Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Directed by Martin Campbell
Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein
Released by United Artists

In the best of the James Bond films derived directly from the novels of Ian Fleming—Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball—Sean Connery was able to evoke the gentlemanly, but roguish, quality of the British “clubland” heroes like Richard Hannay and Bulldog Drummond who had helped inspire 007’s creator, while adding a hard-edged brutality to the character’s persona that was rarely seen in the clean-limbed protagonists of an earlier time. Fleming, like Conan Doyle, had brought to life a character who seemed real, however improbable his adventures, to the reading and filmgoing public. Like Fleming’s creation, Connery, tongue firmly in cheek, faced the most unlikely of villains with a sense of amused irony, but was nevertheless able to lend a seriousness to the role that seemed more realistic to an audience that had witnessed world war, Stalin, Hitler, and Hiroshima. The early Bond films, like postwar film noir or “adult” Westerns, suited an era that did not require that its heroes be Boy Scouts, but was not yet prepared for the amoral antihero that Clint Eastwood would soon popularize in his squint-and-kill “spaghetti Westerns.” Stallone’s and Schwarzenegger’s superhuman antics are probably a carryover from the Bond films, particularly the exaggerated self-parody of the Roger Moore years, but the tight-lipped Terminator-style killing in Rambo or Commando is a spinoff of the cold-bloodedness of Eastwood’s .45-toting angel of death. Bond still has a code, a rough one, to be sure, like that of John Wayne’s Western heroes of the 50’s, whose behavior would have hardly passed muster with Roy or Hopalong, but one that still retains some sense of honor. Bond is a killer, but not a murderer.

In the latest installment of the Bond saga, the Harry Saltzman-Albert Broccoli team’s successors (Barbara Broccoli keeps the Bond property all in the family) have wisely chosen to continue moving the series away from the cartoonish style of the 70’s and mid-80’s by casting the worthy Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Brosnan, in view of his pretty-boy days on television’s Remington Steele, retains the attractive combination of irony and ruthlessness that Connery created and that Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton brought back to the Bond character in The Living Daylights (1987), after the foppish Moore had made the image of Bond as finely tuned Commando impossible to believe. Nobody wanted to be Moore’s Bond. If Brosnan is not let down by the production team, he may be successful in keeping the Bond franchise a going concern in the 90’s, for it is the film’s production failures that almost scuttle the Brosnan ship on her maiden voyage.

The film is poorly edited. The chase scenes drag on far longer than necessary, and Bond himself is almost lost amid countless helicopter crashes, train wrecks, and car chases that are hard to follow—just who is pursuing whom, and just where is Bond in this cacophony of explosions, squealing tires, and gunfire? Even during the bone-crunching fistfight sequence between Bond and his archenemy, another touch evocative of early Bond films, particularly the Sean Connery-Robert Shaw brawl in From Russia With Love, it is difficult for the viewer to make out just what is going on. The production team needs to tighten up a bit and reduce the crash-’em-ups to a manageable number and scale instead of trying to keep the teenagers interested.

The story and screenwriting team save the day by playing to the best in the early films (perhaps the best scene in Goldeneye is Bond’s hilarious visit with the venerable “Q,” once again played by veteran Desmond Lleweylan), creating engaging villains, and by giving this Bond film a theme, something entirely new to the series. Xenia Onatopp, played with over-the-top gusto by Famke Janssen, is one part Pussy Galore and one part Oddjob, a femme fatale who has it in for Bond, and who has an interesting stvle of dispatching the male flies caught in her web—Sharon Stone or Glenn Close never did in a lover like this! Alex Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean, is an ex-00 colleague of Bond’s who doublecrosses his former friend, with a mind to revenge against England herself, the country Trevelyan blames for his parents’ deaths. In the Fleming novels. Bond was sometimes troubled by the ruthlessness of his profession, and the loneliness it required. Loyalty, for loyalty was everything to Fleming’s Bond, and a taste for danger kept 007 on the job. Not only is this the first Bond film to make use of that ambiguity, it is the first to develop a thematic underbelly. The theme is betrayal. Bond’s former colleague is actually the son of anti-Soviet Russians who, having found themselves in the hands of the British at the end of World War II, were promptly and forcibly returned to Stalin’s Russia to face a firing squad. This is the first instance I know of that mention of forcible repatriations by the Allies has been made in the context of popular culture, which is reason enough to congratulate the screenwriters.

On the other hand, I don’t know what the Russians will make of this film when a bootlegged video version turns up in the Land of the Firebird. For years the Soviets harped on the image of 007 as anti-Soviet, pro-capitalist propaganda. They seemed barely to notice that the films never pitted Bond against SMERSH, the Soviets’ professional hitmen who were among Fleming’s favorite Bond antagonists. During the Cold War, Western filmmakers just couldn’t bring themselves to use the Soviets as bad guys, but now that the Cold War is over, the film’s opening sequence, a flashback in this case, has Bond battling the minions of an undoubtedly Evil Empire. Moreover, all of this post-Cold War Bond’s bad guys are Russians, either gangsters, computer geeks, or anti-Western military officers, and Bond dispatches noncommunist Russian soldiers as if it were the mid-50’s. That, along with the film’s admission of postwar chicanery by the Allies, and the creeping suspicion among all Russians that the West really is infected with “Russophobia,” may make Goldeneye a favorite of the “red-browns,” who, communist or not, have always told Russians that the West cannot be trusted.