JAMES BOND MOVIES ARE AS STYLIZED as a Noh play--or should one say a Dr. No play?--and the 17th film in the series raises only one question. How well do Bond's established conventions survive after a third of a century's hard use, the post-cold war deglamourization of espionage and the arrival of yet another actor in the central role? The short answer is, on wobbly knees. But herewith some further reflections--007 of them--on a Goldeneye:
001 The Character Issue: Pierce Brosnan is not as gravely witty as Sean Connery, not as insouciant as Roger Moore and not a pompous twit like Timothy Dalton. He's a mid-range James Bond, on whom a certain self-consciousness has been imposed. He continues to register emotions mainly by arching or furrowing an eyebrow. But in the age of sexual correctness they have cut back his double entendres, and people keep telling him he lacks the capacity for mature relationships with women. Worse, he seems to believe them. What next? Sensitivity training? A condom in his wallet? Teetotaling, with perhaps a demand that his Perrier be served in a bottle, not a can?
002 The Supervillain: He may, as usual, have a superweapon trained on a Western capital, but Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), a freelance mastermind operating in today's chaotic Russia, has a dreary back story explaining how he went wrong instead of truly evil elan. Big mistake: we don't want motivation in a Bond nemesis; we want psychosis on a joyous, cosmic scale. Gert Frobe, you are missed.
003 The Supervixen: She's got the right sort of name--Xenia Onatopp (get it?)--the right sort of attitude--sado-masochistic--and the right sort of wardrobe--parodically sexy--but Famke Janssen is more aggressive than seductive. You know too soon where she's coming from--out of an abnormal psychology text.
004 The Henchman (or -woman): Oddjob, Jaws, Rosa Klebb--this is a job for grotesques. Gottfried John as a rogue Russian general looks weird all right, but he has no unique killing skills--just a sneer and a routinely itchy trigger finger. Richard Kiel, you are missed.
005 Vehicular Manslaughter: The usual planes, trains, automobiles crash and burn with noisy, deadening regularity, sending many a nameless extra to his unmourned, uninvolving and unimaginative doom.
006 M: Big switch--a sex change, no less--here. Judi Dench, the distinguished English stage actress, is now running Bond. She has a butch hairdo, a brusque Thatcherite manner and a license to kill with unkindness. She calls Bond a "sexist, misogynistic dinosaur" right to his face. There's a chic in her cheek the rest of the movie direly misses.
007 Q: He's still being played by Desmond Llewelyn as a cranky English eccentric, still making fountain pens that explode and wristwatches that do more than tell time. He's the last link to the boyish silliness that once animated this series. One wishes him good health and long life, for if, as the closing credits threaten, "James Bond Will Return," they--and we--are going to need him.