Bond: The Brosnan Years (1995 – 2002)


He’d been destined for the role for a long, long time, or so it seemed, and when Pierce Brosnan was announced as the next incarnation of Bond I don’t remember anyone having any reservations. Okay, a few people may have thought he was a bit too smooth but James Bond could do everything he needed to do while remaining unflappable and well-dressed so that wasn’t exactly a big strike against him. Of course, it seems to be a bit of a recurring theme in the world of Bond that actors almost get the role before circumstances get in the way to delay their debut but it’s rarely felt as if everything came together more fortuitously than it did for Brosnan. Or perhaps that’s just because I remember it all so well. It was THE big Bond franchise moment in my young adult life. But maybe there’s a bit more to it. Maybe the other new cast members, some appearing for just this movie and some sticking with the series for a number of adventures, also helped to raise the levels of optimism. Maybe Martin Campbell as director was such a daring choice that fans sensed this chapter of the 007 story was bound to at least be an interesting one. Maybe, and I suspect (sadly) that there is at least some truth to this, fans just knew they would be happy to enjoy anything that moved away from the grittier violence of the excellent Licence To Kill. Whatever it was, Brosnan owned the role from his very first appearance. The movies may have been a real mixed bag but his performance as 007 was always top class.

GoldenEye (1995)

It may not quite hold up nowadays as the amazing, reinvigorated Bond that it was at the time of release (and, let’s face it, part of that is down to director Martin Campbell and his even greater success with Casino Royale) but GoldenEye remains a superb Bond movie and should also be highly praised for leading to the creation of one of the best First Person Shooter games of all time.

Pierce Brosnan fits the persona of Agent 007 as if he was born for the part. Mixing the twinkly-eyed mischief of Moore with the harder edge of Connery, he makes for an easy to like leading man who seems capable of the antics that make up each instalment. This time around, Bond is dealing with some crisis caused by the misappropriation of the powerful, titular device. He is being helped by Natlaya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), a fesh-faced M (Judi Dench) and the pleasingly familiar Q (Desmond Llewelyn). To make things interesting, however, he is being hindered by people trying to kill him with the lovely Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) being the most memorable. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the beautiful and deadly Onatopp deserves a spot near the very top of the list of great Bond villains.

The nicely updated theme tune, the impressive stunt work, the cast of colourful characters (Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cumming all do well in their roles), the way in which Bond is brought slap bang up to date with material that both criticises his methods and yet also embraces them – this is the perfect way to overhaul a long-running franchise and GoldenEye holds up as both the best Brosnan movie and also one of the best Bonds with a sharp script and great direction from Campbell. It’s just a shame that I hate Tina Turner or I would also have enjoyed the belter of a theme song.

The new M (played by Judi Dench) retains the essence of the character while making it all feel completely fresh, very possibly, perhaps, due to the new gender and she is invaluable in helping to act as the voice of an audience that wishes to see Bond doing what he does best without being seen to endorse, as critics would have it, antiquated and misogynistic ideals. The new Moneypenny (played by Samantha Bond) hangs around to keep some tradition but is completely superfluous. Thankfully, the new Q is the same as the old Q (played by the wonderful Desmond Llewelyn) and that’s one constant element people are happy to see throughout most of the franchise.

Brosnan is superb and instantly at ease in the main role, as I’ve already mentioned, while the supporting cast are uniformly excellent. Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen are both beautiful women even if they’re on different sides of the fight. Sean Bean is very good, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cumming have fun and Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Samantha Bond, Michael Kitchen and others all give solid turns. Even Minnie Driver pops up in a teeny tiny cameo as someone who doesn’t have a great singing voice.

Even in a world of Bourne films and Mission: Impossibles it is, thankfully, still all too easy to believe that nobody does it better.

MAIN THEME SONG: Goldeneye performed by Tina Turner

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

He who controls the media, controls the masses. I’m not sure if that’s exactly the right saying but if not then I expect it’s close enough and it sums up what Tomorrow Never Dies is all about. This Bond movie is a lot of fun and it’s just a shame that it suffers from having such a weak villain with such a poor goal (in cinematic terms).

