Talking Movies [Global James Bond Day]: You Only Live Twice

To celebrate the release of Dr. No (Young, 1962), the first film in the long-running series of James Bond movies (Various, 1962 to present), October 5th is officially recognised as “Global James Bond Day”. Today, this franchise stands as the longest-running franchise ever and the character is one of the most recognised and popular movie icons of all time.

Talking Movies

Released: 13 June 1967
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Distributor: United Artists
Budget: $9.5 million
Stars: Sean Connery, Tetsurō Tamba, Akiko Wakabayashi, Karin Dor, Teru Shimada, Mie Hama/Nikki van der Zyl, and Donald Pleasence

The Plot:
A disaster in space threatens all-out war between American and the Soviet Union. When renowned super spy James Bond/007 (Connery) is dispatched to Japan to investigate, he uncovers a plot that finally brings him face-to-face with Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Pleasence), the head of the terrorist organisation known as the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE).

The Background:
James Bond, Agent 007 of MI6, was created by writer Ian Fleming in 1953 and was heavily based upon his time and experiences as a navy intelligence officer. Following a very strange, comedic adaptation of his first book, James Bond was brought to life through Sean Connery’s immortal and iconic portrayal of the character, which kick-started an unparalleled cinematic franchise with the box office success of Dr. No. This led to Eon Productions producing annual James Bond films, each of which out-performed the last at the box office and was based, however loosely, on Fleming’s books. While Thunderball’s (Young, 1965) $141.2 million box office made it the most successful Bond film at the time, the production was fraught by legal disputes and, initially, the filmmakers planned to produce an adaptation of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Fleming, 1963) but switched to adapting Fleming’s eleventh Bond novel and drafted Fleming’s war-buddy and noted children’s writer Roald Dahl to pen the script.

You Only Live Twice featured an elaborate set and was Connery’s first swan-song.

Though Dahl ended up making numerous changes to the original story, You Only Live Twice retained the Japanese setting of the book, which led to some uncomfortable issues of cultural representation. The film included one of the most expensive and elaborate sets in the series’ history, a massive volcano lair designed by the legendary Ken Adam, but star Sean Connery was beginning to become jaded with the super spy and, while an increased salary returned him to the role, he would bow out after this film. You Only Live Twice’s $11.6 million worldwide gross meant it underperformed compared to Thunderball and critics bemoaned the preposterous gadgets and plot and the oversaturation of the franchise. These days, the film’s reputation is slightly more positive and Pleasence’s turn as the villainous Blofeld is regarded as an iconic aspect of the franchise. While Connery left the series after this film, he would eventually return after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Hunt, 1969) was a critical and financial disappointment and the franchise soon bounced back into prominence with the fresh-faced Roger Moore taking the role, and the series, into further success.

The Review:
You Only Live Twice begins in one of the most surprisingly oft-used locations for a Bond film, in orbit around the Earth. The Jupiter 16 spacecraft is minding its own business circling the globe as its astronauts test a new probe when an unidentified, missile-like spacecraft comes along and hijacks the ship, swallowing it up and sending astronaut Chris (Norman Jones) floating off into the infinite void. As you might expect, given that tensions between the United States and Soviet Russia were somewhat frosty at the time, accusations are thrown around at the United Nations, though the United Kingdom’s government offers a more level-headed point of view after tracking the craft’s crash-landing off the coast of Japan. This is where we catch up with James Bond…and where he’s suddenly and brutally gunned to death while sharing a bed with Ling (Tsai Chin).

After faking his death, Bond’s investigation into a crashed spacecraft takes him to Japan.

