Thursday, February 26, 2015

Casting Works Against Suspense In Goldeneye!

The Good: Decent performances, Moments of character, Entertaining
The Bad: Predictable plot, Opening credits spoil the film’s surprises
The Basics: Goldeneye gives Pierce Brosnan a decent-enough start to his tenure in the role of James Bond . . . a franchise which was pretty stale long before he arrived to it.

As I near the end of the James Bond franchise, I find myself wondering about the long-term appeal of the films. The James Bond franchise utilizes a number of conceits pretty consistently and that makes it tougher to watch them over and over again. Sometimes, it’s tough for me to even get into the new-to-me Bond films. Despite being excited about seeing Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in Goldeneye, by the end of the opening credits, I was already wary of the film. Goldeneye is a great example of how films can work against themselves and in a spy thriller that hinges on suspense and surprise, that is a severe drawback.

Goldeneye stars Sean Bean and his name is the first below-the-title acting credit in the film. Given that his character is killed in the teaser, it becomes impossible for viewers to believe they have seen the last of his character given the credits. Given how Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp dominates the first third of Goldeneye, her lack of top-billing makes no sense . . . unless Bean’s Trevelyan is going to resurface in the film. So, from the outset, anyone who recognizes Sean Bean will be waiting for the film’s “surprise” to be revealed.

Opening at the Archangel Chemical Weapons Facility in the U.S.S.R., James Bond repels down the structure to break in. Inside, he meets Alec Trevelyan, who assists him in setting charges to blow up the facility. Trevelyan is shot, but Bond makes a daring escape. Nine years later, after the fall of the U.S.S.R., Bond finds himself in a car race with the former Soviet assassin, Xenia Onatopp. After killing an influential man, Xenia makes off with a prototype Tiger Helicopter, moments ahead of Bond reaching the conclusion that she was about to steal it. Bond returns to MI-6, where the intelligence agency has learned of an attack on a Russian weapon’s facility where Onatopp and a rogue General stole the access codes to Goldeneye, a satellite that has the ability (which is soon revealed) to launch an EMP strike. Bond and M, at the MI-6 headquarters, monitor the aftermath of the EMP attack. Bond notices a survivor of the attack on Severnaya and believes that she might know who the inside man at the facility was.

While the Russians downplay the EMP strike as an accident during a training exercise, General Ourumov delivers a false report on Goldeneye to the Russian Ministers. He is alarmed to learn that the hacker, Boris, was not the only survivor of Severnaya. While Bond tracks down Xenia, who leads him to the (very much alive) Trevelyan. Trevelyan puts Bond and Simonova (the other Severnaya survivor) in the Tiger helicopter to try to kill them, but they manage to survive. After a series of captures and escapes, Bond and Simonova make their way to Cuba to find and destroy the second station which controls another Goldeneye satellite. Intending to thwart Trevelyan and Onatopp once and for all, Bond and Simonova find themselves in danger every step of the way.

Goldeneyeuses some of the regular Bond conceits in addition to the un-surprise of Trevelyan, like the flirtation with Moneypenny and the trip to Q’s lab. Moneypenny is upgraded in Goldeneye as a specialist who cites sexual harassment policies as opposed to simply going with Bond’s charm. Q gets the usual quips out of Bond and supplies him with tech and the scene is amusing, but predictable. On the plus side, while Bond movies have multiple chase scenes, Goldeneye freshens the mix some by having Bond chase after Simonova and Ourumov in a tank! That is entertaining, at the very least.

Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as James Bong might be flawed on the storytelling front, but he proves himself an able actor for the part (which is unsurprising given his years on Remington Steele). Brosnan has the ability to present Bond with steely resolve and efficiency to credibly be a superspy. In fact, the only way Brosnan underwhelms as Bond is with the wisecracks. Brosnan plays Bond so seriously and with so little in the way of smiles and innate charm that when he delivers his one-liners, they do not seem to fit the character. Brosnan is by no means stiff in his delivery, but his Bond seems initially so much more serious that the humor does not fit his character.

Goldeneye is one of the few Bond films that bothers to delve into James Bond’s backstory. Revealed to be an orphan, Bond’s personal history is used as a foil for Trevelyan’s. As with Silva in Skyfall (reviewed here!), that gives the villain in Goldeneye a personal grudge against MI-6. Trevelyan would have worked better as an adversary for Bond if only the franchise were a bit more serialized. Trevelyan talks about himself as if he knew Bond for years and was a good friend; that would have worked much better had viewers seen him before he popped up in Goldeneye.

Sean Bean is good as Trevelyan, but the impressive performance in Goldeneye comes from Famke Janssen. Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp as an over-the-top sexual psychopath and the role is completely different from any other that she has played. Janssen is completely convincing as a woman who kills with her body, in addition to other weapons. Her ability to portray delight almost simultaneous to presenting a sense of concentration and ruthlessness is impressive.

Martin Campbell does an adequate job directing Goldeneye, but it is still a fairly typical Bond movie. Those who watch closely will notice a number of odd cuts – transitions between shots that are fairly poor – but otherwise, Campbell makes Goldeneye look good.

For other works with Famke Janssen, be sure to check out my reviews of:
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
The Wolverine
X-Men: The Last Stand
Hide And Seek
X-2: X-Men United
“The Perfect Mate” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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