Monday, May 21, 2012

Goldeneye: how Pierce saved our (Canadian) Bacon

Goldeneye was the first Bond that I saw in the cinema and, as with so many other films in the series, it turns out that my memory of it wasn't quite what I saw, nearly 17 years later.

Perhaps it was playing Goldeneye nonstop for three years on my Nintendo 64 that papered over the flaws in the film. Maybe it was the relief at a Bond film that was neither as embarassing as late-period Moore, or as gloomy as "I'm going to burst your balloon" Dalton. Or maybe I was just very, very drunk.

One thing that immediately surprised me was how young Brosnan looks at the very start. Compared with Scarface Sean Bean, he's almost chubby, his soft face that of a spy who hasn't done a hard day's work in his life. Just larking around, jumping off dams, punching men in toilets, that sort of thing.

(Of course, Brosnan already had form for that sort of thing; in one of his first roles (The Long Good Friday) he got to play Naked Irishman Who Stabs Somebody In Communal Showers. I suppose he can't complain of typecasting. Though I've never seen Remington Steele, so who knows.)

When Brosnan gets back to London, he's got the cheeky expression of a naughty schoolboy until M tells him off. And surprise! M is a lady.

This is just one of so many massive changes to the Bond universe that from 2012 it's hard to make out how significant it was. Moneypenny gives Bond backchat. Q scolds Bond for trying to eat his sandwich. And the bastion of the old boy's club, M, is now Ms. It's as if their impending redundancy, courtesy of the end of the Cold War *and* Arnold Schwarzenegger out-Bonding Bond in True Lies, were just minor details compared to Bond losing his trusty uncle in favour of a rather cross maiden aunt.

Oh, and Brad Whitaker has been rehabilitated by the CIA. This is good, because any film that at least partly contains the Enormous Face of Joe Don Baker is bound to be improved by the over-inflated Texan loon. It also injects reality into the Bond films in a subversive way that you don't notice when you first watch. Not until you realise that JDB showing up is a statement about how the CIA foment rebellion and insurgency in countries while it suits them, and then clear off and screw somebody somewhere else as soon as they feel like it. Crooked arms dealer with a Napoleon complex? You'll fit right in to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Thus in a decade and a bit, when Felix Leiter (himself no stranger to reincarnation) is told by his boss to betray James Bond, it's nothing new; the American secret services are rotten to the core, if they can't even spot the titanic skull of Brad Whitaker, Bulletproof Bomb Merchant, bobbing around their Moscow office.

Last month, I watched all the Harry Potter films in just over a week. That's not a boast, so much as an admission. It means that when Robbie Coltrane materialises in Russia, I couldn't help wondering what Hagrid was up to. Turns out he has a fetish for Minnie Driver lookalikes who can't sing.

Aaaanyway, it's a competent film. It's not an awful Bond by any stretch, but it's not brilliant. There's a lovable braggadocio to the lunacy of the airplane stunt in the opening sequence (surely one of the most memorable stunts in all these years) and Famke Janssen is the homicidal nutjob Grace Jones almost was in A View To A Kill. But some parts (being trapped in the train, not being properly searched by the guards at the Secret Base) are just a bit too dumb. Or not true to the spirit of Bond; he gets in at least two vehicles with the female love interest, and neither time does she die. What was going on? To be fair, there is a nice spin put on this by Natalya when she asks "do you destroy every vehicle you get into?", but it's not on a level with the earlier films' vehicular fatalities. Although all those cyclists that fell over near the start (surely an echo of the ski school that gets knocked over during For Your Eyes Only) might have had something to say about that. And there's no furniture based fighting, apart from Onatopp getting chucked across a massage bench in the swimming pool changing rooms. Lucky, really. If this had been the Long Good Friday, Pierce would just have taken his clothes off and then stabbed her.

Perhaps I'm being overly harsh. It's hard to look at from this distance, when in the closing scene they wander off after Joe Don Baker suggests that "let's debrief you at Guantanamo". Back in the 90s people probably thought that was somewhere quaint to holiday in the Caribbean, not a part of Cuba where you store sleepless prisoners of the War Against Terror in shipping containers with a 24-hour-a-day Barney The Dinosaur soundtrack.

But here's the thing: this was the Grand Reinvention Of Bond. The Cold War was over, and everything would change, so who are the new enemies?

The (wait for it) ... Russians. Sigh.

I suppose that is a departure, really, because it's not like Bond is ever really against the Russians before. It's always a rogue general, whether it's Stephen Bloody Berkoff or that greasy haired freak from The Living Daylights. But don't you feel we'd sort of missed a trick here?

This wasn't just a problem for Bond, of course. In Canadian Bacon, Alan Alda finds the only way to pacify the American people after the end of the Cold War is ... to attack Canada. (He pleads with the Russians to get hostile again, but they're not falling for that sort of nonsense.) I'd explain the plot in more detail, but there isn't much to explain: John Candy is fat, there's a woman called Honey (with predictably hilarious consequences) and lots of Canadians, being nice.

Michael Moore doesn't do irony. Canadians don't do irony either, but they sort of know this, whereas Moore thinks he's making lots of valid points about how Yanks misconceive the Canucks, when in fact all he's doing is making my [Canadian] wife angry at me, as the flannelshirted dipshits of Niagara Falls insult the Tim Hortons-eating Canucks over the border.

The US Secret Service in Canadian Bacon are almost as evil as those in Goldeneye. Ok, they don't let Brad Whitaker off the hook, but they'll happily shoot any of their team if they sprain their ankle. However, they're not very fit and consequently all die while running up the Toronto Tower.

Canadian Bacon is superior to Goldeneye insofar as it has a proper threat to the world (global nuclear war - yup, nobody ever paid attention when Wargames was on in the cinema) and it's also a film that doesn't feel like it could be made today. Michael Moore is too busy being fat and angry to do comedy, and John Candy is dead. Whereas if you can find an action thriller that isn't all sudden! Jump! Cutting! Like! The! Bourne! Rice pudding! then you'll probably have an exotic-locationed, commercially endorsed Bond clone that won't be much different to Goldeneye, it's just it will have Tom Cruise hanging off a skyscraper in Dubai.

Canadian Bacon is overlong, but it has Steven Wright dressed as a Mountie. There are lots of Russians with oversized hats in Goldeneye, but no Mounties. In fact, it's hard to think of any Bond films where they visit Canada. Was Bond scared of maple syrup?

Actually, maybe Brosnan didn't like Canada, and demanded they stay away, and excise any mention of The Great White North from all preceding films too. That's why you'll never find a copy of The Man With The Golden Gun with the thirty minute scene in a herring-canning factory in Newfoundland that was originally shot; as part of Brosnan's contract, all evidence, all mention that any Bond had ever been to Canada were to be obliterated.

You can disagree with that if you like, but consider the evidence: there isn't any, because it was all wiped out. Brosnan only relented and visited Canada last year, when he got cross at one of my friends when his jacket kept falling off his chair near the table Brosnan was eating poutain at. Yes, that's how close I got to a former Bond star. I know a man who's been told by Pierce Brosnan that he needs to pay more attention to his outer garments.

And I think that vaguely disappointing anecdote is the perfect way to bring this discussion of Goldeneye to a close.


Declan said...

It actually IS Minnie Driver in Zukovsky's club. A fact I only learnt recently.

Post a Comment