When Pierce Brosnan debuted his Bond in 1995’s Goldeneye, it seemed that an ideal confluence of character, toughness, intelligence, and flair had given us the perfect twentieth century Bond. But when negotiations between Brosnan and MGM broke down, it became evident that he wouldn’t be able to join Connery or Moore in longevity, and fans would simply be able to appreciate what he brought to the table.
With a theme song by Bono and the Edge of U2, and direction from then relatively unknown Martin Campbell, Goldeneye found its inspiration from the name of Ian Fleming’s home in the Bahamas. The plot couldn’t be taken from the pages of a novel or short story, so it instead found a present day Bond exploding with action and wrestling with various criminals from previous exploits. But Bond still clashed with M (now Judi Dench) early, who claimed, “you don’t like me [but] you see me as more interested in numbers than following your instincts. I think you’re a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War whose boyish charms are wasted on me.”
And thus we’re informed that the filmmakers were aware of popular complaints about Bond, and Brosnan’s portrayal dispelled some of those critiques. Sent to Russia, he promises that he’s not on a personal vendetta but solely focused on keeping the Goldeneye technology from being used against innocents worldwide. When his journey finds him face-to-face with an old friend (now foe), he’s called a “keeper of the faith,” and accused of being more loyal to the mission than his friends. Bond seems troubled by the accusations… but not deterred.
The final battle over the Goldeneye laser is accompanied by one of the greatest critiques of Bond’s character ever depicted on screen when his enemy asks “if all the vodka martinis drown out the screams of the men you killed or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for all the ones you failed to protect?” We’re left wondering the same thing, even if the greatest question of Bond’s ethics, spirituality, and soul come from an enemy. Can he drink away his remorse, or sleep away his loneliness? The stage has been set for a more “fleshed out” Bond but Brosnan continues to play it cool.
Two years later, Brosnan’s Bond was back, investigating a media mogul who wanted to create conflict/war to make money selling the news (Wag the Dog, anyone?) Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce) and his henchman Stamper (Gotz Otto) continue the villan/henchman combo, but the plot thickens when Bond realizes his old flame Paris (Teri Hatcher) is now Carver’s wife. Teaming with Chinese officer Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), Bond sports some serious technology (remote control car, i.e.) after Carver’s torturer kills Paris.
The torturer begs for leniency from Bond (“I’m just a professional doing a job”) and the spy falls back on his professionalism in avenging Paris. Of course, in a typical Bond motif, he and Lin are captured and carry on a dialogue with Carver, who claims, “I’ll have reached and influenced more people than anyone in the history of the world, even God himself, and the best he could do was the Sermon on the Mount.” Clever, right? But it also symbolizes the megalomania of the villains that Brosnan’s Bond often confronted.
We know Bond longs to avenge Paris but his actions never prove excessive (to the degree of Dalton’s Bond in License to Kill or Craig’s in Casino Royale). He’s still somewhat debonair, cruel but not passionately overcome. There’s a cool line of anger here, but it’s not exceeded.
Taking another left turn from the “normal action director,” Michael Apted directed Brosnan’s third, and mostly forgettable, film about a billionaire’s daughter, Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), who is kidnapped by the pain-free Renard (Robert Carylyle). Bond teams with the scientist Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), leading to one of the most ridiculous post-coital lines in Bond history, as he’s assigned by M to protect Elektra. But this story hinged on some past questionable decisions the head of the OOs had made, and leads to some significant conversations between M and Bond about responsibility. Otherwise, it’s the worst of Brosnan’s plot-wise. However…
Die Another Day (2002)
A more overtly CGI Bond hasn’t been made, and since Moonraker, none of them had seemed so outlandish. A struggle over conflict diamonds in North Korea end up leading Bond to imprisonment behind enemy lines until he’s traded for a Korean agent; M calls Bond useless and questions why he didn’t just kill himself? Unauthorized and alone, Bond travels to Cuba and links up with Halle Berry’s Jinx (who at the time seemed prime for a spin-off until the movie failed to meet expectations). But he’s also tangling with Rosamind Pike’s Miranda Frost, another agent who has been exploring Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a millionaire with an ice palace in Iceland, where he controls a space laser called Icarus.
But if you can ignore the ridiculousness of the ice palace momentarily, the critique of Bond by Frost is worth noting. “He’ll light one fuse or any explosive situation; he’s dangerous to himself and others. A blunt instrument whose primary method is to provoke and confront; a man who nobody can ever get close to. A womanizer,” she bitterly remarks to M.
The CGI is impossible to ignore, but this critique of Bond, using Fleming’s words (the blunt instrument line) and society’s take on the character, seemed like it was pushing the role into a corner. Did Bond still fit in the twenty-first century?
It’s no wonder that MGM let the role lie vacant for five years afterward, notwithstanding the money issues the studio experienced. The break rivaled that of the Dalton-Brosnan divide, but it was clear that the excessive CGI and indiscriminate womanizing Bond wouldn’t completely fly with fans who hadn’t always loved the character. The final Brosnan Bond flick was the most financially successful Bond movie of all time (until Craig rose up out of the water) but it lacked the style and substance of previous tales. We’d seen the criticism of Bond’s personality but we’d never really seen a defense of the man or a solution for what ailed him.
Thankfully, the film wasn’t our last memory of the world’s most famous spy. If we’d been left there, the story would’ve been incomplete, the man would’ve gone from dry spy to debonair to cold-blooded killer to a combination of them all without really fleshing out the motivations or purpose of the man. Instead, Brosnan’s exit opened the door for the culmination of the Bond ideas in one person, as the story rebooted with Craig in Casino Royale.