Given his status as a navy commander, Bond is buried at sea; however, upon drifting to the sea floor, his body is recovered by scuba divers and brought onboard a naval submarine. Of course, Bond isn’t really dead; the entire sequence, as explained by M (Bernard Lee), was an elaborate ruse to fake his death in order to shake off some of his old enemies (presumably SPECTRE, but it’s never really made explicit; still, it’s understandable that Bond would have made many enemies out in the field, especially with his tendency to forgo false identities and cause a ruckus). With the Americans and Soviets both planning missions into orbit and ready to launch a full-scale war unless the true culprits behind the hijacking are discovered, M stresses that time is not on Bond’s side, and 007 immediately begins his investigation. Ever the overconfident and suave ladies’ man, Bond has no need for Miss Moneypenny’s (Lois Maxwell) “instant Japanese” dictionary and walks the bustling streets of Tokyo with an assertive and polite demeanour. Because Bond films are all about spectacle, 007 of course meets with local liaison and fellow secret agent Aki (Wakabayashi) at a sumo wrestling match, where as much of the film’s focus is on depicting the pre-match rituals and the clash between the competitors as it is Bond’s suspicions at going through a middle man (or, in this case, woman) to get to his true contact, MI6 operative Dikko Henderson (Charles Gray). Aki is one of those sultry Bond Girls who appears distrustful and playful to begin with but soon reveals herself to be a capable and assertive agent in her own right; indeed, she is pivotal in getting Bond out of numerous scrapes throughout the film, and even unknowingly gives her life to save his.  

Bond makes new allies and enemies along the way, some of whom are just as won over by his charms.

Though a loquacious and accommodating host, Henderson does amusingly mix up Bond’s iconic vodka Martini (“That’s stirred, not shaken. That was right, wasn’t it?”) and is abruptly killed in mid-sentence by a knife in the back; fortunately, he was able to point Bond in the direction of Tiger Tanaka (Tamba) before his untimely death. Bond chases down and dispatches the killer and, thinking on his feet, steals his coat, hat, and mask in order to infiltrate Osato Chemicals. After obtaining documents from Mr. Osato’s (Teru Shimada) safe, Bond is rescued by the coy Aki and finds himself blundering into what appears to be a trap but turns out to be an elaborate meeting with Tanaka, a wealthy and influential figure who travels exclusively by use of his own personal subway train and discovers that Osato has been buying large quantities of rocket fuel. Furthermore, Osato appears to have ordered the death of an innocent tourist for taking pictures of a ship, the Ning-Po, which is enough to convince Bond to masquerade as a potential buyer (“Mister Fisher”) to meet with Osako. This leads to one of those traditional games of subterfuge between Bond and one of his villains where both are aware of each other’s identity or unscrupulous nature but play along with the ruse simply to keep up appearances. Realising that Bond knows too much (or, at least, is close to stumbling upon the truth), Osato orders his secretary, Helga Brandt (Dor), to have him killed. Of course, both are agents of SPECTRE, the true organisation behind the mysterious spacecraft, but their half-hearted attempts to gun Bond down in a simple drive-by naturally end in failure. When they’re attacked by a bunch of trigger-happy henchman at the docks, Bond has Aki flee in order to contact Tanaka and is left helpless and at the mercy of Brandt (or “Agent 11”) on the Ning-Po; interrogated by Brandt, Bond maintains his cover and answers with only glib remarks even when she threatens him with a number of sharp blades. With very little effort, Bond is able to seduce her but, rather than simply killing him while she has him tied to a chair, she decides to parachute out of a small aircraft and leave him to die in suitably dramatic fashion. Of course, Bond is able to pull the plane out of its nosedive, land it, and escape before it explodes with barely a wrinkle on his suit. For her failure, Brandt meets a most gruesome fate at the hands of her superior after Osato places the blame squarely on her shoulders and she ends up being dropped into a piranha pool!

Bond finally comes face-to-face with the warped director of SPECTRE, and perhaps his greatest nemesis.

