Here’s to Pierce Brosnan
With everyone celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Bond, it’s worth pointing out that this month marks another kind of anniversary: the tenth anniversary of Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film. It’s weird in a way, to even fathom that it’s been ten years since Die Another Day was released into cinemas. I can still remember seeing it in theaters, the reactions I had to it, the reactions audience members had. I can remember dragging my dad along to my third viewing, that look he gave me during the now infamous iceberg sequence. No doubt far removed from the Bond films he grew up with.
When I first realized Die Another Day was going to be ten years old, I started planning on how to honor that film. But then I got to thinking. In the wake of Craig’s darker, grittier Bond, opinion has changed, that’s not to say people hate Brosnan now, but I think he’s not given enough credit anymore. So think of this as something of a retrospective of his era, from my perspective, and of course, my opinion of him and his films (spoiler alert, it’s a positive one).
**Bit of a warning. As I discuss the films I am going to assume the reader is familiar with them. So expect spoilers**
Before I get to Brosnan though, let me give you a bit of context on where I was as a Bond fan, when Brosnan entered the picture. For this we have to turn back the clock to sometime around 1993. I was twelve years old and on a lark my dad decided to show me the Connery Bond films (I always got the impression he considered Connery the one true Bond). Of course I became an instant fan of the films. But Connery was not enough, after Connery I moved onto Moore, then Dalton and (quite reluctantly, at the time) George Lazenby. I was obsessed, now fully considering myself a hardcore Bond fand, I just couldn’t get enough. I was still in the process of seeing all the films when I found out there was going to be a new film. This was news to me you see, because as far as I was concerned, Licence To Kill was the last Bond film ever. It never occurred to me they would make another one. Then before I knew it, TV spots started showing up (I didn’t have the Internet yet, so I never followed the production).
Goldeneye released in November of 1995. My dad took my sister and I to see it, can’t recall if it was opening night or not. I was an instant fan, Brosnan won me over the second he shows up onscreen in the bathroom “Begging your pardon, forgot to knock.” Indeed. Over the course of his four films, Brosnan would attempt to show us the inner workings of James Bond. Whether or not he was entirely successful is open to debate, but he did give us a unique interpretation of Bond, and, I realize this is entirely subjective, opened the door for the producers to explore the character of Bond himself, in the form of Daniel Craig.
As I mentioned above, Goldeneye was an instant winner in my book. Of course in the seventeen years since it released, my opinion of it has changed somewhat, but that’s not really what this is about, I’m not here to pick at Brosnan or his films, but to praise the man, for I do feel his contributions to the series are sometimes brushed to the side…especially in the wake of the next big thing (Daniel Craig). It’s important to point out, especially to those who weren’t fans till after this film, that Goldeneye wasn’t a sure bet. It had been six (long) years since Licence to Kill came out (and to rather mixed reviews). So I can understand why this was a make it or break it film. All the boxes are ticked off: action, girls, giant underground lairs that blow up. Even the DB-5 makes an appearance. And in the center of it all, Brosnan emerges as a true leading man. While I realize that it feels a bit “been there, done that” the whole scene between Bond and Xenia in the Casino is a favorite of mine. Brosnan gets to show off his cool, confident demeanor here. Which would become a trait of his Bond as his era progressed. Another stand out scene, which would show off another facet of this Bond, is the statue park confrontation between Bond and Alec. Brosnan gives Bond a sort of emotional vulnerability that would be expanded upon in the films to come. Especially his third outing The World is Not Enough, but more on that one later.
If I did have one complaint though, it’s that while Goldeneye sets up an interesting mystery for Bond to solve, it’s also a very talky picture. After the explosive pre-title sequence Bond is largely kept out of the action until a good hour into the picture. Once the action starts up again, it’s a great time, especially the show stopper: Bond chasing Ouromov through Russia in a tank. A sequence which a friend of my dad’s called “The best part of the film.” For me though, the best part of the film is the fistfight between Bond and Alec on the dish. Campbell films this fight in close quarters with no backing soundtrack. It evokes the Bond/Grant train fright from From Russia With Love. This film is always going to hold a special place in my heart as it was the first Bond cinema I viewed in theaters. I was ready for the next film, which brings us to…
Tomorrow Never Dies is a nice, solid entry in the Bond canon. I know it’s been accused of relying on action over story, quips over characters, but it never pretends to be anything else. I love the film because it’s up front about what it is, a fun action movie that happens to star a character James Bond. Ok, so perhaps that’s not giving it enough credit, the film does include another wonderful performance by Brosnan, and his two leading ladies. Teri Hatcher, playing the wife of the villain who once had a fling with Bond, gives it the ole college try, but comes off as wooden and she’s in the movie too little to really make an impact. It’s Michelle Yeoh who I really like, and feel that her and Brosnan have great chemistry together. My favorite bit with her is the is the motorcycle chase. While the chase itself is fairly run of the mill (except for jumping the copter), the way Brosnan and Yeoh play off each other is a joy to watch. Also Arnold’s score was a big deal for me back then. Coming off Goldeneye I was missing the theme, and even the token bit during the Tank Chase wasn’t enough for me. So when Brosnan first pops up in the pre-title sequence to that familiar tune, I got a tear in my eye.
