No, no, no. No more foreplay.
We are finally treated to Pierce Brosnan in his overdue turn as James Bond. We get one of the best Bonds of the series. Spoiler alert: Sean Bean’s character dies.
We begin with a genuine prologue. Not a lead-in scene like Dalton’s two turns, but a throwback to his era. It’s 1986, and Bond and 006 Alec Trevalyan are in Siberia to destroy a chemical weapons plant. The mission goes sideways, 006 is apparently killed, and Bond blows up the plant three minutes early. His escape is pure Bond, diving off a huge dam after an unmanned airplane, catching it and pulling out of the dive at the last second.
Nine years later, we’re introduced to Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny, sharp-tongued and dishing it out as heavily as Bond hands it to her. This Moneypenny goes back to Lois Maxwell’s performance, with her importance increased as the voice of MI6 and the glue that keeps headquarters together. We also meet the new M, played by Judi Dench. This M relies on statistics and disdains Bond’s shoot-from-the-hip style. Nonetheless, she sends him after a known Russian mob operative Xenia Onatoppe. (A name as apt as Pussy Galore, but not nearly as ridiculous.) He witnesses her theft of a European helicopter that’s been hardened against EMP. Back in London, they find the helicopter via satellite only to lose it again when someone fires the Goldeneye, a space-borne nuclear warhead designed to wipe out electronics over a wide area.
Bond traces this back to the Janos crime syndicate in Russia. Surprise! Janos is the “late” Alec Trevalyan, now seeking revenge for the death of his Cossack parents after World War II. For Trevalyan, the battle with Bond becomes personal. Bond follows him to Cuba, where he plans to use an old Soviet facility to fire the second Goldeneye over London, causing a worldwide financial meltdown.
Brosnan owns Bond from his first moment on screen, and in those early scenes, Sean Bean makes a case for his own turn as Bond. He balances between Dalton’s dark intensity and Moore’s unflappable cool. Samantha Bond provides a much-needed foil for Bond as Moneypenny. But Judi Dench is a more involved M. Her methods are called into question here, but she is tougher than Bernard Lee and more animated than Robert Brown. Even when proven wrong, she proves herself every bit the leader Lee’s M was.
Famke Jansenn is delicious as Xenia Onatoppe, a woman who not only can kill with her thighs, but seems to have a sexual fetish around murder, even her own as she seems to get aroused at the prospect of Bond destroying the train she is aboard. Bean, however, Picks up on Timothy Dalton’s Bond, a dark, dedicated 00 who turns when pushed too far. He is Bond with unswerving rage issues.
Izabella Scorupco plays Natalya, the Russian computer programmer, one of my favorite Bond girls. She’s scared, but she is resourceful. And she hates the world Bond inhabits. Of all the Bond girls, I think I fell in love with hers the longest. Her own foil is Boris, a computer hacker tailor-made for the series Silicon Valley. His mad coding and hacking skills are the source of his vanity, and Alan Cumming imbues him with a manic presence that would not be out of place on Big Bang Theory.
The one sour note is Joe Don Baker as Wade, Bond’s CIA agent. Wade is your brother-in-law, and while Baker’s performance is decent here, the character is annoying. Why not bring back Felix Leiter and just give him a limp from the shark attack? Fortunately, we only get treated to one more appearance by Wade. There is no need of a CIA contact (not with Robbie Coltrane’s antihero Russian gangster) in The World Is Not Enough and Halle Berry’s NSA agent in Die Another Day.
The only real misfires here, however, are the dive for the plane in the opening sequence and a tank chase through St. Petersburg. Both were a bit much, but quickly forgotten. Despite the exploding headquarters at the end (some of which was shot at Puerto Rico’s Arecebo Radio Telescope), this is a modern Bond, dealing the the post-Cold War era with considerably less self-parody from earlier efforts, particularly Moore’s final two turns.