Having determined that the true culprit behind the mysterious spacecraft is hiding somewhere on one of Japan’s islands, Bond concocts an outrageous plan to pose as a simple fisherman and investigate further; he manages to infiltrate the elaborate volcano lair of SPECTRE’s elusive head-honcho, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, an enigmatic and ruthless villain whose appearance had been obscured up until this point. Constantly stroking a beautiful, long-haired white cat, Blofeld is a merciless and callous man whose sole aim is to incite and profit from global discord. It was common for Bond villains to have some kind of physical deformity or tell, be it mechanical hands or an eye patch, but few have been iconic as Pleasance’s bald-headed, squinty-eyed Blofeld. Sporting a vicious scar down his right eye and dressed in a plain, grey suit, the character is the antithesis of not only Bond but also his literary counterpart (who was known for his ever-changing appearance but was also a far bigger and more imposing foe). However, Blofeld doesn’t need to be a physical challenge for Bond and is the definition of the quintessential puppet master; a genius criminal mastermind, Blofeld is both incredibly perceptive (he’s easily able to see through Bond’s disguise by recognising that he isn’t following proper astronaut procedure) and stoically ruthless in his actions as he doesn’t hesitate to punish those who fail him with death. However, like basically every Bond villain, Blofeld’s weakness is his need to boast of his superior intellect and plot to an audience, in this case Bond, which leads to him keeping 007 alive to witness his plot unfold and thus allows Bond the opportunity to defeat his plans.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of the most entertaining aspects of any James Bond film is the elaborate title sequence and song choice; Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of John Barry and Leslie Bricusse’s title track may not be one of my favourites, but its soft-spoken melodies certainly make it a memorable and haunting theme that recurs throughout the entire film. The sequence itself seems geared around establishing that the vast majority of the film will have an oriental flavour as well, which is perfectly in keeping with the themes and locations of the film, but I have to say that few of these early Bond title sequences managed to impress me and this is probably one of the weaker ones.

The film showcases Japanese society and then uncomfortably “transforms” Bond so he can “blend in”.

It’s unusual for a Bond film to be largely based in just one country and location, but Japan certainly makes for a visually interesting meshing of styles; Tokyo is a huge, bustling city full of neon lights and cloud-tickling skyscrapers and the interiors are a quaint mixture of then-modern aesthetics and traditional Japanese trappings, such as low tables, sliding doors, and an abundance of wood. I can’t really comment much on the depiction of Japanese society as I’ve never been there but it seems maybe a little uncomfortable now to see Tanaka relate his patriarchal Japanese society is; men are the undisputed authority in Japan and women are little more than their obedient servants, who not only clean their men with hot, soapy sponges and willingly massage them without question, but are also driven to distraction by Bond’s body hair and his natural allure. Additionally, Tanaka trains and employs an army of ninjas years before the kung fu craze of the early-to-late seventies, and naturally Bond is quickly able to learn their ways. Of course, it’s difficult to talk about this and You Only Live Twice without mentioning the frankly ridiculous “procedure” that Bond goes through in order to make himself Japanese; this involves dying his body, slapping a terrible wig on him, sticking ridiculous eyebrows to his face, and dressing him in a kimono. Honestly, he looks more like a second-rate Mister Spock (Leonard Nimoy) than a Japanese man and all the make-up and prosthetics of the time would never be enough to convince anyone with half a brain that a six-foot-two man with broad shoulders, covered in body hair, and oh yes sporting a thick Scottish accent could ever be mistaken for a Japanese man. Thankfully, we’re not forced to endure this absurd attempt at subterfuge for long, and it does result in the visual oddity of Bond marrying an unassuming Japanese girl, Kissy Suzuki (Hama/van der Zy) as part of his cover.  

The fights and rear projection might be a bit iffy but Little Nelly stole the show in her brief appearance.

