Op-Ed: Revisiting Pierce Brosnan as James Bond
Who doesn’t love Pierce Brosnan? Who doesn’t love Pierce Brosnan as Bond? Unfortunately, even the most ardent fan of the fifth 007 has to admit Brosnan peaked in his debut and suffers from an increasingly downhill, ho-hum tenure.
After a six-year delay, Pierce Brosnan’s 1995 debut as Our Man James results in one of the franchise’s finest. Ten years after 007 (Brosnan) loses fellow MI6 agent 006 Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) during a mission, the control keys to a powerful satellite code named GoldenEye have been stolen by the Janus crime syndicate. Bond must stop his former comrade from using GoldenEye’s electromagnetic pulse to steal millions – infiltrating Russian bases and uncovering skeletons in MI-6’s closet during this battle of the 00s. Hammer and sickle symbolism, communist relics, armored trains, and tanks accent the post-Iron Curtain Saint Petersburg twists while director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) provides the obligatory planes, chases, and one on one fights. The Cold War is over and Dame Judi Dench’s (Notes on A Scandal) skeptical M sizes up 007’s misogynistic out of touch ways, mirroring the nineties audience that’s wondering why we should still care about Bond. Bean’s (Patriot Games) smooth Trevelyan is the slick bane of Bond’s existence with all the charm, gadgets, and babes of his successor in another multi-layered antithesis. The supporting cast – including Famke Janssen (X-Men) as horny henchwoman Xenia Onatopp and Izabella Scorupco’s (Reign of Fire) spunky computer tech Natalya Simonova – each have their moment thanks to the intelligent heist, then high-tech gear, and explosive satellite dishes. Brosnan brings his Remington Steele suave to Bond – the perfect blend between Dalton’s edge, Moore’s humor, and Connery’s strength. His 007 has history and grudges in a world that has no need for old time spies. The cheeky script, British wit, and debonair delivery create room for his swagger, smarts, and style. Viewers believe Brosnan’s Bond can endure the past, present, and future after facing crises both personal and professional. Even if you aren’t a Bond fan, GoldenEye is a complete picture with action, performances, and stature reinvigorating the franchise.
Tomorrow Never Dies
James Bond investigates the mysterious sinking of the HMS Devonshire – orchestrated by media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) to secure broadcasting rights in communist China – while rekindling his relationship with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher) and teaming with Colonel Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Director Roger Spottiswoode (The Children of Huang Shi) and house writer Bruce Feirstein deal with seafaring suspense and claustrophobic danger in this two hour time frame thanks to British and Chinese relations, realistic naval bombardments, and mass media manipulation. Infrared women covered in circuitry for the opening titles set the cool, technological tone while urban damage and helicopter pursuits up the pace even when the handcuffs on a motorcycle and remote-controlled car chases become silly. This mission is complex, an intricate caper with global implications compared to the franchise’s previously stereotypical Asian portrayals, and prophetic talk of internet technologies and our commonplace reliance on them forgives the 1997 notion that newspaper headlines can control the world. Print media’s power has waned, but tweet misinformation and look what happens! The tainted journalism and deeper social commentary, however, come at the expense of well-developed characters with backstories lacking dimension and a screenplay that feels unfinished. Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) is a misused would be femme, quick and obvious compared to the intelligent Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). Yeoh’s martial arts skills aren’t the fulcrum of her wow, but the ladies deserved more than falling back on feminine weakness, and bland villains reveal their power hungry ways too early with no time to enjoy Jonathan Pryce (Carrington). Fortunately, Desmond Llewelyn’s disguised Q makes for a delightful debriefing, and Pierce Brosnan balances the refreshing, modern innuendo with military seriousness. Bond is in uniform for sweet interplay and perfected mannerisms, and Brosnan handles the internal heavy as well as the winking ensemble despite the film’s ultimately rushed, superficial structure. Tomorrow Never Dies is imperfect, thin on characterizations, and lacking personality despite its stars, yet it’s bleak, realistic commentary remains relevant.
The World is Not Enough
007 Bond protects Sophie Marceau (Braveheart) amid oil pipelines, ex-KGB agents turned terrorists, and stolen nuclear bombs in this 1999 entry featuring a lengthy, action packed pre-title sequence with well done assassinations, boat chases, and hot air balloons. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Bruce Feirstein’s plot starts off strong, but unfortunately, the international espionage becomes predictable and redundant fast. Kidnappings, Stockholm Syndrome, nuclear warheads, and pretty scientists meander with double talk drivel – a superficial mishmash of devices with no real analysis of the victims, oil crises, or missile intrigue. However, at the same time, this two hours is crowded thanks to the increased MI-6 at home – including Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny, Colin Salmon as Charles Robinson, Serena Scott Thomas (Inherent Vice) as Doctor Molly Warmflash, and more – yet the recurring players are also underutilized in what was Desmond Llewelyn’s final picture as Q. We’ve had bad girls and henchwomen before, but the beautiful, sexy, and should be Bond’s female match in Marceau’s Elektra King is likewise under cooked, standing out among the jetsam yet lost in the sexual angst and anticlimactic final confrontations upon multiple viewings. One time Bond director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter) should have kept the focus on Bond and Elektra’s antagonistic relationship, but time is wasted amid Robert Carlyle’s (The Fully Monty) silly villain Renard who can’t feel pain and the unbelievably ridiculous Denise Richards (Wild Things) as Doctor Christmas Jones. Despite his humor, innuendo, and quips, the bland script relegates Bond to an old, duped bodyguard. This ho-hum bowing to action and cliches misses the boat, leaving Brosnan with an overall disappointing Bond picture.
Die Another Day
Eon’s twentieth, fortieth anniversary 2002 picture and Brosnan’s final outing unfortunately goes from bad to worse as the captured Bond is tortured in North Korea amid NSA agents, revenge, and diamonds. The action within the stylized titles starts off well, but the unique opening gives way to a poor theme song, product placement, and a need to be hip that’s more important than Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s story. A hat toss or Universal Exports reference would have been enough homage, and the various music cues with interlaced Bond themes are a fine touch. However, the anniversary peppering meanders like a montage borrowing from every other Bond picture. Big explosions drown out the soft voices, and it’s tough to take the provocative Korean intrigue seriously thanks to an invisible Aston Martin, ice castles, Moneypenny’s VR sex romp, and spoiled man child villain Toby Stephens (Black Sails) stomping his foot to get his way. Rick Yune’s (The Fast and Furious) Zao is a far better villain, and Halle Berry’s (Monster’s Ball) show stopper a la Honey Ryder ends up lost in laughable CGI. Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice) is also wasted as Miranda Frost but ironically Madonna (Evita) makes sex jokes, provides villainous information, and serves her purpose in five minutes. The tongue in cheek is corny and forced while hyperbole skews Bond’s revenge, unevenly wavering between the realistic torment and the preposterous even for 007 gadgets. Nonetheless, Brosnan works the shaggy prison look as well as the suave spy charm, keeping his Bondian style on form regardless of the ridiculousness surrounding him, and he deserved better than this hodgepodge finale.