Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘GoldenEye’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 25th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: GoldenEye (1995)!
Part of the appeal of covering the 007 franchise as a lead up to the (eventual) release of No Time to Die is simple. Before I delved into these movies in earnest at the beginning of this year, I had not seen all of the Bond pictures. With Bond being so massive, this series has taken me on a cinematic roller coaster of great films and lows like Diamonds Are Forever. Now, while I’ve enjoyed the experience thus far, I must say I’m happy to have finally arrived at my Bond. For many fans, whomever you grew up watching portray the world’s greatest secret agent is your preferred James Bond. Thus, as a kid of the 1990s and early-2000s, Pierce Brosnan is my favorite 007 and I’m thrilled to reach his era.
But, it wasn’t the GoldenEye movie that began my fascination with James Bond and his world of espionage and intrigue. Instead, it was the tie-in of the Nintendo 64 video game adaptation, GoldenEye 007 (1997), which was released a couple of years after its namesake in August of ’97. Playing the game at my friend Charlie’s house served as my introduction to Bond.
While such an introduction might not be considered proper, it got me in the door. Following that, I watched a handful of 007 flicks when they aired marathons on TBS around Thanksgiving of 1997. But, it wasn’t until ’98, when I rented the GoldenEye on VHS from my local video store, that I feel I got to see my first Bond picture earnestly. But before we get into my thoughts on this film, let’s look at the development of GoldenEye.
The six-year interim between Licence to Kill (1989) and GoldenEye served as the longest pause in the franchise to date. Despite the audience and critical reception to License to Kill, EON Productions and Dalton were gearing up for what would’ve been Dalton’s third outing, Property of a Lady. This unmade film was in pre-production in 1990. Alas, development halted as a result of legal issues between MGM/UA and EON.
The new heads of MGM had a strong notion of selling United Artists (the “UA” part of MGM/UA) and 007 off. Having developed such a long relationship with MGM, this is not what EON wanted to hear. Thus, Bond’s rights holder fought for its place with one of Hollywood’s founding studios. With no end to the legal battle in sight, Dalton’s 00 contract expired in 1993. In what must have been a somewhat cruel twist of fate for Dalton, the legal disputes were resolved in early-1994 when a new regime took over at the studio and came to terms with producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and EON. Sadly, by the time the case was resolved, EON knew that enough time had passed that they needed a new iteration of their golden goose.
As a result, they found their new 007 by going back to the man who had nearly acquired the iconic role years earlier. During the 1985-86 TV season, Brosnan was hot-off the freshly canceled TV series, Remington Steele (1982-1987). While he was grateful that another titular character had given him a career, the actor and EON Productions used the cancellation to fast-track Brosnan as the new face of the world’s most exceptional secret agent. Alas, unlike most series cancellations, Mary Tyler Moore Productions (MTM) allowed NBC to exercise a 60-day renewal window. Therefore, between Remington Steele‘s decent ratings and an outpouring from the show’s fans, NBC exercised their renewal option … on day 60, thus retaining Brosnan for one more season.
But in 1994, Bronson finally was able to take the role that should’ve been his sooner.
After bringing Brosnan on board, EON Productions still needed a director to kick the series into a new era. Enter, Martin Campbell, who back then, was just getting some steam behind his career. By ’94, Campbell helmed the notable BBC miniseries, Edge of Darkness (1985); the cult classic TV movie Cast a Deadly Spell (1991); and a couple of mainstream theatrical releases in Criminal Law (1988) and No Escape (1994). Thus, he displayed his skillset through quality as opposed to quantity. Moreover, though, the producers could see that Campbell had a passion for their beloved series. A passion he would bring to the production.
Of course, beyond the actor portraying the series protagonist and a solid director, a good story was necessary after such a long absence. As a result, more fresh talent was brought in with story writer Michael France (Hulk, The Punisher ’04) and screenwriters Jeffrey Caine (Exodus: Gods & Kings) and Bruce Feirstein — the latter of whom would continue to write in 007’s world for a while. Together, these writers made what I feel was the wise choice to pen the first entirely original 007 picture. See, GoldenEye contains no plot connections to any of Ian Fleming’s novels or short stories. (Although it’s worth noting that the title of this entry is named after Fleming’s estate in Jamaica where he wrote many of the Bond novels.)
GoldenEye finds James Bond 007 (Brosnan) finding his way in the 1990s The espionage business has become different in the years since the conclusion of The Cold War. Nonetheless, the ghosts of that conflict still haunt him. When a weapons system satellite known as GoldenEye is hijacked, Bond must track down the system codes in Russia before the weapon can be utilized by a crime organization known only as The Janus Syndicate. But little does our hero know, this mission has ties to his late friend and college, Alec Trevelyan 006 (Sean Bean)!
Reading that synopsis, you might have noticed something. GoldenEye employs many popular tropes that previous entries in this franchise have established and used multiple times. The most obvious example being, of course, that weapons systems have been absconded with for nefarious means numerous times in this series — so much so that I became tired of this plot device at a certain point in reviewing these movies. But after a reprieve from that trope in the last several films, I think it works very well for GoldenEye. Moreover, the technological aspects concerning the weapon’s satellite system and what ensues hold up pretty well, even for a picture celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
The story also works well because it takes its time, easing you back into the world while utilizing a somewhat tricky combination of nostalgia and forward thinking. GoldenEye strives to be (and is successful at being) a traditional 007 picture; all the while, the film is also very aware of its post-Cold War setting. For the first time in this series, other characters call out Bond’s charming yet misogynistic behavior, which could easily be construed as workplace harassment.
