Basically, I'm of two minds about this fast and funny film. Part of me had a blast. The most audacious moments of Goldeneye -- James dives off a cliff to catch a plane, levels St. Petersburg with a stolen tank, etc etc -- defy your suspension of disbelief in a way that recalls that other expert slugfest of 1995, Die Hard With a Vengeance. Director Martin Campbell's overtly theatrical action scenes are quick, coherent, and easy on the eyes (before they let Joel Schumacher direct another Batman movie, he should be forced to study the work film editor Terry Rawlings pulls off here). The women are beautiful, effective, and intercontinental -- Dutch bad girl Famke Janssen is fully sexualized by brutality, and Polish good girl Izabella Scorupco actually saves Bond's ass in the final reel (but not before the filmmakers have coaxed her into the movie's single bikini).
The best performance probably comes from Judi Dench, who effectively rocks the James Bond world by playing the first female M. It is she who calls our James a sexist, misogynist dinosaur (we're meant to titter) and almost immediately softens long enough to tell him to be sure to make it back alive. Along with a few mannered lines of dialogue about "boys with toys," this explicit gender awareness (some of our best friends are women!) is meant to assure us that Goldeneye is postmodern, or something. (Actually, I loved the unapologetic title sequence which, with about a half dozen naked women cavorting among fetishized Soviet iconography, may be the most authentic Bondian moment in the whole film!)
Anyway, once we drag the concept of The James Bond Movie into this, the other part of me starts to get fidgety. No, there's nothing offensive about James Bond -- certainly not the cuddly 90s James that Pierce Brosnan delivers, and probably not even the more cavalier character of Sean Connery's glory days (these movies remain popular among men and women even in this enlightened age). But James as a concept is starting to get kind of stale and stodgy, and maybe the fact that he's no longer an incorrigible womanizer just makes things worse, since now he has even less to do when he's not holding a gun. The pre-credits sequence, which takes place before the breakup of the Soviet Union, establishes a Cold War ambience that seems to be de rigeur for any appreciation of the character. And Bond's reluctant realization, near the film's end, that he has a responsibility to himself as well as to the Crown just means that our James has been a little slow in figuring out what matters in his life.
This criticism's bound to sound pointless, a little like flying to Yellowstone to see Old Faithful and then complaining that it's only a geyser. I'll make no bones about it -- I didn't grow up with James Bond, and I'm probably the wrong person to be analyzing his character. More to the point, I grew up with Indiana Jones -- Raiders of the Lost Ark opened when I was 11 -- and my relationship with action films has certainly been informed by Harrison Ford's self-effacing portrayal of Our Hero, where Indy's humanity and the humor it provides is part of the roller coaster ride. And to me, too often, Goldeneye plays like an Indiana Jones movie that doesn't get the joke.