia, not to mention Russian agents questioning their place in the world. As such, the whole idea that the Cold War was over and made it a struggle to find Bond villains is now retro nostalgia. Russia’s place in the world has changed once again and the idea that it once posed a creative challenge feels quaint.
In trying so hard to distance itself from old Bonds, Goldeneye is also now a relic of the post-Cold War era. M (Judi Dench) calls Bond a relic of the Cold War. Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) tells Bond that Russia has changed, now it’s a land of opportunity.
Still, there are Russians looking to steal weapons of mass destruction to blackmail the world. Now they work for the Janus crime syndicate instead of the KGB. Bond remarks about the lost art of a sinister interrogation, but those would return in his sequels. Janus still employs absurdly elaborate killing schemes which never seem to work on Bond.
‘Goldeneye’ was the first Feminist James Bond movie
In 1995, Goldeneye addressed the James Bond series’ treatment of women head on. Timothy Dalton had attempted to address the ’80s AIDS crisis by making Bond more monogamous, but Goldeneye overtly called out Bond’s sexism. Yet, it tries to have it both ways. Bond seduces his psychiatric evaluator, Caroline (Serena Gordon) but M scolds him for it. He tells Caroline, “As you can see, I have no problem with female authority.” She replies, “James, you’re incorrigible.” So he uses his progressive attitude to bed her anyway.
Having female M was huge, and Dench carried through to the Craig films which were technically prequels to Goldeneye. M calls out Bond’s misogyny but still stands by him as a professional. He does still romance women, both enemies and allies, but he feels a little more thoughtful about it.
Onatopp is in the Pussy Galore/Mayday tradition but even more amped up. She literally crushes men to death with her thighs during sex, and enjoys suffocating them. At least Bond doesn’t win her over and convert her with his charms, so she retains agency even though he ultimately defeats her.
Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) is the glamorous techie who calls out Bond’s macho bravado but still sleeps with Bond. The franchise formula wouldn’t change drastically in the ’90s, and even Craig still follows it mostly to the T. The mere lip service to women’s rights is very ’90s. Hopefully, more recent movies just treated women well, and if they didn’t, they didn’t draw so much attention to it.
None of the other Pierce Brosnan films are like ‘Goldeneye’
Finally, the mere notion that Brosnan was going to do a different kind of Bond film proved limited to 1995. His next three films fell even more into the patterns of the Roger Moore films. Without the Russia issue, they could be generic international adventures to stop a madman from taking over the world.
None of Brosnan’s subsequent Bond films would attempt to address their place in the world, or his character, like Goldeneye. They’d dabble in North Korea or oil wars but only as plot points, never with the level of angst that Goldeneye had to prove its own relevance. Perhaps the success of Goldeneye gave them confidence they could continue business as usual. That, too, makes Goldeneye a period piece of the one time in franchise history James Bond wasn’t sure he still mattered.
Pierce Brosnan was underserved in James Bond sequels
Brosnan never really got to do the James Bond film he wanted. Die Another Day almost let him do a character piece about Bond being captured, but it turned back into the usual soon enough. Brosnan no doubt had it in him, but by the time they rebooted the series, they got the rights to Casino Royale and it made sense to introduce a new Bond with that.
Of Brosnan’s films Tomorrow Never Dies may hold up the best. It was 1997 but feels the least locked in time. They don’t even lean into the 1997 transfer of Hong Kong back to China, even though part of it takes place in China. The villain is a media magnate, which remains a profession susceptible to evil conspiracies. It has fun gadgets like the remote controlled car and an even match for Bond in Michelle Yeoh. The World Is Not Enough is more fun than its reputation credits it, and Die Another Day is absurd but those anniversaries will come in due time.
In 1995, all the promise and potential was there in Goldeneye, and it also spawned the landmark first person shooter video game two years later. So its impact on the ’90s was exponential.
Follow Fred on Twitter.