While the film suffers from terrible, absolutely dreadful rear projection in the driving scenes, it was ahead of its time with the depiction of some of Bond’s gadgets; Aki has a video screen in her car that allows Bond to communicate with Tanaka using a transmitter but it’s nothing compared to “Little Nelly”, a speedy one-man portable aircraft that has a variety of weaponry built into it. As always, you can tell that Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is very proud of the machine by the way he talks about it and runs Bond and Tanaka through its many capabilities and, while the rear projection is still pretty terrible for Connery’s close-ups, Little Nelly is definitely a fun highlight of the film that allows for some dynamic and beautiful sweeping shots of Japan’s islands and volcanic regions. Of course, we also get to see Little Nelly’s many armaments in action when Bond is set upon by attack helicopters; the spritely ‘copter is capable of firing flame jets from its rear exhaust, boasts a machine gun and rocket launchers, and is easily nimble enough to run rings around Bond’s attackers and blast them out of the sky. Sean Connery always was a bit of a clunky, awkward brawler; he’s much better at conveying Bond’s unshakable charisma and confidence than he is at handling himself in a fist fight, but there’s something very entertaining about how his Bond can be so commanding and assertive at everything and then be forced to think on his feet and adapt to his surroundings when fighting off assailants. The result is a series of brutal, if clunky, brawls between opponents who are clearly Bond’s better yet the script demands that Bond find a way to overcome them, and he does so through a variety of means. This actually adds a layer of vulnerability to the stereotypically indestructible super spy as he’s left visibly shaken and sweaty following these brawls, but there’s no doubt that he’s far better in a shootout or in bursts of sudden, aggressive energy. One thing that’s definitely true about Connery’s Bond is that he set the standard for the character’s overwhelming arrogance; Bond is a connoisseur of foods and drink and can identify brands, makes, and even the vintage of his sustenance by taste and smell and he uses this ability to both lord his expertise and refinement above others and to impress hosts such as Tanaka with his cultivated tastes.   

After destroying Blofeld’s impressive volcano lair, Bond wins the day but fails to catch the SPECTRE head.

While the film’s model shots and miniatures are quaint and much-appreciated, they haven’t aged too well; however, thanks to some impressive and dynamic camera work, they work fantastically well when incorporated into the film’s expansive and heavily-detailed volcano lair set piece. Honestly, I feel that You Only Live Twice set the standard for elaborate villain lairs and that every single Bond film since has tried to emulate or out-do this simply overwhelming technical achievement; built into a hollowed out volcano, Blofeld’s lair has a fully functional monorail, a piranha pool, a slick, futuristic sheen, gantries, stairs, and walkways for days, and is fully capable of capturing and launching rocket ships from its launch pad. The sheer size and scope of this lair alone is worth the price of admission and it’s only bolstered by Pleasance’s chilling portrayal of Bond’s most persistent and sadistic villain and the massive firefight at the film’s conclusion that sees Japanese agents rappelling into the lair, explosions rocking the environment, and bedlam running wild across every square inch of what remains one of the most impressive sets in all of cinema. The film culminates with Bond being captured by Blofeld and meeting SPECTRE’s main man face-to-face for the first time; while the United States prepares to go to war against Soviet Russia, Bond seems helpless to stop Blofeld’s plot. However, because Blofeld doesn’t just kill Bond while he has the chance, 007 is able to see the entire workings of the madman’s control room and thus knows exactly which buttons and switches to activate to let Tanaka’s ninjas in once he gets the opportunity after using his trick cigarettes to cause a small explosion in the control room. This is all the chance Bond needs to fend off Blofeld’s men and cause a massive firefight to break out across the lair; with his base falling apart around him, Blofeld activates a self-destruct sequence and decides to shoot Tanaka dead rather than Bond. By the time Blofeld finally decides to shoot Bond, Tanaka stops him with a well-placed shuriken but, while the base is eventually destroyed and his plan foiled, Blofeld manages to elude capture. Still, a nuclear conflict between the world’s superpowers is averted (with five seconds left to go). Bond, Kissy, Tanaka, and a number of his ninjas emerge from the erupting volcano victorious and are soon picked up by a submarine, and Bond’s mission would subsequently switch to tracking down and eliminating Blofeld.

