Bond at 50: The Pierce Brosnan Years

You may recall I wrote previously about the Timothy Dalton films from the 1980s. In the 90s, after much haggling, Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role of James Bond. He starred in four Bond movies:

  • GoldenEye (1995)
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
  • The World Is Not Enough (1999)
  • Die Another Day (2002)

I recently watched these all again via Blu-ray, not having seen them since their original cinematic releases.

I'll start by saying I was a young fan of Remington Steele back in the day, and so when these films came out, I could imagine no more perfect Bond than Brosnan, who had already proven he could do smooth and suave and so on. I remember liking GoldenEye when it came out; my dad took me to see it over Thanksgiving. Of course, watching it again now, one immediately realizes it fails to hold up over time. The computer interfaces alone are really terrible, and Alan Cumming's turn as Boris is a laughable caricature, while Famke Janssen is almost intolerable in her over-the-top Onatopp. Sean Bean, meanwhile, seems to be in some other movie entirely, the only one taking the work seriously. It really is too bad he's already had a turn as a Bond villain because he would be much better in the more current take on Bond than he was in the Brosnan years. Also, the dialogue between Brosnan's Bond and Judi Dench's M is painful.

The mid-90s, too, was still a time of working out the CGI kinks, and so many of the effects in GoldenEye are pretty awful, especially when viewed in crisp digital. In fact, throughout my revisit of the Brosnan films, I found many a cringe-worthy chroma keying.

Now, I'd always liked Tomorrow Never Dies, and I still enjoyed it upon review. Michelle Yeoh was a fine foil for Bronsan's Bond, and Jonathan Pryce requisitely smarmy as a Rupert Murdoch-like villain. Though his fakey typing really did bother me.

Can I just say, too, that I don't love Joe Don Baker's homeboy American schtick? It's quite revealing for an American to watch these Bond films, gives us an interesting viewpoint as to how we're regarded overseas. Big and dumb, but occasionally helpful, is what Baker's character suggests. A necessary evil. More money than sense. (Later, in Die Another Day, Michael Madsen is slightly more palatable though far from perfect in that he makes Americans appear intractable and somewhat more competitive than cooperative.)

The World Is Not Enough, meanwhile . . . Couldn't they have given Robert Carlyle more to do? Far too much of the film rests on Sophie Marceau, who is lovely but hardly absorbing. And if you're going to name a Bond film after his family motto, make it more about that. I mean, it's groan-inducing how the name of each Brosnan Bond film ends up as a line of dialogue. Also groan-inducing: Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones. Because "Indiana Jones" was already taken.

M, too, gets short shrift in the Brosnan years in that she's spectacularly stupid. She fails to realize Sean Bean's 006 is still alive, she fails to figure out that Sophie Marceau killed her father Sir Robert King (despite being very close to the family, though I guess we're supposed to believe it's because she so close she can't see clearly), and then doesn't work out that agent Miranda Frost—who volunteered for her assignment and yet has failed to turn in any useful information—isn't somehow working for the bad guy and against British Intelligence. Seriously, M, how have you managed to keep your job? Luckily, the Daniel Craig years are much better for her . . . At least until that "vacation" in Scotland.

But as to Die Another Day, I must say my memory of it was far worse than the film itself. All I could remember from that movie was the invisible car and the ice hotel (and then I tried to block the whole Madonna bit from memory), so I walked away with a general sense of, Well, that was stupid. But after re-viewing the movie, it is better than I remembered. Not the Madonna bit, which was still atrocious, but mercifully relatively brief. But the story itself is pretty solid, and the movie held my interest, which is more than I can say for The World Is Not Enough. Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost lays it on a bit thick once her true nature is revealed, but she's not the worst of the Bond actresses, so . . .

Next up: Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

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