Jonathan Pryce plays media mogul Elliot Carver, a man who serves the news to the masses but wants to take things one step further. He wants to make it happen. He aims to do this by manufacturing international incidents that will then, somehow, give him more territory to cover. Luckily, Bond is on the case. Unluckily, added tension comes from the fact that Mrs. Carver (Teri Hatcher) was a former conquest of Bond. Nicely developing the thought that was given a line in GoldenEye – “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed… or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the dead ones you failed to protect” – this movie adds a very personal element to the whole adventure but still finds time to include some absolutely eye-popping action.

Director Roger Spottiswoode really has an easy time of it here. The pacing is great, the script once again highlights what viewers love about Bond without forgetting to at least hint at some negative consequences of his lifestyle and the cast are superb across the board. Brosnan was born for the role, there’s nothing to complain about there, while Judi Dench easily reinforces the good qualities there in her characterisation of M, Jonathan Pryce may be playing a weak villain but he does so with the relish that the role calls for, Teri Hatcher is, well, just a favourite of mine anyway and the excellent Michelle Yeoh gets to work with Bond in one or two stand out moments. Gotz Otto is the muscular henchman but the biggest impact is made by the great Vincent Schiavelli, playing a classic Bond baddie who takes no small amount of pride in his consummate professionalism.

Personally, and I know that many others disagree with me here, I also feel that this has one of the best gadgets featured in the more modern Bond movies. The BMW, with all of the added bells and whistles, is stylish and cool and one of the toys given to Bond over the years by Q (Desmond Llewelyn) that gives me a real sense of boyish wonderment and envy, which embodies the essence of the Bond adventures to me. They’re not always just about the gadgets and cars, of course, but they do always instill that curiosity and envy in those who wish they could have such globe-trotting thrills without getting themselves killed in the process.

There are very few specifics that I can point out to criticise Tomorrow Never Dies. I think it’s a very good film but it’s just, sadly, completely undermined by a weak villain and doesn’t make the most of Yeoh and Hatcher. Oh, it also has one of the weakest opening sequences that I can think of but that’s soon forgotten when the movie hits its stride.

MAIN THEME SONG: Tomorrow Never Dies performed by Sheryl Crow

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Starting off with a bit of intrigue and action before diving headlong into an absolutely brilliant high speed chase along the Thames river, The World Is Not Enough is a solid Bond flick from start to finish. In fact, the more I think about it, the more i realise how stupid I was for those many years when I often dismissed it as a weaker effort.

The title comes from the Latin motto, “Orbis non sufficit”, which is also the words that accompany the Bond family coat of arms and this is quite fitting due to the ways in which the film uses on a number of interesting elements to both push forward an interesting plot and also anchor the series firmly, but not in a heavy-handed way, to the history of the entire franchise.

Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) is an oil heiress who Bond is assigned with protecting from her former kidnapper, Renard (Robert Carlyle), but while she is proving to be quite a distraction Bond also uncovers a nuclear plot and quickly finds himself wading in ever-muddier waters.

The biggest problem with The World Is Not Enough is Denise Richards. Oh, she’s pretty to look at, at least I think so, but putting her in the role of nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones is too much of a stretch for anybody to buy and I don’t blame them. Richards doesn’t convince at all and her character is a very weak one. Never mind though, the rest of the cast are excellent. Brosnan = Bond. Sophie Marceau is superb and she’s given one of the most interesting female characters to have stepped gracefully into the Bond universe. Robert Carlyle is suitably menacing as Renard and Robbie Coltrane gets to enjoy reprising his character from GoldenEye. Judi Dench and Samantha Bond are still doing fine while Desmond Llewelyn sets up the baton pass to John Cleese – this was his last film in the series and he passed away in 1999 (R.I.P to the man who will always be Q to so many).

There are so many great moments in this film, helmed by director Michael Apted, that it’s hard to pick out just one. A pulse-quickening speedboat chase along the river Thames that ends up at the Millennium Dome is included in a first act that sets the bar high for the rest of the movie. Somehow, the rest of the movie manages to stay at the same level. There is another excellent skiing sequence to add to those that have come before, an attack by helicopters wielding deadly circular saws and a finale on board a submarine with a nuclear reactor that could go into meltdown if Bond doesn’t save the day. That’s not to mention the smoke and mirrors that our hero has to barge through as he endeavours to find out just how is the one behind the grand scheme – Renard or someone above him giving out the orders?

