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10/22/2020 • 4 min read
The first James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan, GOLDENEYE, came out in 1995. Twenty-five years later, we're still in awe of Brosnan's Bond debut, and the movie stands tall in the hierarchy of the series.
Brosnan's final Bond movie, DIE ANOTHER DAY, arrived in 2002. All in all, the actor's entire four-film run lasted seven years. Daniel Craig’s era has unfolded at a much slower pace. You could almost fit Bronsan’s entire run into the time we’ll spend just waiting between the most recent 007 outing, SPECTRE, to Craig's final installment, NO TIME TO DIE. Will it be worth the wait? Are James Bond movies better when they are produced every couple of years? Let’s take a look and see!
GOLDENEYE benefits from Peirce Brosnan’s still-uncertain approach to Bond, and a pair of great villains in the form of Sean Bean’s disgraced 006 and Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp. In familiar Bond fashion, the film’s specific story details don’t quite matter all these years later. But the cold-open sequence features one of the best Bond stunts, the tank sequence is still very cool, and even with Brosnan's evolving approach to the character, the overall tone feels like the most fully-formed Bond movie since Roger Moore's high point. GOLDENEYE built on the grim, realistic structure of Timothy Dalton's first Bond movie, but embellished it with just the right amount of action and over-the-top technology. It's a definite precursor to Daniel Craig's run.
Even after the striking opening salvo, the Brosnan era is best characterized by a refusal to pin down the nature of Brosnan’s Bond. He's a little bit mysterious, like Sean Connery, muscular like Lazenby, often campy fun like Moore, and he can be as serious as Dalton; Brosnan was, in many ways, a mixture of all previous Bonds. TOMORROW NEVER DIES offers a fun spin on the more outlandish Bond villains with a newspaper conglomerate (Jonathan Pryce), who wants to run all media in China… or something. He has a cool lair and makes large speeches and all that. There's Hong Kong superstar Michelle Yeoh and the debut of Judi Dench as M. But this film also features a rather cruel death and Bond seeking cold-blooded revenge as a result. Overall it's a fun movie, but also a bit unsettled.
It’s hard to accept Denise Richards's version of a nuclear physicist character, but that’s part of the goofy charm of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. This movie has one of the more original Bond villains, with Robert Carlyle, imported directly from TRAINSPOTTING, playing Renard Zokas, who can’t feel pain because a bullet in his body is killing him very slowly. He’s also tragically in love with the film’s REAL villain, Elektra, one of Bond’s rare female antagonists. And while the kookiness of this entry calls back to the latter Roger Moore movies, this is also the Bond debut of writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have had a hand in every 007 screenplay produced since then.
Yes, this is the one with Halle Berry. And all the ice. And the invisible car. There are some fun ideas here, particularly Bond returning to action after a stint as a Korean POW, but it never quite comes together. Maybe that's because the movie arrived on the 40th Anniversary of the series, and features many winking references to other films in 007's run. Director Lee Tamahori, who stunned audiences with his 1994 movie ONCE WERE WARRIORS, does good work with much of the cast, but this movie also finalizes the shift in Brosnan's run from serious action to comic book action.
Bond movies always react to and reflect changes in culture, but they don't often get the chance to be swayed by larger events in the world. Certainly, the Brosnan movies are the product of the end of the Cold War, and the Daniel Craig films are very much oriented around a post-9/11 James Bond. This is a rougher, nearly humorless Bond — indeed, Craig's version seems to be the kind of Bond both Brosnan and Timothy Dalton wished they could have played. And CASINO ROYALE nails the transition to a more complex, difficult world. It's got amazing action, heartfelt romance, and the novelty of a Bond who is still learning the ropes, but in this case, who hits the screen with the character almost fully formed. Even people who don’t like Bond films like CASINO ROYALE. It’s nearly perfect.
All of the James Bond movies define a large, loose story, but this is the first true direct sequel in the franchise. QUANTUM OF SOLACE never quite gels as solidly as CASINO ROYALE did. The shaky-cam aesthetic and the script, development of which was hampered by a writer's strike, have hurt the legacy of QUANTUM. And yet when it comes to a quick, in-and-out James Bond adventure, this is as close as the Daniel Craig run gets. Most fans know where they stant on every individual entry in the series at this point, but we would still argue that this one is underrated.
Craig’s run begins with Bond as a rookie. Two movies later, he’s already retired. If CASINO ROYALE is Craig’s best film as 007, SKYFALL is by far his biggest. This is the one absolutely everyone saw, whether that was thanks to enthusiasm for the series, a few great trailers, or Adele's smashing theme song, which ranks as one of the very best in the series. It has Javier Bardem playing an iconic villain in a story that is pretty straightforward by Bond standards, lush cinematography, and a moody third act that veers into being atmospheric rather than bombastic. There's a definite pattern to these movies but with SKYFALL, the Daniel Craig era offered up its second relatively original entry.
After the serious high of SKYFALL, the next chapter, SPECTRE, builds on the latter half of the Brosnan era by cherrypicking various elements from other movies in a way that doesn't quite hang together. The introduction of Blofeld to this new continuity of this era is a good idea, but making him Bond’s adopted brother is far too much like an Austin Powers parody twist, and the heavy reliance on the backstory ignores that Bond's greatest strength has always been propulsive forward motion. Still, SPECTRE delivers several great action sequences and a very cool sub-boss with Dave Bautista’s Hinx.
Over the course of 25 years, the James Bond movies have moved forward from the exaggerated action of GOLDENEYE, always wavering between gritty fantasy and outright comic book action. The popularity of "shared universe" storytelling as seen in Marvel movies has certainly influenced 007 even as prior Bond eras pull on the current movies like the moon does on tides. So what's next? We don't know! We'll find out what Blofeld is up to, what Rami Malek’s character Safin really wants, and probably learn a bit more about Bond.
All images courtesy of EON Productions, Sony Pictures, and Universal Pictures.
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