A man runs along the top of a vast dam in Russia, at the base of which there is a chemical plant. He finds the easiest way to get down there is to bungee jump and fire a line to the ground, which he does and then begins his sabotage mission. He is British Agent James Bond 007 (Pierce Brosnan) and he is not alone for his partner is another agent, Alec Trevelyan 006 (Sean Bean), assisting him in setting up the bombs around the main storage area. Or he does until he is captured by the Soviet forces, whereupon Bond resets the explosives to a shorter time and sees 006 shot dead soon after. Bond gets away, but that was nine years ago and now there are echoes of the past...
Goldeneye was supposed to be Timothy Dalton's third James Bond film, but legal wrangles coupled with an unsatisfying box office total of his previous instalment Licence to Kill meant that it was over six years before this was released, now without Dalton who had bowed out. In his place was Brosnan, who had originally intended to take over from Roger Moore for The Living Daylights, but couldn't get out of his television contract for Remington Steele. Brosnan was closer in style to Moore, far more so than the saturnine Dalton, and seemed more at ease with the quips and romance.
But what about the physicality? The new star was less convincing in the action sequences and we had to take it as read that the fistfights he did get into he would win, but there was a newfound breeziness and knowing quality to this Bond after the tone of the previous two films, which had verged too close to the leaden. Would Bond be as big a draw in these post-Cold War days? Rather than shying away from such doubts, screenwriters Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Fierstein, from Michael France's story, opted to embrace the shifting political climate.
This resulted in two boons: it proved that Bond was still relevant, and that it was still a dangerous universe we lived in which needed a secret agent to go on the attack and save us all from the plottings of megalomaniacs intent on bringing down the free world. We don't find out the identity of the main bad guy until the story is almost halfway over, but as this was given away in the trailer and the actor was billed prominently in the opening credits, it wasn't much of a surprise. Meanwhile it was business as usual, even though the Soviet Union was no more it was still sending out ripples into the nineties and Bond got to combat those who would use the mechanics of those bad old days to their own ends.
Best of the bad guys was Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, who could crush a man to death with her bare, er, thighs and was one of the vital Bond villains who really got a kick out of being evil: she's a lot of fun and overshadows a somewhat routine chief villain. 007 gets to romance a Russian in the shape of Izabella Scorupco, playing computer programmer Natalya who is the sole survivor of an attack on a satellite defence station which is destroyed by the Goldeneye. What's that? It's a electronic pulse weapon which wipes out anything electrical within a miles-wide radius, and whoever controls that can hold the world to ransom. Scorupco made a good impression, but like many Bond Girls never went on to capitalise on her brief time in the spotlight, unlike Janssen who became one of the X-Men. This is a well-cast blockbuster, with personality in the smaller roles as well as the larger, Judi Dench's prickly M notable as putting into words what Bond's critics were thinking, but the worries about the hero's vitality were not overstated and smoothly incorporated. Would that Brosnan's follow-ups had had such strong and canny themes. Music by Eric Serra.