This is all that you want and expect from a Bond movie on a big scale. Okay, remove Denise Richards as Christmas Jones from the mix and this is all that you want and expect from a Bond movie on a big scale. There are some amusing one-liners, great stunts, groan-inducing double entendres, a fantastic villainous scheme and even some real drama that reminds viewers that, no matter what he can achieve and how cool he always tries to be, Bond is still also a human being with some attachments to people in his life.

MAIN THEME SONG: The World Is Not Enough performed by Garbage

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Die Another Day (2002)

Hmmm, I used to like Die Another Day despite protests from people who around me who were trying to convince me to see sense. I even liked the song by Madonna. So I went into this rewatch with some optimism. This was going to be an enjoyable couple of hours, the movie possibly even improved by my rewatch of the entire franchise which would allow me to pick up on all of the references and homages to the past adventures (apparently, the film contains nods to the previous 19). Instead, I finally started to see why so many class this as one of the worst Bond movies.

I still like many moments in Die Another Day. I’ll say that right now so that anyone reading this can get their anger levels right up to maximum level and keep them there for the rest of this review. The movie begins with a decent action sequence that then sees Bond caught and tortured by enemies. He knows the protocol and he doesn’t expect any special treatment so he’s surprised when a deal is made to gain his freedom. It turns out that the deal was made because information was being leaked from somewhere and the government couldn’t be sure that cool, calm and collected Mr. Bond hadn’t cracked under the intense pressures applied to him. Once he is freed, and he’s had a shave, Bond rushes off to get to the bottom of things by investigating the rich and suspicious Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), the lovely Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), the even lovelier Jinx (another agent, played by Halle Berry) and the moody and most probably dangerous Zao (Rick Yune). His investigations lead him to a conclusion that is somehow connected to the development of an impressive space weapon named Icarus.

What works about Die Another Day? The cast are almost all very good although I’ve never been much of a fan of Halle Berry. Okay, the main cast with the exception of Halle Berry, are very good. It’s a blunt but honest appraisal. That opening action sequence is a beauty and the movie has one or two other big set-pieces that should please viewers. There’s also an absolutely astounding set for the second half of the movie, an “ice palace” structure that makes for a memorable locale.

What doesn’t work then? That theme song. Again, I must admit that I don’t think it’s all THAT bad but I do now agree that it’s not all that good either. The invisible car is one of the most annoying gadgets that Bond has ever been given and the gadgetry scenes also don’t have the same feel to them with John Cleese taking over the role of Q. Cleese is okay, I suppose, but he’s just not Desmond Llewelyn. Only Desmond Llewelyn could be Desmond Llewelyn so perfectly. And then we have the CGI moments that still make fans shudder to this day when you say “surfing Bond”.  It’s bad. Actual hurt-your-eyes bad. Director Lee Tamahori either doesn’t put things together as he should or, perhaps, wasn’t given the right parts needed to make a memorable Bond. Instead of a main Bond girl he had to force Halle Berry upon us (I’m sure that many male viewers didn’t mind that aspect but I did). Instead of a cool and unflappable Bond he had to start things off by making our hero a temporary POW. Instead of a fun romp he had to give us . . . . . . . . . this.

I’ve not been too harsh on the movie but I guess the thing to bear in mind, if you’ve never seen it before, is that I can’t think of too much to really praise about the thing and I am one of the few to like it. It’s average, or maybe just above average, but the worst thing about it is that it would be the last film in the franchise to have Brosnan in the leading role. He deserved a much better send off than this.

MAIN THEME SONG: Die Another Day performed by Madonna

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

Artwork by Matthew Harrower.

  1. Tue Sorensen says

    Die Another Day is definitely the weakest of them. But I think The World Is Not Enough may be the strongest of the others – but I need to rewatch GoldenEye. I do remember than one as a positive surprise.

  2. Tue Sorensen says

    Actually, I meant Tomorrow Never Dies, not The World Is Not Enough… I’m a big fan of Michelle Yeoh.

  3. Kevin Matthews says

    Yeah, Michelle Yeoh is kickass. I just wish that she’d been given a bit more screentime but she was allowed to be a pretty tough “Bond girl”.

  4. Tue Sorensen says

    Under the circumstances, I thought she had an amazing amount of screen time! She was in the entire last half of the movie, virtually. Wasn’t she? Well, I gotta rewatch it soon.

  5. Kevin Matthews says

    It didn’t feel like it at the time but, thinking back, you might be right. She’s certainly beside Bond while they aim to bring down the villain(s).

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