Armed with his license to kill, James Bond (Agent 007) races to Russia in search of the stolen access codes for "Goldeneye," an awesome space weapon that can fire a devastating electromagnetic pulse toward the Earth. However, Bond is up against an enemy who anticipates his every move: Alec Trevelyan, a.k.a. Agent 006, a mastermind motivated by years of simmering hatred. As Bond squares off against his former compatriot, he also battles Trevelyan's stunning ally, Xenia Onatopp, an assassin who uses pleasure as her ultimate weapon. When the horrifying extent of Trevelyan's plans is revealed, Bond must call upon his sharp wits and killer instincts in a deadly confrontation. From a destructive tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg to the treacherous Cuban jungle, Bond finds himself playing a cat-and-mouse game to the finish. (Synopsis from Hollywood.com)
With GoldenEye, Bond actor Pierce Brosnan brought a fresh charisma to the character, turning in a performance that showed he was comfortable as 007 right from the start. His physical presence was similar to Timothy Dalton's, with a dark, somewhat haunted demeanor, but with a more natural ability to carry the films' prequisite levity. Producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli had approached Brosnan with an offer for the role years before, but his commitment to the TV show Remington-Steele precluded his participation. GoldenEye, at last, gave Brosnan the chance to play 007 and offered audiences a sharp, polished film with most of the elements that had made the series so successful.
The gravest shortcoming of this film—and in the subsequent Brosnan entries—is the sheer ludicrousness of some of the stunts. The pre-credits sequence opens with an impressive bungee-jump from the Verzasca dam in Switzerland (winning a Sky One audience poll as the best stunt ever filmed); but shortly thereafter, Bond is forced to "catch a plane" by diving off a cliff, necessitating some very unconvincing traveling matte shots. Movie stunts are only as impressive as they are believable, and when the special effects process stands out so blatantly, they're relegated to the realm of cartoons. If I want cartoon action, I'll watch some Japanese animation and get a bigger thrill. The Brosnan Bonds have way too many of these over-the-top moments, the most egregious being the climactic airplane disintegration in Die Another Day.
Although I admire Sean Bean's acting ability—he turns in a credible performance in GoldenEye—he does not make for a particularly convincing villain; he's infinitely better as Boromir, the Fellowship's antihero in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. As Alex Trevelyan, he's not vile or maniacal enough to be a larger-than-life caricature, like Blofeld or Stromberg, nor is he quietly menacing, like Scaramanga or Kristatos. His vendetta against James Bond—a side-venture amid his somewhat grander scheme—hardly peaks one's interest, so that end of the storyline fails to generate much suspense. One of the best characters in the movie turns out to be KGB-agent-turned-entrepreneur Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovski (played with panache by Robbie Coltrane), who has apparently tangled with Bond before. (When Bond is told that Zukovski has a bad leg, he says with a chuckle, "I'm the one who gave him the limp." And when Bond comes out of the shadows and puts a gun to the Russian's head, Zukovski growls, "A Walther PPK. Only three men I know use that gun. And I believe I have killed two of them.") Joe Don Baker returns to the Bond series here, this time as CIA agent Jack Wade, more or less a replacement for Felix Leiter (Baker returns as Wade in Tomorrow Never Dies); he makes a marginally better sidekick than a bad guy, as in The Living Daylights.
The two leading women are particularly impressive this time around. Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova, a Russian computer operator on the GoldenEye project, is both strong-willed and resourceful, and she derisively dismisses Bond and his violent ilk as "Boys with toys." Famke Janssen, as former KGB assassin Xenia Onatopp, has an animalistic sensuality, and her catlike toying with Bond makes her one of his most noteworthy female opponents. Nods also go to Judi Dench as the acerbic new M, who does not hesitate to put Bond in his place, and the attractive, somewhat sharp-tongued Samantha Bond as Miss Moneypenny.
GoldenEye's musical score comes courtesy of French composer Eric Serra, noted for his contributions to the Luc Besson films Atlantis, The Fifth Element, Nikita, and others. However, the title theme was written by Bono and The Edge from U2, with the vocal provided by rock-and-soul queen Tina Turner. The song is a powerful, well-orchestrated piece, featuring heavy percussion and a keen, brassy edge that immediately identifies it as a James Bond theme. Combined with a visually impressive title sequence designed by Daniel Kleinman, the song opens GoldenEye on a highly encouraging note.
