James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is investigating a crime syndicate called Janus. He arrives in Monte Carlo on the trail of Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) who is a suspected member. Continuing to trail Xenia after she leaves with a Canadian Navy Admiral (Billy J. Mitchell), Bond finds the Admiral murdered the following morning. The Admiral was meant to be at a demonstration for a new high tech helicopter and it becomes clear that Xenia intends to steal it with the Admiral's identity in hand.
Talking about Pierce Brosnan first is probably the most important thing to do here. I mean you don't just replace the main actor of a huge series just like that. It's pretty clear that a lot of thought went into the selection of Pierce Brosnan and the right decision was made. Some critics seems to believe that he's an improvement over Timothy Dalton but I disagree. That's just my personal preference though, because I like all the Bonds. Each one has their own unique qualities and each one brings something new to the role. Pierce Brosnan can probably be best described as a combination of Timothy Dalton and Sean Connery.
Talking about the action, there is lots to love. The trademark opening sequence involves lots of skydiving stunts that are just plain spectacular. There's lots of gunplay throughout the movie of course but there's actually a surprising amount of kills. James Bond himself kills 47 people which is his highest body count of the series. That doesn't include the numerous kills by the villains which brings back some memories of Christopher Walken gunning down his own men in A View to a Kill.
The gunplay if you ask me is kind of weak overall though. I'm not sure if it's just age that's at play here but the shooting sequences seem too choppy and missed bullets simply look like fireworks going off. That's not to say it's terrible or anything, it's just that guns aren't GoldenEye's strong point. In terms of car chases, one involves James Bond in a tank! It gets a bit too much on the silly side with that one though.
Now in terms of the other actors in GoldenEye, you got to give major credit to whoever got Judi Dench working as M, replacing Robert Brown who in turn had succeeded Bernard Lee. She's a great tool in trying to bring James Bond back to its more original, less dark roots with Dalton but while also trying to inject some credibility. Politics had changed a lot in a pretty short while after the fall of the USSR and the casual sexism that is par for the course with James Bond isn't going to fly anymore. At least it won't fly so easily anymore.
Anyhow, the scenes with Judi Dench are just awesome to watch. Lois Maxwell who had played Moneypenny for such a long time was totally right when she suggested that there should be a female M. It was originally refused because no one thought James Bond could take orders from a woman. Boy were they wrong. I'm not sure that Lois Maxwell could've filled the role she had in mind but Dench certainly can and proves it without a doubt.
Famke Janssen as Bond girl Xenia Onatopp is pretty much as ridiculous as her name. She's definitely...er...memorable so if that was the intention, mission accomplished. Izabella Scorupco gets to be Natalya Simonova and is definitely adequate. She's convincing, she's intelligent and self-sufficient with her computer abilities but she does have a habit of maybe screaming a smidge too much.
Sean Bean as the main villain is pretty fun though. It's maybe not that big of a surprise that he turns out to be the main bad guy since he has top billing and somehow finds a way to get killed within the first 10 minutes of the movie, but still. He has some pretty good presence and his background and motivation is pretty cool. Disappointingly though, his final fight with James seems a bit too obviously choreographed. I do like Gottfried John as his lackey General Ourumov though.
I need to talk about the soundtrack though which was composed by Éric Serra. I love John Barry and his Bond scores like mad so finding a replacement wasn't going to be easy. At certain times, Serra's score sound modern and actually pretty cool, but are those times ever rare. Even back in '95, Serra's work on GoldenEye was criticized and it's pretty easy to see why. It doesn't sound like it should be the score for a Bond movie and age has just made it even worse. The best moments for Serra's score is when James is sneaking around doing spy stuff. The music sounds cold, spy-y and pretty cool. Everywhere else it comes close to ruining the scenes that it's trying to enhance.
The title song which was written by Bono, The Edge and sung by Tina Turner is just OK to me. I can't really give it more than that. Ranked among all the other title songs it would definitely be on the lower end. The opening titles which were designed by newcomer Daniel Kleinman are really awesome though. Like extremely. The design oozes cool, it goes with the music perfectly and it's what elevates the song to being OK. Without those titles, the song is totally forgettable.
So does GoldenEye successfully bring Bond into the modern world? I think it does while also retaining its classic Bond heritage. Pierce Brosnan is charming, can deliver a pretty mean one-liner but he also has a bit of a dark streak that runs inside of him. He's got a good Bond girl on his side and he's matched up against a good villain. Although the action disappoints on a couple of occasions and the soundtrack is atrocious, it's still lots of fun which is what it's meant to be in the end.