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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - GoldenEye

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly testament to how little of a social life I have!  In this series, I watch one of the many movies I own, and then blog about it.  We're into a run of James Bond movies now, as we get to Pierce Brosnan's first outing as 007, GoldenEye.  This is dated in my notes at June 2, 2013.

GoldenEye Movie Poster

Continuing with my James Bond stockpile I compiled while watching every Star Trek movie, we now come across GoldenEye, considered by many to be Pierce Brosnan's finest.  And, chronologically, it comes right after License to Kill.  The 6 year gap between License to Kill and GoldenEye is the longest gap between James Bond films.  The gap came about because the movie studio got sold, thus throwing ownership of the movie rights into jeopardy.  But, sadly, it took so long for them to sort that out, that Timothy Dalton moved on to other things and started losing interest in being James Bond, so he stepped down from the role.  Luckily, though, the search for a new James Bond was relatively quick and painless.  The producers went to the guy they originally wanted to be James Bond right after Roger Moore in the mid-1980s...Pierce Brosnan.  Brosnan couldn't accept at the time due to his commitments to the TV series Remington Steele, but now, with no pesky TV contract in his way, Brosnan was easily able to accept the role.

But in this 6-year gap, the world had changed.  The Cold War ended, leading many to wonder if spy stories and tales of international espionage had become hilariously dated.  Political correctness had come in full bore, along with safe sex and the threat of AIDS, making others believe that James Bond's womanizing ways would be coming to an end.  Many pop culture analysts believed that the world had moved beyond James Bond.  GoldenEye needed to prove that he hadn't. 

And seeing as to how, in GoldenEye`s opening weekend, it immediately became the highest grossing James Bond movie of all time, people were pretty sure the world still loved the exploits of 007. 

The end of the Cold War actually provided a lot of inspiration for GoldenEye.  It was the first James Bond movie allowed to film in Russia, with a good portion of it taking place, and filmed, in St. Petersberg.  With tales of the Russian mafia expanding into the rest of Europe occasionally popping up in the news, and stories of former Soviet weapons becoming easy to obtain on the Black Market, Bond had a lot of cleaning up to do in the former Soviet Union. 

And, to help politically correct things, it was announced that Bond's commanding officer, M, would now be played by a woman...Dame Judi Dench.  She played the role for 7 James Bond films, and easily became the most explored M.  But in this one, she plays the typical M.  Showing up in the beginning to deliver Bond's mission and that's pretty much it. 

So our classic James Bond pre-credits sequence is a flashback, set during the time of the Cold War.  James Bond and his partner Alec Trevelyan, agent 006, are sneaking into a secret Soviet chemical weapons factory to take it down.  And it opens with, what was at the time, the world's highest bungee jump.  1990s forever!  The mission succeeds, but at what cost.  Trevelyan is killed and Bond returns home alone.

After our classic James Bond opening credit sequence, we come to the present day, where Bond is getting his field evaluation in Monte Carlo.  An exotic young woman catches his eye, first at driving, and then across from each other at that baccarat tables.  She introduces herself as Xenia Onnatopp, and she rebuffs Bond's advances.  Bond does some investigating, and discovers that she has ties to the Janus Crime Syndicate, one of the biggest organized crime rings in the former Soviet Union.  Bond is given the go-ahead to investigate what she's up to, but he discovers her plot a little too late, as she makes up  with a prototype attack helicopter that can withstand an EMP. 

Let's talk about Xenia Onnatopp, shall we?  It's the politically correct 90s, so women can be on top now.  Ha!  Clever.  She crushes people between her thighs, and seems to get sexually aroused at killing people.  And she's played by Famke Jansen, about 5 years before she became immortalized as Jean Grey in the X-Men movies.  A horny, homicidal female assassin.  Yay political correctness?

Meanwhile, in Russia, we're at a humble secret Soviet weapons facility, and we meet two humble civilian computer programmers working there:  Boris and Natalia.  Xenia and a Russian general, Ourimov, show up to test fire this instillation's top secret weapon:  the GoldenEye satellite.  But it turns out they're actually there to steal control of the satellite.  Once they have it in possession, they program GoldenEye to take out the facility and Xenia and Ourimov kill everybody.  The only survivors:  Boris, who was out grabbing a smoke, and Natalia, who was grabbing some coffee in the break room and was able to hide.

