Actors and Allies
Brosnan's Bond in GoldenEye is darker than Moore's, but jokier than Dalton's, which means that he's essentially playing the Connery version. He's tough, but not taking things too seriously. On the other hand, some things that Dalton winked at - like ordering his special martini - Brosnan plays totally straight. It'll be interesting to watch the rest of the Brosnan films and see how well they can keep the balance between darkness and humor. My memory is that they don't do it as well as GoldenEye.
Not that GoldenEye has it perfect. For example, it can't find the right tone for Bond's relationship with Moneypenny (now played by Samantha Bond). Their scene together starts off pretty dark, with Bond's "flirtation" coming across more like sexual harassment. It's not that Brosnan's Bond is actually doing anything different from his predecessors; it's all in Moneypenny's reaction to him. She's barely tolerating him and eager to brush him off, which makes his jokes and innuendos seem unwanted.
That might be because she doesn't want to be in the office in the first place. It's after hours and she's dressed for a date, so maybe she's just irritated and taking it out on Bond. She does end up playing along with him by the end of the conversation, but is that just her going back to a banter she's used to? Or is she worn down by his nuisance?
Her being in evening wear isn't much of a clue. It's nice to know that she has a life outside of pining for Bond, but we don't know anything about the person she's going out with. Could be a first date; could be a night out with her sister for all we know. Unfortunately, we don't have enough to go on from these versions of Moneypenny and Bond yet.
Bond comments that he's never seen Moneypenny after hours. That reminds me of an interview that Lois Maxwell once gave where she talked about a backstory that she and Connery had created for their characters. They'd decided that Moneypenny and Bond had dated briefly while coming up through the ranks, but once they reached a certain level they realized that continued dating wasn't going to work. It was a mutual decision and that explains their easy flirting. Brosnan and Bond (Samantha, that is) don't have that kind of rapport and it's right there in the script that they don't. We'll have to keep watching the series to get a baseline for what kind of relationship they're supposed to have.
On to the more important woman in Bond's life, casting Judi Dench as M was a genius move. It puts a huge spotlight on Bond's attitudes about women, which was sorely needed if he's going to be a character that modern audiences can take seriously. More than just that though, Dench's M and Brosnan's Bond have an additional layer of conflict thanks to fundamental differences in their opinions about how espionage work should be carried out. She relies heavily on analysts (Bill Tanner refers to her as "the evil queen of numbers") where Bond is all about hunches and instinct born from experience.
It's manufactured conflict that doesn't pay off in a big way, but it does bring out a great conversation between the two of them. Explaining her methods, M gives Bond a speech about having the balls to send him to his death, and she means it too. Trusting the analysts isn't the same as playing it safe. But she's also not completely cold. As she dismisses him for his mission, she orders him to "come back alive" in a way that's extremely motherly. That's not a sexist thing. Bernard Lee was just as much the parental figure to Bond (as was the literary M), so Dench is carrying on an important tradition. She has something to prove in this introduction to her, but as we get to know her, she'll be just as strong as Lee. More so, because she'll be less enigmatic than he was. The weird M turns out to be Robert Brown, who was more cold and accountant-like than Dench by a long shot.
I love GoldenEye's intro to Q. When Bond arrives in Q-Branch, Q is looking frail and especially elderly in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg. Bond asks if it was a skiing accident (of course he would guess that) and there's a gleam in Q's eye as he fires a rocket from the cast and corrects Bond: "Hunting!" Then he stands up and starts the briefing. Desmond Llewelyn is in top form, as he was in Licence to Kill. Probably my favorite line of the movie is when Bond picks up a sandwich from a table and Q yells, "Don't touch that!" before adding, "That's my lunch!" It's a stupid line, but Llewelyn's timing on it is perfect.
Bond has a couple of field allies in GoldenEye, starting with Jack Wade. It's a much better role for Joe Don Baker than Brad Whitaker was in The Living Daylights. Wade is sort of a cross between Felix Leiter and Dikko Henderson from the novel You Only Live Twice. He's laid back like Felix, but in a crude way like Dikko. I like him a lot. My only problem with him is resentment that the Bond series had so screwed up Felix that the only way they could see to make him memorable was to replace him with a whole new character.
The other ally is Zukovsky, played by Robbie "Hagrid" Coltrane. I like that he and Bond already have some history and a shaky relationship, but the best thing about him is his karaoke-singing girlfriend, played by Minnie Driver just before her career took off.
"Head to toe," in response to Wade's paranoid question about the Russian Natalya, "Did you check her out?"
"One rises to meet a challenge," to Xenia Onatopp's expressing that she hopes he's more talented in bed than at cars or cards.
The gadgets are low-key in GoldenEye. Q pimps out Bond's BMW, but none of the tricks are ever used. All we get are some personal items. The laser watch is right out of Never Say Never Again and the explosive pen isn't super exciting either, even though it's used in a crucial moment. I do like the piton and rope built into Bond's belt, but it's not cool enough to crack my Top Ten either.
Top Ten Gadgets
1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
6. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
7. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
8. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
9. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
10. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)