Furthermore, this entry is appropriately aware of feminism and its importance by giving 007 a female boss in M (Judi Dench). She is a character who does not hesitate to call her most prized 00 agent a “ dinosaur; a relic of The Cold War.” This installment also gives someone who is, I think, the most empowered Bond girl to date. I’ll get to her shortly. But even with these critiques of Bond as a format and a character, the film is thankfully self-aware and able to maintain a fun and fantastical nature.
Outside of being written with these apparent goals in mind, I feel GoldenEye is so successful thanks to its cast. Besides being my favorite 007, I think Brosnan is good in this role for two reasons. First-and-foremost, Brosnan wants to be here and has not had a chance to get dragged through the mud by critics and fans yet. Secondly, Brosnan describes his performance as Bond as a “cross-pollination of Sean Connery and Roger Moore” — a summation that I feel he legitimately embraces and achieves here. Plus, I love that he mixes my two favorite former Bonds while putting his spin on the character. Thus, Brosnan possesses all the toughness, charm, and sex appeal that the ideal Bond needs.
More to the point, GoldenEye itself utilizes that same tonal mix.
The other male lead here is antagonist Alec Trevelyan, portrayed by Sean Bean. An actor who at that point-and-time could’ve been James Bond himself, so much so that it’s rumored Bean might’ve even auditioned for the lead role. In early drafts of the script for GoldenEye, Trevelyan was intended to have a good two decades on Bond, thus serving as Bond’s former mentor as opposed to his contemporary. But, when Anthony Hopkins (Thor: Ragnarok) turned down this villainous turn, that iteration of the character was scrapped in favor of making Trevelyan the same age as Bond. As such, I don’t think there could be a better actor to play the role than Bean; a guy who’s particularly great in a villainous part. However, due to the nature of the part, I feel Bean doesn’t get that much to do, thanks to his brief, yet integral screen time.
Two folks given plenty of screen time are the Bond girls. Izabella Scorupco is fantastic as Natalya Simonova. Unlike Bond’s female allies in the past, Natalya is not merely a sexual object to Bond. Nor is she someone Bond simply uses to infiltrate an enemy organization. On the contrary, Natalya drives the story forward and is key to its conclusion. With her character being more complex than most of her predecessors, Scorupco brings her all to the part, making Natalya equal parts intelligent, resilient, and sexy.
Then, of course, there is the baddie Bond girl, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). To say that Janssen is over the top as Onatopp is an understatement. She’s definitely embracing the Moore era side of things here. But as Onatopp is intended to be outrageous, it all works! Her whole gimmick as a henchwoman is that she experiences sexual gratification when killing. I think Janssen’s great here and I must admit that Onatopp was my second on-screen bad girl crush. (Although, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman/Selina Kyle in Batman Returns (1992) will always remain the queen in that regard.)
Last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Joe Don Baker, who plays CIA liaison Jack Wade. He principally serves as the ’90s equivalent of Felix Leiter (so much so that before rewatching this flick, I thought Baker was playing Felix). In any event, Baker brings his usual Southern charm and is ideal for such a part.
However, I felt the need to mention Baker for another reason. He’s one of the few actors to have played multiple roles in multiple installments of this franchise. Less than a decade earlier, Baker played the evil Major Brad Whitaker in The Living Daylights (1987).
In addition to the screenplay and cast of GoldenEye, the filmcraft on display here is phenomenal! Despite computer-generated imagery beginning to find a place in major motion pictures, this flick doesn’t utilize much CGI. It was used in the opening gun barrel sequence, making it the first entry in the franchise to use computer graphics. But for the most part, the action and stunts are done practically or through miniatures and blue screens. Campbell is clearly at the top of his game in what was surely a massive undertaking. Not that you would know with all the flawless action sequences — all of which constitute some of the best of the franchise.
Alas, GoldenEye isn’t quite perfect as it does have two small problems. Like many of its predecessors, the third act falls victim to pacing issue. While that problem can almost be expected and nearly excused as part of the format, the most significant issue is more akin to a knife in one’s ear! Quite frankly, all of the music in this film (except for the occasional insertion of traditional Bond themes) is terrible! Composer Eric Serra provides a score which is not only inappropriate, but painfully outdated in this film. The majority of this score sounds like a cheap product of the late 1980s. Furthermore, the opening title song, performed by Tina Turner with music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge, is horrendously grating and seemingly has nothing to do with the film itself!
Otherwise, GoldenEye is one of the finest examples of a Franchise Expansion I’ve yet to see! The film keeps one set of toes dipped in tradition while stepping into its time with the other. As I said earlier, the tone of the film perfectly balances the Connery and Moore eras together. A choice I feel is essential to the success and fan love this film has garnered in the two-and-a-half decades since its release. Most importantly, GoldenEye is responsible for genuinely introducing many folks my age to James Bond. As such, this film will always have a special place in my heart.
GoldenEye is Available on All Home Video Formats!
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 20th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever:
Live and Let Die:
The Man with The Golden Gun:
The Spy Who Loved Me:
For Your Eyes Only:
A View to a Kill:
The Living Daylights:
Licence to Kill:
Casino Royale (1967):
Never Say Never Again: