Licensed to thrill
IT would not be the end of the world if James Bond was killed off as a viable film franchise, but it would be sad. Timothy Dalton's two outings as 007 all but terminated Bond's licence to kill and it is a considerable surprise - and relief - to see Goldeneye, the 17th Bond film, rescue the 'sexist, misogynist dinosaur' from the movie scrapheap.
The success of Goldeneye is not completely down to 41-year-old Pierce Brosnan's debut as the Martini-swilling super-sleuth - he is the fifth screen incarnation of Bond, after all, so what is left that is new to play? He is aided by a snappier script, very smart direction from Martin Campbell, and a healthy willingness to take a light-hearted swipe at the myth.
This Bond certainly isn't poker-faced, like Dalton - and Brosnan wisecracks his way through Goldeneye at a rate Arnold Schwarzenegger's writers must be eyeing enviously.
The jokes are corny, it should be said, but Goldeneye takes such a mischievous tongue-in-cheek approach, they work a treat. The action is excellent - surprisingly top-notch for a US$50 million production (about HK$386 million) - and proves that this British film (backed by American money) can hold its own against True Lies, Die Hard or Lethal Weapon any day, for half the cost.
In fact, Goldeneye is one of the most good-natured action films to grace our screens in quite some time - there is nothing mean-spirited, vulgar, coarse or unnecessarily violent about this Bond.
It is just clean, escapist fun, bringing us back to where action films should be. And to give Brosnan his credit, he assists this overall mood with a languid raised-eyebrow, brushing off the worst twists of fate with a flick of his Savile Row cuffs. Oooh, James! The plot - for what it is worth - practically bursts out of the frame with an amazing pre-credits bungee-jump sequence and Bond's crazed leap off a cliff into a free-falling aircraft which makes you sit up and realise a good time is about to be had by all. James, of course, is the good time who has been had by many - whether it be a lascivious Russian temptress (Famke Janssen, really making the most of a Bond girl role) who kills her victims by crushing them between her knees, or the slightly more anaemic computer programmer (Izabella Scorupco).
Bond becomes embroiled in a plot to arm the world's only remaining rogue satellite and nuke Britain, a quest which takes him around the globe and into contact with 006 (Sean Bean), the Russian arms mafia (headed by Robbie Coltrane as Valentin), the steely new M (Dame Judi Dench, who delivers the 'dinosaur' line with great aplomb), a sexy Moneypenny, the casino in Monte Carlo, and, of course, on his back with both Bond girls.
This James Bond, it must be noted, is not averse to product endorsement - spot it for yourself, but a sequence about watches must be the most obvious movie plug in recent years. But you cannot blame Goldeneye's makers - with Bond's chequered box office record in recent years, it was important to get the budget covered.
However, we can all relax now, because Goldeneye has made a mint in America and Brosnan is set to reprise the role in two more pictures.
Take him or leave him, Bond has always been a hoot and now Savile Row can rest assured that, this time, he is definitely back.
Goldeneye opens on December 21 on the Panasia circuit