Retrospectives #5: Goldeneye

Words by: Luke Hickey

Okay, who reading this has also played the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye? Cool, now that I’m addressing roughly 100% of you, hear me out: I’m not concluding that because Goldeneye was (obviously) the greatest game ever if you were a 90’s kid, it follows that the movie is the best Bond film out of all of them. All I wanna do is provide a semi-serious case for its consideration as one in light of some true facts while we celebrate its 10th anniversary as a better-than-Moonraker James Bond entry. Being a 90’s kid who slays at Goldeneye 64, I’m gonna be biased, so if you think Goldeneye as a Bond film is as weak as the Klobb is on the console version you’re probably not going to be convinced here, but I’m gonna try. For England, James.

Seriously, this fucking thing man.

  1. It brings the femme power

Despite the fact that Goldeneye continues the tradition of naming key female characters in Bond films after their sex roles (Octopussy and Holly Goodhead are just some of the instant classics) with the thigh-crushing Russian villain Xenia Onatopp, it also featured numerous scenes with women portayed confidently in roles of legitimate power as well as having the mental aptitude and intestinal fortitude to compete with (or aid) Bond. Rather than go with the existing blueprint of a shrieking, useless wallflower, Goldeneye had a Bond Girl that could equal him in the form of Natalya Simonova. An expert programmer who becomes tied to Bond through the film’s events, our first meeting with Natalya establishes her as an intelligent woman who takes exactly zero male shit.

In the film she later helps Bond on a number of occasions using her l33t hacking skillz to track down the film’s villains, the Janus crime syndicate. But it’s not only Bond’s romantic interest who crushes it as a strong, capable woman. Goldeneye contained the first instance of a woman playing the head of MI6, M, and the only person of authority that Bond had to answer to. Again, talk about the women in this film killing it as soon as they walk in. In her first piece of dialogue to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in a scene where they meet for the first time, she puts him on notice while simultaneously torching him, calling him “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. Yeeeeeesh. Imagine meeting your boss with a conversation that goes like “Hey welcome to the position now here’s all the ways you’re outdated as a person”. As with Natalya, M positions herself from the beginning as a strong, uncompromising leader sick to death of the boy’s club guffawing, and she does so with a diss on par with “No Vaseline”.

  1. The car chase, with a tank

Every action movie needs a car chase in it to be considered as one, its a standard trope at this point. Bond films have always been noted for their chase scenes, as well as the unconventional vehicles used in them (Skis and bobsleds in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, a submarine car in “The Spy Who Loved Me”). I guess when scrolling down the list of already-used ideas, one of the Goldeneye scriptwriters finally said “Fuck it, put him in a tank”.

In this scene in the movie, one of the Janus affiliates General Orumov has kidnapped Natalya with Bond following in hot pursuit through the streets of St. Petersburg. Oh, and he’s doing so with a commandeered T-55 tank. To be fair, many critics have used this as an example of Bond stunts becoming more and more far-fetched, and indeed the very act of Bond driving a tank through St. Petersburg (while being visible from the cockpit), kind of undermines his position as a, you know, secret agent. This is just my $0.02, but why in hell are you watching a Bond film if you’re after realism and a lack of cliche’s? Isn’t that what the Bourne films are for? Plus, he’s driving a TANK. A heavily-armoured, weaponised middle-finger isn’t good enough for you, you fun-hating numpty? Do you eat pizza with a knife and fork too? Ugh, some people you just can’t reach.

  1. Sean Bean is one of the most memorable Bond villains, ever.

Now here’s where I’ll make some concessions. Bond films that premiered pre-fall of the Iron Curtain had the best Bond villains, where they were at least partly influenced by the real-life context of the Red Menace. The fear put on Western capitalist society by the Kremlin and domino theories of communism was reflected in some all-time villains created by Hollywood. The SPECTRE organisation, Ernst Blofeld and Rosa Klebb are highly regarded as some of the greatest Bond antagonists whose portrayal were undoubtedly influenced by the Western view of socialism at the time. Hell, even the ludicrously over-the-top bad guys of the time like metal-mouthed Jaws and hat-thrower Oddjob are still continually voted as the most memorable henchmen in Bond movies. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bond needed to be brought into the 21st century, and so did his nemeses. Bond needed an enemy rooted in real-life context; taking over the world just because didn’t really cut it with most audiences anymore. In Goldeneye, Bond’s primary foe is Alec Trevelyan, a former MI6 ally of Bond who fakes his death in the opening prologue and later emerges as the head of Janus.

It is in this scene where Trevelyan’s true motivations are revealed that solidifies him as an unforgettable Bond villain; rather than making his scenes memorable through the use of weapons-as-clothing or a glib “No, I expect you to die” quote, he does so through a sheer force of character rooted in Britain’s dark pages of history. You see, while Alec and James were best buds (both being orphans) during their tenure at MI6, Alec had apparently never forgot what Her Majesty had done to make him so. Trevelyan’s parent’s were among the thousands of Cossacks who had fought against the USSR during the war and, once in Britain’s care, were “escorted” back to their homeland to face Stalin’s death squads and gulags. Even while rising through the ranks of MI6, Trevelyan had never got over the betrayal that made him an orphan, and slowly formed his plan to set England’s economy back to zero with an electromagnetic pulse targeting banks, stock markets and criminal registries.

Making a complex Bond villain with personal, ideological motivations as opposed to the usual endgame of world conquest was a bold move for the franchise, but it absolutely pays off in Bean’s portrayal as Alec Trevelyan.