While I felt Pierce turned in a fine performance in his debut film, he was still wet behind the ears. Here he plays Bond with so much confidence that Immediately bought him as 007. The plot of the film itself is a tad weak, doing another riff on familiar Bond tropes (villain plays super powers off each other in an attempt to start WW3, etc…), and yet by making the villain a media mogul (deliciously played by Jonathon Pryce) it somehow seems fresh. Less fresh is his henchmen, the blonde haired Red Grant (sorry, I mean Stamper ;)). He’s fun and Gotz Otto does the best with his role, but key character elements got cut that could have made him more interesting (his inability to feel pain, for example). Still, the fight between Bond and Stamper at the climax of the film is pretty fun. And since I’m on the subject of the end, I really love the bit where Bond saves Wai Lin (Yeoh) underwater by kissing her (this whole sequence is elevated by Arnold’s wonderful backing music). It’s a great way to close the film.
I did enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies (and still do, actually) Yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit hollow at the “action at expense of story” approach of the film. Seemed the producers felt the same way, cause with 1999’s The World is Not Enough, they changed things up a bit, and attempted to tell a compelling story that involves Bond. Now I realize this film is not everyone’s cup of tea, instead of going for overblown, the film attempts a more low key approach (with the exception of the explosive pre-title sequence). This is actually a rather small scale film, and I love it for that. In Elektra, we get both a great Bond girl, and a great villain. Obviously Sophie Marceau’s Elektra is supposed to remind us a bit of Tracy in the front half or so of the film. Apted made a big deal about how her relationship with Pierce was the center of the film, and while the film tells us it’s important, it would have been nice to have gotten a few more scenes between them just to really sell it to us that Elektra was getting to Bond in a personal way. Speaking of Bond, I think Brosnan really came into the role with this film. Watching the film again (for this article of couse), I really noticed how confident Brosnan is here. He may not have the intensity of Dalton or Craig, but Brosnan’s 007 excudes confidence. You really believe he can pull off these feats because Pierce sells it so well.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, he was a real asset to these films. A lot had been said of some choices Brosnan made in this film: touching the computer screen for example, and also the infamous “Stockholm syndrome” scene. I can’t say they bother me too much. Maybe they aren’t something that Fleming’s Bond would do, but I’m convinced they are something Brosnan’s Bond would do. He did go a long way into making Bond more sensitive, and perhaps a bit more vulnerable too. One criticism I do have of the film is that it feels edited to hell. A much longer cut was screened for test audiences (running 150 minutes or so, a good 20 minutes longer than the cut we ended up with). It’s a shame we’ll never see this cut; we’ll never know if it would have improved upon the film or not.
After three films of relatively realistic plots, for whatever reason, the producers decide to go into fantasy with Brosnan’s fourth (and final) Bond film. Realistic is not a term one normally thinks of when going over the Brosnan era, but there you have it. An EMP weapon is something that could conceivably exist. While it is a bit stretching it to suggest a media mogul would start a third World War for ratings, stealing, and then firing a missile into a major city in order to start a war is plausible. Setting off a nuclear device in the Bosphorous in order to contaminate it? Definitely. Threatening Korea with a giant laser weapon from space after your DNA is altered to turn you from a Korean into an Englishman. All the while you’re being chased by an English spy who’s driving around in an invisible Aston Martin. Yeah, they kind of threw realism out the window with this one. Whew! If that doesn’t sound like I’m slagging off the film then I don’t know, but I promise you I’m not. It may surprise some of you to know this, or not, depending on if you visit the CommandBond forums or not. But I love this film, it’s my favorite of Brosnan’s four. Narrowly edging out The World is Not Enough.
Yes it’s silly, it’s over the top in some instances, and, like the invisible car, it pushes the boundaries of the impossible, and I didn’t even mention the iceberg surfing…oh my, seems I did. But if you can get past that stuff (and I realize a lot of Bond fans cant) then there’s actually a pretty fun movie here, one that has a pretty solid performance from Brosnan throughout. People like to point out how the first half of the film is great, while it falls apart during the second half (roughly when Bond reaches Iceland). While it’s true that the tone of the film takes a sharp left turn at this point, I’ve always felt that Brosnan’s performance stays consistent throughout the film. And to me, this keeps the tone of the film consistent, even with the space lasers, invisible cars, and what have you. And that’s all it really boils down to with this one: with his performance, Brosnan completely sells the absurdity of his surroundings. Since he apparently believes it, I’m able to as well.
Walking out of the theater back in 2002, I never thought for a second that I had just watched Brosnan’s final outing. While I won’t go into what happened. I will say this: I love Craig in the role, and believe he came around at just the right time, Bond needed a shot of adrenaline, and for whatever reason Craig caused everyone to up there game. I am fairly active in the Pierce Brosnan forum here, and I’m sure some people misread my posts as backhanded jabs against Brosnan. That’s not quite true, I discuss him a lot because his era feels incomplete to me, I’m always going to wonder what a fifth Brosnan film could have entailed.
So yes, I love Pierce Brosnan, and I routinely rewatch his films whenever I need a Bond fix. I realize there are people who genuinely don’t care for his films, and that’s fine, but I think more often than not he’s unfairly dumped on, especially in comparison to Daniel Craig.
Pierce, here’s to you. Thank you for four wonderful films.