The Summary:
When I was a kid and first getting into the James Bond franchise, You Only Live Twice was an elusive film for me; all of the Bond movies were shown on television as part of a huge marathon and, somehow, I missed this one and had to pick it up on VHS later down the line. I always felt like it must be one of the best Bond films because of how often the volcano lair and Blofeld’s design and mannerisms have been parodied, and it does stand out as one of the more visually impressive and iconic of Connery’s time as the character. As much as I respect the standard he set, I’ve never been a massive fan of his films, which tend to be a bit slower and suffer from not aging too well, but You Only Live Twice is one of his that I do rate quite highly. Obviously, it’s probably the most culturally insensitive of all the Bond films; even arguing that it’s a product of its time doesn’t quite excuse Bond’s awful “transformation” into a humble Japanese fisherman, but the film has plenty of highlights that make up for this. First, there’s Little Nelly, then Blofeld’s incredible volcano lair, and finally the reveal and long-awaited confrontation between Blofeld and Bond. Their meeting is one more of tension and mutual respect and hatred rather than a massive fist fight but it’s not hard to see why the villain and his lair have become so iconic and synonymous with the franchise. Sadly, subsequent Bond films kind of made a mess on capitalising on the rivalry between the two and legal issues meant that Blofeld and SPECTRE were all but erased for nearly fifty years but that doesn’t take away from how impactful both were at the time and they really help to add an extra level of spice to an otherwise mundane Bond adventure.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of You Only Live Twice? Where does it rank against the other James Bond films for you? What did you think to the long-awaited reveal of Blofeld? Do you find the cultural insensitivities of the film awkward and what did you think to Bond’s transformation into a Japanese man? Are you as awestruck by the volcano lair as I and many others or did you find that making bigger and more elaborate sets dragged the series down a rabbit hole of ridiculousness? Which Bond actor, film, story, villain, or moment is your favourite? How are you celebrating Global James Bond Day today? Whatever you think about You Only Live Twice, or James Bond in general, feel free to leave a comment on my social media and sign up and drop your thoughts down below.

Talking Movies [Global James Bond Day]: GoldenEye

To celebrate the release of Dr. No (Young, 1962), the first film in the long-running series of James Bond movies (Various, 1962 to present), October 5th is officially recognised as “Global James Bond Day”. Today, this franchise stands as the longest-running franchise ever and the character is one of the most recognised and popular movie icons of all time.

Talking Movies

Released: 17 November 1995
Director: Martin Campbell
Distributor: MGM/UA Distribution Co. and United International Pictures
Budget: $60 million
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Alan Cumming, and Judi Dench

The Plot:
In the midst of an administrative shake-up at MI6, renowned super spy James Bond/007 (Brosnan) in drawn into a confrontation with a rogue 00 agent who plans to use a satellite weapon known as “GoldenEye” to cause a global financial meltdown.

The Background:
James Bond, Agent 007 of MI6, was created by writer Ian Fleming in 1953 and was heavily based upon his time and experiences as a navy intelligence officer. Following a very strange, comedic adaptation of his works, James Bond was popularised by Sean Connery’s immortal and iconic portrayal of the character, which kick-started an unparalleled cinematic franchise. However, in the late-eighties/early-nineties, the franchise had stalled somewhat; plans for a third picture for then-current Bond Timothy Dalton fell through thanks to legal issues and, by the time production of the seventeenth Bond film was ready to begin, Dalton had resigned from the role since he couldn’t commit to multiple films. Of course, every generation has their James Bond and, as a result, Pierce Brosnan was finally cast in the role and became the Bond for my generation. The character, and the film’s story (the first not adapted or inspired by from an existing Fleming text), was also updated to then-modern times and largely disregarded the previous films long before franchise reboots were really a well-known trope of cinema. With a worldwide gross of over $350 million, GoldenEye was a phenomenal box office success and effectively revitalised what had been a dormant franchise; GoldenEye was also a a critical hit and impressed with its contemporary sensibilities. Of course, while the film is still fondly remembered, it had a lasting impact thanks to the Nintendo 64 videogame adaptation, GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997), which is largely regarded as one of the best videogame adaptations, if not one of the greatest videogames, of all time.

