The James Bond franchise was in a peculiar position in the 1990s, lodged in between the tradition of the past whilst yearning for a more spectacular future. At the helm was the gooey-faced schmaltz of the British thespian Pierce Brosnan, channelling the camp energy of Roger Moore with the stumbling physicality of Sean Connery in the final years of his James Bond reign.
Leading the series with an enduring insincerity, Brosnan carried Bond through the ‘90s with a strange, smarmy English charm that came off as oddly alluring, like a Butlins lookalike of the character who is clearly ‘trying their best’. Behind his corny smile and punchable face, Brosnan’s tenure as Bond remains bafflingly magnetic, being as much a product of bombastic ‘90s entertainment as a bloated caricature.
Joining an action movie decade that included the likes of Point Break, Speed, The Fifth Element, Total Recall, Con Air, The Matrix and Armageddon, the 1990s demonstrated a significant shift in audience tastes as movie producers aimed to reflect a quickly modernising future. Shifting its interest from the 1980s focus on one individual star performer, the ‘90s were typified by films that pushed the creative boundaries with outlandish, often futuristic plots that showed off the eccentricity and colour of the vibrant decade.
As a product of its time and place, it’s really no wonder that the spirit of the ‘90s also rubbed off on Bond, with Brosnan and the 007 brand becoming ever-more electrifying and in-your-face. Becoming the most expensive James Bond film of its time, Goldeneye, Brosnan’s very first outing as the character cost $60 million to put together, a whole 20 million more than the previous instalment in the series, The Living Daylights.
Though, for MGM, Eon productions and the rest of the team behind the James Bond series, the films were now only part of the wider brand, with 007 now a marketable character whose identity could be plastered worldwide. Releasing the popular N64 video game Goldeneye in 1997, Bond became an icon of the small screen as well as the spectacle of the cinema, appearing everywhere from Coca-Cola adverts to lunchboxes, pencil cases and action figures.
In the ‘90s Bond became as much a commodity of popular culture as The Terminator, Rambo or Han Solo, with his attributes morphing to fit in with their popularity. Ditching any resemblance to fallibility or realism, 007 became a cartoon character who could survive any fall, take a bullet to the chest and find witty resolve even in the darkest situations. In this fact, Brosnan’s Bond can be enjoyed as much as any of the aforementioned action heroes.
In a contemporary action genre that is far too preoccupied by the realism of its brutal fight sequences to have fun with their sheer absurdity, there’s much joy to be had returning to the nonsensical thrills of the ‘90s, with Brosnan’s four Bond films being enjoyed as part of this landscape of content.
Whilst things stay somewhat within the boundaries of plausibility in each of Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough, Brosnan leaves the franchise in Die Another Day on a wave of absurdity in one of the series’ strangest films yet. Together with invisible cars, glacier-surfing and the appearance of Madonna in a cameo role, Die Another Day is in many ways the perfect film to bookend the Brosnan era, embracing all the goofy excess of the character’s history in one final swansong before Daniel Craig would ditch the gadgets and join the 21st century. Shame really.