Movie of the Week 5/12/14: GoldfingerPosted: May 19, 2014
Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to introduce someone to a franchise as long-running and multi-faceted as James Bond 007. When it’s been around for so long and gone through so many different filmmakers and stars and eras, what’s the best starting point? You could always go with the first film, Dr. No, except it’s not a full representation of what the Bond franchise is capable of. Or you could go with the modern reboot, except Casino Royale is as close to Bourne as it is classic Bond, so it’s not a great representation either. Thankfully, all these considerations are an afterthought anyway, as Goldfinger has always been the clear choice for me. It is the quintessential Bond film, covering every famous beat/trope/cliche that the franchise has lived on for 50+ years, and it still holds up pretty well as a great piece of filmmaking overall.
One thing that really struck me this time around was how slow-paced and thought-out the story was. It’s not a film overburdened with action beats as many of its successors are; instead, there’s a fair amount of cat-and-mouse and spycraft, where Bond uses his head and wits rather than just relying on gadgets and guns (though there are plenty of those too). Even the golf match (an event you will never see in a Bond film again) between Bond and Goldfinger is engaging and sly, and builds up both characters in the process. In sequences like this, I’m suddenly reminded how suave and badass Sean Connery was back during his Bond years, as opposed to the gruff older Connery of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But nothing makes that point better than the pre-credits sequence, which is easily one of the best cold opens in the franchise. It’s a great little unrelated sequence that distills Bond down to his core tropes even better than the movie as a whole.
The film also smartly avoids a lot of the poor exposition of later entries in the franchise (or of films emulating the franchise). Goldfinger generally avoids giving things away to Bond until after Bond already knows too much, and keeps him alive as a tool to keep the CIA away. All of the beats that prolong Bond’s life are justified, right up to the end, where Bond’s escape is purely by chance as opposed to the villain being an idiot. Goldfinger’s a smart villain overall, and has one of the best henchmen ever in Odd Job, which reminds me that the art of the distinctive henchman seems to have been lost in the franchise though, as none of Daniel Craig’s movies have had that sort of distinctive and absurd figure.
One thing I am more acutely aware of nowadays is the awkward gender politics at play in the franchise. While it’s certainly influenced by the time it was made, it’s also indicative of the somewhat sexist heart of Bond when he was first being made. From his casual dismissal of a masseuse early on, to the Women-in-Refrigerators use of the Masterson sisters, and Bond essentially forcing himself on Pussy Galore, it can get a little uncomfortable for a modern audience in places, and while it’s not enough to completely derail the film it does give me pause now.
But enough of my talk, let’s get Shiran’s first take on Bond, James Bond:
As Brendan alludes to, this was my first time seeing James Bond in action, and while I know this is the most quintessential Bond movie I’m curious to see how the franchise had changed in forty odd years. Is Goldfinger still an accurate representation of the way the movies function in 2014? What struck me about the movie, outside of a surprisingly high body count, was that it got to be cartoonish in a way big blockbusters aren’t generally allowed to be anymore. Goldfinger especially, from his name to his look to his dialogue, feels more like an old school Batman villain than anything resembling a real world character. Without any outside awareness of the Bond franchise, I’d assume that the 21st century movies would veer into the more brooding and realistic era of action movies popular now, but critiques like this tell me that may not be the case. It’s impressive — if maybe not 100% admirable — that a franchise this old and popular has remained almost frozen in time in terms of sensibility.
Tune back in next week for Shiran’s next choice for me (or any time before that when I post a new article)!