The Review:
Unlike a lot of Bond movies, GoldenEye’s cold open actually plays into the films larger plot. The movie begins nine years ago with Bond and his partner and friend, Alec Trevelyan/006 (Bean), infiltrating a facility in Russia. This establishes, first and foremost, their unique relationship, which is base don a lot of witty banter and sayings, and Bond’s hatred of Colonel Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov (Gottfried John) after Ourumov executes 006 in cold blood. It’s a thrilling opening sequence, shot in such a way as to slowly acclimatise us to this new Bond (we only see Brosnan’s face after he has infiltrated the facility, building up tension to the reveal of the new actor) and to show that he’s just as bold, witty, and adaptable as ever as he’s able to commandeer a motorcycle and a plane and even pull himself out of what is obviously a deadly free fall.

Bond’s methods and attitude may be seen as antiquated but they’re no less effective.

When we pick up with Bond nine years later, MI6 is in the midst of an administrative shake-up; the new M (Dench) is a woman and is generally perceived by Bond and some of his co-workers (specifically Bill Tanner (Michael Kitchen), M’s chief of staff) to be unfit for the job due to her predication for statistical analysis rather than Bond’s more traditional, proactive methods of action. Their relationship is frosty, at best, and openly explored in a candid discussion between the two in which M confronts Bond over his judgements and isn’t afraid to tell him exactly what she thinks of him. To M, Bond is a “relic of the Cold War” whose methods are out-dated and borderline dangerous in the modern age of espionage. However, by airing their grievances to each other, they develop a mutual respect and admiration in which Bond appreciates M’s candour and M puts her trust in Bond to do what he does best and investigate the GoldenEye satellite. Indeed, Bond’s methods are a significant plot point in the film; he seduces the girl sent to psychologically evaluate him due to his lack of interest in MI6 protocol and his tendency to shoot first, ask questions later, and bulldoze into any situation, wrecking vehicles in the process, is frequently chastised by Natalya Simonova (Scorupco). Indeed, even for KPG figureheads like Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) criticise Bond for continuing to live in the past and work for MI6. Yet, as you might expect, Bond’s unique approach to his work, despite him continually being a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” gets results and, despite his critics, he is capable of subterfuge and investigatory techniques as well, as seen in his investigation into the Tiger Helicopter and Xenia Onatopp’s (Janssen) links to the Janus Syndicate, all of which are based on his instincts but turn out to be valid lines of enquiry.

While not a typical Bond Girl, Natalya shines through her intelligence and headstrong nature.

During Bond’s investigation of the devastation at Severnaya, he inevitably crosses path with Natalya, a programmer from the Severnaya facility who witnessed Ourumov and Xenia killing all of her co-workers, firing the weapon, and stealing the GoldenEye firing key for the remaining satellite. Unlike a lot of Bond Girls, Natalya is just a regular and, comparatively, unremarkable young woman; she’s basically a civilian, one who is scared out of her wits during the attack and continuously disgusted with the killing. She also questions Bond’s motives and his cold, clinical approach to his work and, as a result, provides a brief glimpse into his more vulnerable, human side. However, while she is somewhat lacking in fortitude and is held hostage a bit too often for my liking, Natalya is an extremely capable and intelligent Bond Girl: she is headstrong, ordering Bond about at various points and forcing him to take her along on his mission; her technical ability is directly responsible for tracking the location of Janus; and, thanks to her experience with the satellite, she’s able to reprogram and reposition it even despite the snide remarks regarding her ability by her former colleague, the lewd and reprehensible Grishenko (Cumming).

Xenia and Ourumov represent the Janus Syndicate and are sadistic killers.

