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'GoldenEye' is NOT a Reboot

Words change their meaning frequently. Once upon a time, a blazer was a navy jacket with gold or silver buttons, then it became a general term for other kind of jackets. Not so far away in time, YouTube uploads of 30-second TV spots are often rebranded them as “trailers”, which is the term used for previews running between one and three minutes in theatres before the feature film.

The word "reboot" is not an exception. In his 2009 article "To Reboot Or Not To Reboot: What is the Solution?", Thomas R. Willits applies this word from the computer science jargon to the world of entertainment. For Willits, to reboot a film or a series is to "restart an entertainment universe that has already been previously established, and begin with a new story line and/or timeline that disregards the original writer’s previously established history, thus making it obsolete and void." Thus, within the James Bond franchise, CASINO ROYALE performed this task. In commemorative articles, however, writers or editors tend to call every film beginning a new era of Bond “a reboot”. This includes Pierce Brosnan’s 1995 debut GOLDENEYE. And calling the seventeenth EON instalment a reboot is not really appropriate. Let’s see why.

We start with James Bond, the leading character. Is Pierce Brosnan’s character completely disassociated from the experiences lived by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton as Daniel Craig’s Bond (RIP) was from his predecessors? Certainly not. GOLDENEYE omits the references to how the character became the one we know, barely adding the fact –traceable to Ian Fleming's YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE novel– that his parents died in a climbing accident. But the whole film is constructed on the basis that everybody knows he is an MI6 agent, licensed to kill, bearing the 007 code number. He checks all the boxes of what Bond is known for doing: womanizing, driving expensive cars (Aston Martin DB5 and BMW Z3, for a change), and fighting enemies with nefarious plans against the West. He has his drink “Shaken, not stirred”. There is no novelty in that, no explanation for the newcomer to the franchise. It takes you to have some previous knowledge about who Ian Fleming’s creation is and many of us didn’t know or care that his drink was actually a preparation made of vodka, Kina Lillet and Gordon’s Gin.

The first time we see Bond, he infiltrates an illegal facility in the Soviet Union, circa 1986, which defines the type of job he is usually required to do. Interestingly, the mention of the death of Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix –coming from friend-turned-foe Alec Trevelyan– sheds more light on the personal life of a character not know for opening up about his origins, whose basics were defined 33 years before the release of this film. There are two subtle connections to previous adventures like LICENCE TO KILL and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, too. The new M warns Bond not to run on some kind of vendetta (which he did in the 1989 production) and Trevelyan mentions the women “he failed to protect” (an obvious reference to the death of Bond’s wife in the hands of the enemy, as it happened in the 1969 film). Therefore, GOLDENEYE only aims to identify Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the Bond we have always known, not trying to make you forget the previous actors. Yes, this is the same Bond who was given the Order of Lenin in 1985, who fought Red Grant onboard the Orient Express in 1963 or who went to space to stop Drax from launching those gas globes in 1979. As for the age, he has always been a timeless character who mysteriously doesn’t get old.

Our second clue appears when Bond visits the MI6 Headquarters and sees the usual team: M, Q and Moneypenny. We are never told who they are, nor does Bond meet them for the first time. We take some time to understand what their role in the story is, and how they get along with 007. For the avid Bond fan, or for the audiences who understand how the office dynamics in the Bond films tend to be, this is the usual drill with a slight variation: this time, Moneypenny is rather cold to his advances. She mentions she is dating someone, that she will not wait for an international crisis to “dress up and impress James Bond” and that his flirting could be considered “sexual harassment”, something that will be punished with “making good on his innuendos”. This time, a new actress is playing M’s secretary (Samantha Bond), but is this why she is colder than him? Not at all. The way she is acting is a response to something we have seen before or that we’ll infer from this scene: that, in the past, Moneypenny was platonically infatuated with 007. This is not a case of bringing up a new secretary that gives Bond a weird look or a harsh warning when he sees her “dressed to kill” after interrupting his date at the theatre after M’s call. In another “timeless” prospect, the same old Moneypenny changed her attitude towards Bond’s flattery – she will, in fact, resume some kind of jealousy four years later in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.

A radical change was given by the fact that Judi Dench is now playing M: the character has been historically played by a man, a Royal Navy admiral. Now it is played by a woman: an Oxford-graduated accountant. But the character hasn’t swapped genders and this is very clear from the get-go when Bond mentions that “her predecessor had some cognac” in his office, which she has now occupied and replaced the beverage with bourbon. Previously, Bond and his friend Bill Tanner joke about “The Evil Queen of Numbers” not letting him play his hunch on a stolen NATO helicopter landing in the middle of northern Russia. Had GOLDENEYE been a reboot, a more detailed explanation would be required in order to understand that for a certain amount of years, Admiral Sir Miles Messervy ran the British Intelligence and that the arrival of this civilian woman to his position brought changes like letting analysts do their job before sending any 00 agent to pull a trigger. GOLDENEYE only shows us that the female M is more analytical and trusts technology and statistics more than her predecessor, but we are never told about her predecessor because we already know him from the 16 preceding Bond films: is the same man Bond (no matter the actor playing him) has met before starting his globe-trotting adventures.

Out of all the members of the MI6 staff, the Quartermaster is the only one played by the same actor as before: Desmond Llewelyn, who has shared similar scenes with Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. Even less than in the case of Moneypenny or M, we do not need an introduction for Q. As soon as Brosnan’s Bond meets him, we know this is the usual drill: this man will give 007 the tools of the trade that this time includes a rappel belt and a grenade hidden on a Parker pen. It is expected of Bond to fiddle with these things and alter Q’s temper. There is no introduction between the two and in fact, both seem to have known each other for a long time – precisely because they did: “Try to bring this equipment in pristine order” and “Grow up, 007!” are phrases that Llewelyn has repeated in more than 30 years.

These examples show that all the classic Bond scenes we experience in GOLDENEYE were made under a precedent as a blueprint. This was also the first time in 30 years that the classic Aston Martin DB5 made a reappearance: Lazenby, Moore and Dalton did not use the GOLDFINGER and THUNDERBALL car and Brosnan was given it without clarification as a way to connect his Bond to the Connery one.

To take a look at what a reboot is, we have the Daniel Craig era: if Bond drives the Aston Martin DB5, he has to win it in a poker match in CASINO ROYALE. The relationship between Bond and M has to be redefined: unlike GOLDENEYE, she is the old one in the job and he is the new recruit. Bond doesn’t just order a “Vodka Martini - Shaken, Not Stirred”: he has to explain how this drink is prepared. We are even explained what carrying the 00 number means and that to become a 00 agent, one has to be ready to kill in the line of duty. SKYFALL reintroduced Q and Moneypenny: we see Bond getting acquainted with them, and their relationship has a starting point – and it evolves in a much different way to the ideas we have of Q and Moneypenny: fewer jokes and flirting, for example, with M’s secretary being more worried for Bond’s doings and status at MI6 than going down the platonic love road.

The idea behind GOLDENEYE, just like the idea behind THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and LIVE AND LET DIE before it, is that those watching a James Bond film for the first time understand the dynamics between Bond and his world through exposition, not explanation. Everything, from 007’s job to how he acts with women and how he conducts himself at the office or the battlefield, is deduced as one watches the film and confirmed when watching productions starring the previous actors. A reboot, on the other hand, means firmly establishing this is a new beginning and what we had seen before has to be exposed and explained for us to understand how things will develop from now on.

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