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
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
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.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?