Of course, Natalya isn’t the only Bond Girl in the film. Xenia is quite a unique femme fatal for Bond; shrewd, alluring, and intelligent, she’s no mere henchwoman and is, instead, a highly sexually charged and dangerous adversary capable of seducing men into bed and crushing their ribs with her powerful thighs. She’s also a sadist who revels in the thrill of killing, literally getting off on it at various points throughout the film, and is more than a match for Bond as an intellectual and physical opponent. The Janus Syndicate is rounded out by Ourumov himself; a traitor to his own country, Ourumov aspires of being the next “iron man of Russia” and is an abrasive, egotistical man. However, while he seems slightly unhinged at the best of times and is a pivotal antagonist in many ways, Ourumov is reduced to little more than a henchman for Janus who uses his military rank and position to acquire the GoldenEye access codes.  

Bond’s former friend and partner turns out to be a traitor looking for vengeance for his people.

As for the headman of the Janus Syndicate, the film goes out of its way to paint the arms dealer and terrorist as a mysterious and enigmatic figure who hasn’t been seen and about whom very little is known except for the fact that he’s a “Lienz Cossack”. Of course, it turns out to be Alec Trevelyan, who faked his death but has been left horribly scarred on one side of his face after being caught in the explosion at the facility. After witnessing the cruel treatment of his people and the deaths of his family after the British betrayed them following the Second World War, Alec has been scheming for years to take revenge for this betrayal, beginning with infiltrating MI6 and culminating in a plan to destroy the British economy.

Q continues to despair of Bond, who receives a modicum of field support from Jack Wade.

Of course, Bond isn’t exactly without a degree of support during his mission; as always, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is on hand to talk Bond through his new gadgets (nothing massively fancy; a belt that fires a high tension wire and an exploding pen, though Q Branch is full of fun little gags and mishaps in the background) and share some banter with him. Rather than being supported out in the field by long-standing Bond ally Felix Leiter (Various), Brosnan’s Bond is aided by Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), who is a far more jaded and pragmatic CIA operative, and is able to convince Valentin to lead him to Janus by “[appealing to] his wallet”.

The Nitty-Gritty:
If there’s a downside to GoldenEye, especially for long-time James Bond fans, it’s probably the lack of any real car-based shenanigans. Bond never gets to use any of the gadgets and gizmos Q briefs him on in his fancy new BMW and, aside from the opening car chase against Xenia, there’s no real traditional car chases or car-based action. I don’t really mind this, though, to be honest as I’m not really a car guy and my enjoyment of a film isn’t predicate don the presence of a car chase.

Bond’s mission is a lot more grounded than usual but no less global in its scope.

Plus, GoldenEye more than makes up for it was Bond’s exhilarating and highly amusing jaunt through St. Petersburg in a tank! Following a thrilling escape from the archives, Bond is forced to commandeer a Russian T-54/T-55 tank to pursue Ourumov (who has taken Natalya hostage) through the streets of St. Petersberg. It’s very much a “Bond Moment” but, like much of the film, isn’t quite as over the top as some of Roger Moore’s antics (though I’m fairly certain one man can’t drive a tank in the way that Bond does) and culminates in Bond successfully bringing Janus’ armoured train base to a halt with a single shell. In true Bond tradition, GoldenEye’s plot takes Bond all over the world; Bond’s mission takes him to Monte Carlo, Russia, and Cuba, with all three destinations being starkly contrasted to each other (he spends the majority of his time in Monte Carlo in a casino, St. Petersberg is portrayed as a cold (if architecturally beautiful) country still recovering from the Cold War, and Cuba is a lush, luminous jungle). Similarly, GoldenEye is full of practical stunts and effects, from model shots used during the destruction of the Severnaya base and the raising of Janus’s antenna cradle to actual tanks, trains, and other vehicles all being involved in explosive sequences that lend a real credibility and gravitas to Bond’s otherwise extravagant actions. In fact, the only effects scenes that are a bit questionable are Bond’s dive into the plane at the start of the film and the shot of Boris’s flash-frozen form when he meets his fitting end.

Xenia’s aggression, physicality, and thighs of steel make her a formidable opponent for Bond.