Throughout the score, blasts of heavy bass punctuate the melodies almost unnervingly, combined with deep choral interjections designed to capture the grim atmosphere of the Russian setting. The "GoldenEye Overture" begins with a deep, rumbling percussion rendering of the James Bond Theme that is strikingly effective, and a twanging synthesizer wails a refrain that echoes the opening notes of Goldfinger—a nice touch that brings the score into the realm of the familiar for James Bond fans. The technopop beat is relentless, though—sometimes to good effect, other times to the score's detriment. What works as an album cut doesn't always translate as well to film; therefore, while the soundtrack album is oftentimes engaging, in the film, the music often seems either out of place or outright unnoticeable.
"Ladies First" opens with a roiling, hiccupping synthesizer that sounds like Bill Conti's For Your Eyes Only score on steroids; in the movie, it's one of the aforementioned unnoticeable pieces, providing the background for Bond's behind-the-wheel competition with the beautiful but dangerous Xenia Onatopp. "We Share the Same Passions" is a multi-textured, poignant musical poem, one of Serra's best compositions, used as a romantic theme that repeats several times in the film. "A Little Surprise for You" features a lot of clattering percussion; an eerie, droning synthesizer melody; and more blasts of heavy bass that hit like unexpected thunder—the only part of the cut that's actually noticeable in the movie.
Some Barry influence shows through in "The Severnaya Suite," which also interpolates the poignant romantic theme, making it a distinctive and very listenable track. "Our Lady of Smolensk" contains a distant, wailing female vocal and more clattering percussion, but is too short to be very memorable. Similarly, "Whispering Statues," which highlights the scene of Bond meeting Trevelyan amid the wreckage of old statues of Lenin, Stalin, and Marx, features a deep male chorus warbling behind piano and synthesized strings, but fails distinguish itself as unique. "Run, Shoot, and Jump" picks up the tempo and incorporates a well-composed Russian-sounding theme; again, however, it's too short to work very well either on album or in the film.
The rather silly chase through St. Petersburg—Russians in cars and Bond in a tank—is accompanied by "A Pleasant Drive in St. Petersburg," which puts a uniquely arranged James Bond theme out in front, complete with a female vocalist chanting Russian-sounding lyrics. The synthesizer on this track, however, is particularly tinny, and the techno drumbeat doesn't know when to quit. The disco-style guitar work on some of the Bond theme stanzas makes Marvin Hamlisch's "Bond 77" seem that much more appealing.
Low, pulsing bass notes seem to be Serra's musical signature, and "Fatal Weakness" opens with a long string of them, accompanied by an atmospheric, rumbling synthesizer. Again, in the film, it's hard to distinguish the music from the ambient sound, so its success or failure depends on how much mood it adds to the soundtrack. In this case, it works to the film's benefit, but provides little in the way of a memorable melody. "That's What Keeps You Alone" is another version of the romantic theme, this one played more boldly than in "We Share the Same Passions."
Using a pulsing, electronic synthesizer and syncopated drums, "Dish Out of Water" sounds as much like a sound effect as music; appropriate enough in context as the second GoldenEye radar dish is revealed with the draining of a huge lake in Cuba. "The Scale to Hell" offers more of the same, and "For Ever, James" brings back a final, pleasant rendition of Serra's romantic theme. Concluding the album is "The Experience of Love," which is sung by Serra himself, whose low-key vocal style is somewhat reminscent of Peter Gabriel. It's a mellow, moody piece, offering little in the excitement department. GoldenEye was an exhilarating ride, but not to the point that a more energetic end title would have overtaxed our nerves. A reprise of the opening title would certainly have been a happy thing.
Serra's soundtrack failed to capture the attention of most Bond fans, so he did not return for future efforts. Instead, David Arnold was recruited for the next feature, Tomorrow Never Dies, which met with sufficient approval to see him come back for both The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Regardless, the GoldenEye soundtrack certainly has its positive aspects and the CD makes for an atmospheric listening experience. I, for one, would offer Serra a willing ear if he were to come back for another attempt at scoring a Bond film.
Lyrics by Bono & The Edge
Sung by Tina Turner
See reflections on the water,
Goldeneye, I've found his weakness.
You'll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child.
See him move through smoke and mirrors,
Goldeneye, not lace or leather.
You'll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child.
With a Goldeneye,
The Experience of Love