Saturday, March 23, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #17: GoldenEye

Licence to Kill hadn’t been the success that EON was hoping for. It resulted in a sort of death for the old style of Bond, and the studio wanted to act fast. For the first time, Albert R. Broccoli opted to be a consulting producer as opposed to a full on producer, handing the job over to his daughter Barbara Broccoli, who had served as an assistant for previous Bond films. They decided to go for an original story, and handed the director’s chair to Martin Campbell, an action director also responsible for the exciting and undervalued The Mask of Zorro. Timothy Dalton opted not to come back, but the studio had made their decision. Enter Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, best known for television roles such as in Remington Steele, but also for films such as The Fourth Protocol and Mrs. Doubtfire. It made for a refreshing step in the right direction, and when it opened, it blew up. GoldenEye was exactly the success EON needed, and it’s arguably the most famous Bond film ever. But why is that? Well, let’s take a look.

During an opening sequence, 007 and fellow agent 006 infiltrate a Soviet Union facility, during which, 006 is apparently killed, while Bond escapes before the facility explodes. Nine years later, Bond is sent to investigate suspected members of the Janus crime syndicate, the two of which eventually hijack a pair of satellites codenamed “GoldenEye”. Bond continues his investigation, which eventually leads him to Janus, the head of the syndicate, who is really agent 006. It turns out he survived the explosion, and is attempting to use the satellites to destroy the economy of Britain, revenge for past events involving his deceased parents.

So, does this sound like a plot that would really be reason to call it the most famous Bond? Well, no. While it is half decent, it isn’t THE greatest concept in the series. However, it provides every chance at reinvigorating everything we already love about the Bond series. It modernizes all the classic staples, bringing them into the nineties with flying colors, providing something of a variety for itself. It’s filled with plenty of action, suspense, humor, and it even manages to get some depth to Bond and Trevelyan, also allowing for a tone that’s dark, but not as aggressive as Licence to Kill. While GoldenEye’s certainly never as dark as it could be, or as funny as it could be, it finds just the right balance to gain a broad audience.

So, how about the action, gadgets, or music? Is that why I think it’s the most famous? Uh, not really. The action is certainly varied, fast paced, and entertaining. While it’s never to Goldfinger status, it does its job well enough. The gadgets, there are some fun ones here, including the obscure gem that is Bond’s pen grenade. The music takes a more synthetic approach thanks to Eric Serra, and while it serves its purpose, it’s nothing that you’re gonna hum when it’s over. The song, on the other hand, is great. Written by Bono and The Edge of U2, and performed by Tina Turner, this is one of the most memorable of the Bond songs.

Then what about the cast? Is that why I think it’s so famous? Good guess, but no. Pierce Brosnan is at least a nice addition to the already great lineup of Bonds, making the character his own, and owning the movie. The Bond girls are pretty good, especially Onnatop, played here by Famke Janssen. As for the villain, he’s pretty good, too, played by Sean Bean. Wait! Christopher Lee, John Rhy-Davies, and Sean Bean? Was this where the cast of The Lord of the Rings all met or something?

Aside from that, we get a good comical role out of longtime Q actor, Desmond Llewellyn. One of the more noted changes was with M, played here by Judi Dench. This was the first time M had ever been played by a woman, and that being the case, Judi Dench couldn’t have been more perfect. In my opinion, I think she outshines both Bernard Lee and Robert Brown.

What about the movie’s success? Well, it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It was a breakout hit that reenergized the franchise, that everyone liked, and did great in sales. It’s also notable for being the last Bond film Albert Broccoli ever worked on, as he died two years later. At least he saw the franchise go in the right direction. It’s what the studio wanted, what critics wanted, what audiences wanted, and it was the highest grossing Bond film ever made at that point. It was a crowd pleaser, so that’s surely why I think it’s the most famous, right? Well… maybe a little.

Alright, I know you’re probably annoyed, and you want to know WHY I think it’s the most famous Bond film. I just stated through this review that I don’t think it has the best elements of the series, so what is my reasoning for calling it the most famous? The simple answer is that the interactive industry made it so.

Many a die-hard video-gamer like myself will remember GoldenEye best for serving as the inspiration to GoldenEye 007, a First-Person shooter released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997. EON gave Nintendo the rights to make a video game based on the film, and they in turn handed it to one of their partners. This was Rareware, a British game development company which was best known for the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, and who would later create the much acclaimed Banjo-Kazooie, and cult classics Jet Force Gemini and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Originally intended to be an On-Rails shooter in the style of Sega’s Virtua Cop, Rare decided to make it a free roaming shooter. This style of shooter was normally restricted to PC titles like Doom, but since the directional pad had been swapped for an analog stick on the system’s controller, Rare thought this would allow better precision in movement. Little did Rare know they’d be making one of the most important games ever made.

Let me tell you exactly WHY this game is so important. Video games based on films are usually hackneyed, uninspired products put together at the last minute, serving as nothing more than greedy cash grabs. GoldenEye 007 came out a full two years after the original film’s debut, meaning that Rare actually had a chance to develop the game, and see what worked and didn’t work. When it was released, it received unanimous critical acclaim, and today is considered one of the greatest video games of all time. I personally think it’s a tad dated by today’s standards (compared to current games, it’s no Uncharted 2), and I think its spiritual successor Perfect Dark is superior, but there’s no denying it’s alongside Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda as one of the most influential games ever made. Even in the wake of more modern shooters like Half Life, Call of Duty, and Bioshock, many still consider this the (ahem) Gold standard of what an FPS should be. So for all you newer gamers and your shooters with elements like varied mission objectives, various forms of firepower, stealth, atmosphere, and especially different modes of multiplayer (which is what made this game so legendary in the first place), you can thank Rareware for perfecting those modern staples.

Whether or not you agree with this reasoning is entirely up to you, but being the most famous film may not always be simply because of the film itself. Regardless of popularity, the achievement here is undeniable, and even remains a favorite of many Bond fans.

**** / *****

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