James Bond must unmask the mysterious head of the Janus Syndicate and prevent the leader from utilizing the GoldenEye weapons system to inflict devastating revenge on Britain.
“GoldenEye” looks exactly like a James Bond film. It begins with a stunt (a bungee jump from the top of a towering dam). It tops that with an even more spectacular stunt (Bond chases an airplane heading off the side of a cliff, then jumps after it, free-falls, catches up with it, climbs aboard and flies to safety). In the Pussy Galore tradition, it has a villainess with a lubricious name: Xenia Onatopp.
And of course it involves a plan for world domination, and a madman presiding over a secret headquarters staffed with obedient hirelings.
So all of the parts are in place. And yet, in an important way, this James Bond adventure, the 18th (or 19th, if you count the non-standard “Casino Royale”), marks the passing of an era. This is the first Bond film that is self-aware, that has lost its innocence and the simplicity of its world view, and has some understanding of the absurdity and sadness of its hero.
One crucial and revealing scene takes place on a Caribbean beach, where 007 is enjoying an erotic interlude between scenes of death-defying mayhem. His companion is the lovely Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), a Russian computer programmer who has joined his quest to save the world, etc. But instead of sexy small-talk, she asks Bond: “How can you act like this? How can you be so cold?” And Bond replies not with a sophisticated wisecrack but with, “It’s what keeps me alive.” In the earlier Bond adventures, no woman would have asked such a question, and 007 certainly would not have provided such an answer.