Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nobody did it better: Goldeneye, still my favorite 007 adventure, turns 15 years old.

15 years after the fact, it's still my favorite James Bond film. Yes, you read that right. I like most of the Connery pictures (especially From Russia With Love and Thunderball), and I've learned to appreciate some of the Roger Moore entries (even Moonraker is a fast-paced action picture before that final reel set in space). And it's no secret that both Timothy Dalton entries are pretty high on the list. But Goldeneye is still my personal favorite.

It has one of the more interesting and three-dimensional 'Bond girls' in the series. Izabella Scorupco's Natalia challenges Bond on a moral level, as she's repulsed by the caviler attitude towards all the murder and mayhem. She's seen her friends and coworkers get slaughtered so she knows it's not a game. It has the most enjoyable female villainess of the series. Xenia Onatopp launched the career of Famkee Janssen, who herself is the rare actress to actually maintain a steady career after appearing in a Bond film. It has one of the more complex villains of the series, and one who explicitly challenges Bond's absolutist worldview. Alec Trevelyan has genuine cause to want to wreak devastation on the United Kingdom, and his backstory provides viewers with a piece of forgotten history (raise your hand if you knew what a Cossack was before November 1995).

It introduced mainstream American audiences to Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cummings, and Judi Dench. It dares to have a plot that you actually have to pay attention to in order to fully grasp the character arcs. It's also incredibly fun and unendingly exciting. It features several outstanding action set-pieces, including a now-famous tank chase through St. Petersburg. Like all of Martin Campbell's films, the copious violence has a genuine sting, and when lives are lost it matters. Like all of Martin Campbell's films, the adults act like adults and react in believably adult ways to the madness around them. And Pierce Brosnan's debut performance as Bond is a solid combination of Roger Moore's devil-may-care attitude, Timothy Dalton's business-before-pleasure seriousness, and Sean Connery's casual cruelty.

It has all of the Bond elements in place, but also with a sympathetic villain, a smattering of real-world history, a ridiculously over-the-top villainess, and a heroine who gives gravity to the proceedings by being genuinely repulsed by the violence she encounters. And, aside from being an intelligently plotted and character-driven action picture that reintroduced James Bond to the masses after a six-year sabbatical, aside from being a just-plain terrific movie that happens to be a James Bond film, it also inspired the very best movie-to-video game spin-off ever.
I meant to write this yesterday, as Wednesday the 17th is the actual 15-year mark, but life got in the way. But no matter, yesterday indeed marked the 15-year anniversary of the release of Martin Campbell's Goldeneye. No, it's not a particularly groundbreaking moment, the release of the first Pierce Brosnan 007 picture didn't change the movie business or even the James Bond series all that much. But the film is still my favorite James Bond adventure. Happy birthday to Goldeneye. 15 years young as of yesterday.
Scott Mendelson

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