We meet the new M as Bond, M, and the rest of MI6 watch this unfold live on their spy satellites.  Needless to say, the Janus Crime Syndicate is now up to something big, and Bond is given the order to investigate.  We get our standard briefing scene with M, which is really interesting now in context.  M quickly sums up what everyone though about James Bond leading up to this film:  that he's a sexist womanizer, a relic of the Cold War, and getting too old for this shit.  This discussion is interesting because it pretty much becomes James Bond and M's entire character arcs in Skyfall.  In GoldenEye, it's mainly done to address the audience's concerns.  In Skyfall, Bond himself wonders if he's getting too old for this shit, and M argues that these "relics of the Cold War" are needed more than ever in these dangerous times we live in.  What happened between those two films for these debates to become relevant again?  Well, in 1995, the Cold War had ended and the world was feeling like a safer and more loving place because of it.  And in 2012...well, it's post 9/11.  Nuff said. 

Bond heads to Q to get his equipment.  I remember there was much nerd rage at the time that, thanks to product placement, Bond's new car was a BMW, and not a classic Aston Martin.  Bond heads off to St. Petersburg to track down the head of Janus and find out what he's up to.  In St. Petersburg, Bond gets a new CIA pal in the form of Jack Wade.  Too bad Wade only lasted two films...he made an interesting foil for Bond.  This was an agent who had become incredibly casual about his work, and had no more time for secret codes and stuff like that.  Very funny guy.  Wade directs Bond to Janus's main competition, a mob boss by the name of Zukofsky, who happens to be an old KGB nemesis of Bond's.  As Zukofsky is now all about the free enterprise, Bond is able to get Zukofsky to arrange a meeting with Janus with the promise of a big payoff.  The meeting is arranged and, plot twist of plot twist, Janus is revealed to be Trevelyan, who survived all those years ago, only to be horribly scarred.  Turns out the whole thing at the chemical weapons plant was a ruse so Trevelyan could go freelance.  The British government betrayed Trevelyan's parents, and he has vowed revenge on England.  But before Bond can take down Trevelyan, he's knocked out, and awakens in the stolen helicopter alongside Natalia as it's about to self-destruct.

Yeah, what has Natalia been up to?  Well, after she crawled out of the wreckage of the weapons facility, she too made her way to St. Petersburg.  She assumes that Boris survived too because he was outside at the time, so she decides to get back online and find Boris that way.  Since this is 1995 and there's no Internet cafes or wi-fi hotspots yet, she gets online by going to a computer store and asking for a free demonstration.  She asks for a computer with a 500M hard drive and a 14.4k modem.  Remember when that was a powerful computer?  She gets online, finds Boris in the chatrooms, they decide to meet in person, but it turns out Boris was in league with Trevelyan all along, and as another survivor, she must be killed.  And that's why she's in the helicopter with Bond.

Bond and Natalia escape, but are promptly taken in by Russian authorities.  In their interrogation, Natalia identifies Ourimov as the general that stole GoldenEye.  But, Ourimov busts in, kills everyone, and takes Natalia hostage.  What follows is my favourite scene in the movie.  It's your typical James Bond car chase, only instead of a car, Bond is driving a tank.  He tracks down Natalia and Ourimov to Trevelyan's hideout, an armored train.  They  have a standoff.  Bond recuses Natalia, but Trevelyan escapes.  Before they go, though, Natalia is able to do some hacking and determine that Trevelyan's GoldenEye control centre is in Cuba.

Bond and Natalia head to Cuba, where they find Trevelyan's instillation.  We learn Trevelyan's plot:  he intends to use GoldenEye on London, to destroy all of its computer infrastructure, sending the UK back to the Dark Ages.  But shortly before he does that, he's going to hack into the Bank of England and clean out all their accounts.  We have our final battles:  Xenia is ironically crushed between tree branches, Natalia outsmarts Boris and proves herself the superior hacker, and Bond kills Trevelyan, revealing to Trevelyan before he delivers the death blow that yes, he is doing it for vengeance.  The day is saved! 

And there's GoldenEye, when Bond came into the 1990s in a big, bad, beautiful way.  I can see why it's regarded as the best of Brosnan's Bonds.  It's a lot more character driven than what the rest of Brosnan's Bonds became, as we try to figure out why he does what he does when he's starting to become a dinosaur, and how he feels when he discovers when his enemy is his former best friend.  Granted, it doesn't go as deep as Skyfall or some of the more current Bonds, but it's a start. 

But let's be honest.  People mainly remember it now for the video game.

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