The Road To Spectre: The Early Brosnan Years (1995-1997)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'No actor has slipped more comfortably into the role of 007 than Brosnan in GoldenEye since Sean Connery first sat at a baccarat table in Dr. No'.

The period from 1989 to 1995 marked the longest interval between Bond films since the franchise began. Timothy Dalton's time as James Bond came to a drawn-out and unceremonious conclusion amidst disputes between studios, leading to the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Dalton's successor. Brosnan had been considered for the role in the 1980s at the end of Moore's tenure, but was unable to take the role due to television commitments. It's a series of circumstances that, in hindsight, undoubtedly worked to the benefit of both Brosnan and the series.

Largely well-received upon its release in 1995, Brosnan's debut GoldenEye has since then steadily gained rightful recognition as one of the best entries in the entire Bond series. The cobwebs that had lingered since the start of the 1980s were finally blown away through a narrative which from the very start throbs with rejuvenated spirit. The entire pre-title sequence has more heart, more excitement and more character than some the '80s Bond films offer in their entire running time. From his reintroduction via the now iconic bungee jump off the Arkhangelsk dam, Bond is firmly established as an action hero for the final decade of the 20th Century. No actor has slipped more comfortably into the role of 007 than Brosnan in GoldenEye since Sean Connery first sat at a baccarat table in Dr. No.

Whilst GoldenEye delivers consistently in both its characters - a well-crafted villain in former agent 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), strong Bond girls on both sides in Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) and Xenia (Famke Janssen) - and set pieces - the tank chase through St. Petersburg, the tense final skirmish atop a satellite dish - the film's importance within the franchise also cannot be understated. Bond may be the only element openly labelled "a relic of the Cold War", but he's just one of many present: the discarded statues and emblems of Communist Russia amongst which Bond and Trevelyan are unexpectedly reunited; General Ourumov (Gottfried John), refusing to leave his Soviet Russian methods and beliefs behind; even KGB-agent-turned-gangster Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane). The only ones who make it to the end of the film? Bond and Zukovsky, the two who are able to change to fit a changing world, whether they want to or not.

Just as important in this change is something of a "changing of the guard" closer to home: Samantha Bond's Moneypenny puts Brosnan's Bond firmly in his place from the get-go, wryly deflating his advances by informing him "you've never had me" during their first exchange. Which leads perfectly to Judi Dench's M, introduced as an "evil queen of numbers" but whom Dench superbly fleshes out in only a single scene into a character who can simultaneously show genuine emotion and calculatingly do whatever is necessary for the mission .

It's a persona Dench is thankfully able to explore further from the opening moments of Tomorrow Never Dies onwards, a film which follows GoldenEye's near-flawless stride into the '90s with a second step never quite as ambitious but almost always as entertaining. Much of what made Brosnan's first film so successful is carried over to the second. Several more excellent action sequences make this enjoyable throughout, including Bond and Chinese spy Wai Lin's (Michelle Yeoh) handcuffed motorcycle escape through Shanghai, and a chase through a Hamburg multi-storey car park utilising Bond's souped-up remote control BMW driven by mobile phone  - arguably Brosnan's crowning action moment of all.

Director Roger Spottiswoode is also unafraid to show us Bond at perhaps his most vulnerable since On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The inclusion of 007's old flame Paris (Teri Hatcher), now wife to media mogul villain Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), turns the expected dynamic between Bond and the women in his life almost entirely on its head. M openly uses both Bond's womanising ways and his previous relationship with Paris as weapons for the benefit of the mission, with very little care for anyone's feelings. As a result, we see Bond driven close to his emotional brink, to the point of sitting in a hotel room half-drunk and accepting that someone working for Carver may be about to walk in and kill him. Eighteen films in, and this really is Bond as we've never seen him before.

What brings Tomorrow Never Dies down a little from the outstanding level achieved by GoldenEye is Carver as primary antagonist. Pryce is undeniably entertaining delivering the most theatrical Bond villain seen since the middle of the Roger Moore era, but at times feels somewhat at odds with the '90s aesthetic surrounding him. The idea of a Rupert Murdoch-esque psychopath is commendable in its originality, but ultimately makes for a villain with somewhat overly complex motives, and whose lack of any physicality whatsoever in the end makes him a little too easy for Bond to defeat one on one.

Looking at Brosnan's opening brace of films with regards to their position in the entire series, the fifth 007 arguably does what the fourth, for any number of reasons, never managed to do: that is to bring the Bond franchise up to date with the time in which the films are being made. Brosnan was exactly what the series needed at pretty much exactly the right time. Based on his first two appearances, Brosnan as Bond was arguably perfectly placed to see the franchise through the remaining years of the 1990s and take the character into the 21st Century.

GoldenEye
Tomorrow Never Dies

Keep up to date with The Road To Spectre Bond series retrospective so far.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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