James Bond, agent of change

The Bond franchise requires new variations on old themes. Like Judi Dench as M. By Adam Mars-Jones

The name's Bond. Samantha Bond. She plays Moneypenny in Goldeneye, but she's only one of the women in the movie who sets limits to the actions and assumptions of the hero. Moneypenny says sweetly that some day Bond is going to have to make good on his innuendo, but M is more forthright, describing him to his face as a sexist misogynist dinosaur and a relic of the Cold War. In the role, Judi Dench gives Stella Rimington a masterclass in how to be head of the Secret Service without looking like a power-dressed bunny rabbit. M comes up with a positively deadly comeback to one of Bond's weaker sallies, by referring to experiences way outside of his range: "If I want sarcasm, I'll ask my children, thank you very much."

Even the film's love interest (or "Bond girl" in the language of the franchise), Izabella Scorupco playing Natalaya, doesn't spend the whole time cowering. Her computer skills materially advance the plot, and she gains confidence over the course of the film. She denounces Bond for his coldness, and even interrupts an interrogation when it becomes heated by telling Bond and the Russian defence minister that they're behaving like boys with toys.

In fact Goldeneye proves that the dinosaur can change his spots. Although M criticises Bond's cavalier attitude to human life, we see no unprovoked bloodshed - hardly any blood at all, come to that, despite a hefty body count, as the film is calibrated for a 12 certificate. There isn't a lot of sex, either, though innuendo levels are high. The title tune may be a big brassy Tina Turner number, but the song over the closing credits is somewhat in Sting manner. It's called "The Experience of Loving".

Franchise - a word used without embarrassment in the press kit - is exactly the right description for the Bond films. You don't want to tamper with a successful formula, but you daren't repeat it exactly without risking Roger Moore - I'm sorry, I meant to write boredom. But while McDonalds can turn out a constant product and merely alter its advertising to address consumer worries - freshness, nutritional value, environmental responsibility - the Bond franchise has to come up with new variations on old themes.

Some formula elements recur unaltered: Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the tedious boffin. That hallowed piece of montage in which the viewer is shot by Bond while unwisely attempting to hide in a spiral sea shell. A pre-title action sequence that uses up 17 per cent of the film's special effects and stunts budget. A title sequence featuring many naked women in an abstract landscape of kitsch eroticism.

The most interesting development is the way characteristics that used to belong to the hero have been redistributed, as the ideological kaleidoscope shifts, to a female villain. Famke Janssen, playing Xenia Onatopp (joke names used to be the hallmark of the Bond girl, but now even that element has been shifted), is sexily predatory and ruthless. She gets to deliver the post-violence wisecracks that were always the feeblest element of the films (though Schwarzenegger likes them so much he incorporated them into his franchise): after she's fired a machine gun at a ventilator to kill anybody who might be hiding there, she says: "I had to ventilate someone." Xenia Onatopp even gets to do the smoking. She smokes cigars.

Goldeneye makes a vague attempt to reformulate its politics after the end of the Cold War. In practice, this means shaking the historical kaleidoscope and making Star Wars a Russian rather than an American enterprise, and a workable technology rather than a defence budget scam. The Russians have a device fired from a satellite that can destroy all electrical equipment over a huge area, and now someone has stolen it. So the villains tend to be Russians, as in the good old days, but now they're gangsters and renegades.

The dialogue contains references to Siberian separatists and the "flea- market economy", and the screenplay includes a scene set in a club where Russian lovelies in cowboy gear grind out "Stand By Your Man". But you wouldn't know from Goldeneye that anything was disintegrating socially, or that huge tracts of the ex-Soviet Union weep fall-out and pollution. The film's idea is closer to the current advert which shows Tatiana in her dacha checking tractor prices on her computer - samovar and software in perfect harmony.

Rather bolder is a plot strand suggesting that the villain's motive is revenge on a British government that in 1945 sent the Cossacks back to Stalin, despite its assurances to them. It's odd to have Bond acknowledging that this was a dark moment of our island story, just as it's odd to have him examine the new-generation BMW that Q issues him with no mention of its foreign origin. Perhaps in future films he will murmur "for the European Economic Community" rather than for "England" as he unleashes his latest bout of mayhem. It's a tricky business, trying to modernise Bond's patriotism without making it dissolve altogether.

Martin Campbell directs fluently and even with flair. A sequence of a tank chase in St Petersburg at about the halfway mark is probably the high point in terms of action - old-fashioned but undeniably exhilarating. The script, by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein from a story by Michael France, is never stupid and leaves little dead time between excitements.

Pierce Brosnan turns out to be well suited for the role of Bond. Of course, to think that the film couldn't be made without him would be like saying that McDonalds would stop making burgers if it couldn't buy one particular cow. But he doesn't suffer from Connery's moral impatience with the role, Moore's suave floundering or Dalton's nagging superiority to the acting assignment - his inability to forget he had played Antony to Vanessa Redgrave's Cleopatra. Connery was the definitive Bond because he was both a real actor and a real star, however little he liked the character he was playing. Brosnan's performance works because, paradoxically enough, he isn't quite either an actor or a star. There's no sense of power held in check, of unused resources. Still, he walks lightly and confidently in those bespoke footsteps.

n On release tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living