|'the film in which Ian Fleming's spy has his closest ever brush with things like subtext, subtlety and meta-narratives'|
'Governments change', M (Judi Dench) tells James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) during the course of Goldeneye. Yes, they do, but so do many other things during Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond, arguably the film in which Ian Fleming's spy has his closest ever brush with things like subtext, subtlety and meta-narratives.
M's pronouncement on the status of worldwide democracy is delivered during a monologue to Bond that should go down as one of the series' key moments. M's entrance, interrupting Tanner's (Michael Kitchen) sexist rant against her, shows a literal silencing of the old guard, of Bond, by a woman for possibly the first time in his existence. 007 is labelled a 'sexist, misogynist dinosaur', during a monologue where his lips are very much sealed and M's are merely concerned with giving him a good tongue-lashing. M's speech is the klaxon of ringing change and modernity. No longer is Bond (the series) concerned with gross sexual stereotyping, Bond (the man) must adapt or die, a notion M's speech makes clear as she ushers him out of the door, having proclaimed she has no problem sending a man to his death. A little earlier in the same section, the new Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) has told Bond that he never had her. Shocking to consider for audiences during the Moore and Dalton eras.
Bondian sexual politics are not the only change on the agenda though. Goldeneye is a film about rebirths. Bond is back after too long in the anonymous hinterland of studio hell. So what is the narrative concerned about in this new Bond? Rebirths. The notion of coming back from the dead, the ability for a person to change faces, yet remain the same. It's playful toying with meta-narrative by screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, but it also makes for a convincing, dynamic Bond film, operating on several levels, including the one marked merely 'fun'.
Of the other elements familiar to Bond, it is also notable that director Martin Campbell puts some real work into establishing a love story that matters and that everyone, including Bond, invests in. Several scenes before Bond meets and falls in love with Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) are concerned with representations of fake 'kicks', fake sexual encounters. The car race at the start, Xenia's (Famke Janssen) death grip with the admiral (Billy J. Mitchell). In fact, Xenia as a whole is a walking representation of fake sex and surface level attraction. Bond's battle with her in the bath house is his signal that he isn't fooled. Move over. The real thing, in the shape of Natalya, is just around the corner.
There are too though echoes of what came before that conspire to undermine Bond's new place in the world. Boris (Alan Cumming, affecting a terrible accent) is an awful character, who seemingly only gets away with his workplace sexual harassment because he is Russian, evil and it is therefore expected of him. Several leaps of logic damage the plot's credibility (what's going on with The Admiral's pass card on the boat? Why does Bond walk into a trap at Statue Park?), whilst Ourumov (Gottfried John) doesn't get to be evil enough and Q's (Desmond Llewelyn) scene has more to do with series hereditary, than it having any place in the tone of this particular film.
In the end though, especially considering the uninspired nature of the Dalton films which preceded it, Goldeneye is too fun, too clever, to be overly weighed down by minor problems. This is Bond in the modern age, with a new awareness of who and where he is, and a plot and IQ level to match.
Goldeneye was showing on Sky Anytime+ and Sky Go.