The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.
Synopsis: James Bond teams up with the lone survivor of a destroyed Russian research center to stop the hijacking of a nuclear space weapon by a fellow agent believed to be dead.
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench, Alan Cumming, Samantha Bond
Director: Martin Campbell
Running Length: 130 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: In 1995, James Bond returned to the screen after a six year hibernation. It was during this time that legal battles kept more 007 adventures from being brought to the big screen and the elapsed time meant that sadly Timothy Dalton would not be returning. It’s too bad because with Licence to Kill I felt that Dalton was just hitting his stride in bringing us a version of 007 that was much closer to the spy that Ian Fleming created in his novels.
Still, it’s hard to deny that Brosnan wasn’t a more than suitable replacement. Long sought after for the role, the time was finally right for him to join the gallery of men that preferred their martinis shaken, not stirred. In fact, the franchise was overhauled nearly from top to bottom and it all works together to provide the series with a new lease on life.
Opening with one of the best pre-credit sequences of the series that finds Bond and 006 (Bean) on a mission to destroy a chemical weapons plant with deadly consequences, the film takes off like a nuclear rocket from there and never stops until the credits roll. As Bond works with a Russian technician to stop a catastrophic disaster, we are taken to several notable locales around the globe. From start to finish it’s fantastic entertainment that operates on a high class level harkening back to the Sean Connery era of films.
Finally, we have a cast of players assembled that work wonders with the material. Though her role would get beefed up in subsequent entries, Dench sinks her teeth into her role as M making the most of her limited screen time. Her early scene with Brosnan is nearly worth the price of admission as she gives him a memorable dressing down…almost as a voice for Bond’s critics over the years.
Bean knows his way around a bad guy and if his performance feels familiar when compared to his role in Patriot Games you can’t deny that he’s darn good in the role. Cumming makes for a dorky goon as a lascivious computer hacker and Scorupco is a nicely strong-willed Bond girl for the next generation. She challenges Bond and his motives enough that a more fully developed female character emerges over the course of the film.
Best of the bunch is undoubtedly Janssen in her breakout role as one of the best second villains, female or male, the series had ever seen. The suggestion that she’s turned on sexually by violence is sorta fun and Janssen’s euphoric expressions when firing a gun or crushing men with her thighs is pretty exceptional.
Australian director Campbell (who would return to direct another first time Bond in Casino Royale) never lets this train stop moving once its left the station – he clearly knows his way around an action film and it shows with his attention to character development in the face of elaborate stunt sequences.
With long-time credit designer Maurice Binder passing away, Daniel Kleinman took over the reins and delivers a stunning series of images set to the title track written by Bono and The Edge and performed with class by Tina Turner. It’s probably my favorite credit sequence of the series and I’ll often pop in the film just to watch the opening scene and credits. Only Eric Serra’s score disappoints here and makes you mourn the loss of original composer John Barry.
Bringing the Bond series into a new era with a revitalized hero, interesting villains, and a strong narrative, GoldenEye is a welcome return to the glory days of the series. It’s strong enough to compete with the best and has a high re-watchability factor.