Action is paced out wonderfully, though, with plenty of shoot-outs and a fights taking place to spice things up and Bond even escaping from an impossible death trap within a helicopter. While I still don’t get why that random deckhand attacked Bond on the frigate, the towel gag afterwards always makes me laugh, and the many confrontations between Bond and Xenia are a particular highlight. Thanks to his misogynistic nature, Bond has no compunction about fighting a woman, though Xenia’s physicality and aggression is enough to put him on the back foot; in the end, he’s able to bring her to a fitting end by causing her to be crushed to death against a tree.

Janus was probably Bond’s most personal villain yet due to his close relationship with 007.

Though Bond drops a characteristically witty quip regarding this, and many of the other events in the film, GoldenEye is one of the more personal missions for Bond. Taking his name from the two-faced Roman God, and having worked alongside 007 for years, Janus is a cold, calculating, and deeply personal villain for Bond. Thanks to his background as a Lienz Cossack, Janus has a propensity for deception, betrayal, and lies and it’s clear that Bond is deeply affected by Alec’s treachery even as he tries to compartmentalise his feelings on the matter. Alec is, effectively, Bond’s dark reflection and he knows exactly how to hurt him, which buttons to press, and how to counteract his methods, immediately taking his watch, defusing his mines, and fully aware that Bond’s Achilles’ Heel is his affection for women. All of this culminates in a fittingly brutal and visceral final fight between the two as they match each other blow for blow and shot to shot (Alec even taunts Bond with the claim that he (as in Alec) was “always better”) during their climatic chase/fight across the antenna cradle. Ever since he revealed his identity to Bond, Janus continually questions Bond’s unwavering loyalty to the mission and his country rather than his friend and, in the end, Bond emphatically drops his old comrade-in-arms to his death not for England but out of personal vindication for himself.

The Summary:
GoldenEye was the first Bond film I ever watched all the way through and that is solely because of my enjoyment of the videogame adaptation. I had been aware of Bond before GoldenEye but never been that interested in the franchise but GoldenEye changed all that with its slick, stylish, and entertaining presentation and story. Brosnan was the Bond of my generation and, even now, I consider him to be one of the best; charming, sophisticated, and extremely witty, his Bond was like an amalgamation of all of his predecessors as he had the same charisma and wit as Moore but could also be gritty and rugged like Connery and Dalton (…he was also a man, like George Lazenby). The subtext of Bond being an antiquated resource whose time has long since passed is interesting and is used to juxtapose Bond’s unique, somewhat blunt approach to his work against more modern, technologically orientated times. Sadly, this plot point didn’t really appear in Brosnan’s subsequent Bond films but it did crop up again in later Daniel Craig movies and is an intriguing inclusion since it shows that, while all the technology and resources of the modern age are useful, nothing beats the good, old-fashioned, hands-on approach. GoldenEye excels through its polished presentation, memorable theme song and score, and some tremendous performances all around; Sean bean makes for an equally charismatic and vicious antagonist, one far more personal than the majority of Bond’s previous villains, who serves as a dark reflection of Bond since he was his friend, partner, and is fully aware of all of MI6’s training and protocols to make him more than a match for 007. Action and stunts are far more subdued this time around, which helps to ground the film and reintroduce Bond as a more serious and realistic character and franchise while still being over-the-top and fun throughout. Endlessly quotable and entertaining from start to finish, GoldenEye remains one of my favourite Bond films (possibly my absolutely favourite) and was a fantastic return to prominence for the character and the franchise.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Are you a fan of GoldenEye? Where does it rank against the other James Bond films for you? What did you think to Pierce Brosnan’s debut and portrayal of the character? Did you like the casting of Judi Dench as M and the subtext regarding Bond’s outdated ways and attitudes? What did you think to Sean Bean’s inclusion as the villain and his inevitable death? Did you ever play the videogame and, if so, how do you think it works as an adaptation of the film? Which Bond actor, film, story, villain, or moment is your favourite? How are you celebrating Global James Bond Day today? Whatever you think about GoldenEye, or James Bond in general, feel free to leave a comment down below.