Pierce Brosnan Provides The Ultimate Bond Marathon (And Not Just For Christmas)

Even people who find that the films push their buttons will probably find them an enjoyable hate-watch, so committed are they to their particular brand of non-stop entertainment.
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond wears a tuxedo at a fancy event. He holds a martini near his lips, looking off-screen right.
Image courtesy of MGM Distribution Co.

For many people, watching a Bond film over Christmas is a seasonal rite of passage. However, it’s likely that TV stations will simply be showing Daniel Craig’s modern movies, rather than Sean Connery or Roger Moore’s now-pretty-old ones, especially after this year’s release of No Time To Die. There is a dearth of Bond on streaming services, too, meaning that anyone who wants to bring back nostalgic Christmas traditions of yore can’t just pop on a random selection from the 26 main movies. This leaves open the opportunity to consciously seek out the succinct, brilliant quadrilogy of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond — a selection that supersedes all others for Christmas cheer.

Craig’s run will probably be a natural go-to for many, considering it contains beloved instalments that are fresher in people’s minds. However, it’s pretty dour for the happiest time of the year, perhaps best exemplified by the fact that one of its lightest moments involves the torture of its protagonist’s testicles. It is also a very inconsistent set of five movies, yo-yoing between brilliance and mediocrity to ultimately end with a whimper. The problem stems from the films never knowing whether they want to achieve Moore-esque silliness or act as tougher, Bourne-influenced action movies. This doesn’t make for a satisfying marathon, as it feels, at times, more like an endurance test.

Some people are big fans of Roger Moore, aided by him having been Bond long enough to produce a whopping, series-dominating seven movies. Brosnan has a much shorter run, which is not only more achievable to binge, but never reaches the tremendous lows of Moore’s famously tongue-in-cheek escapades. Moonraker (1979) is the ultimate example of Moore at his worst, leaning into total self-parody. The flaws are glaring: the lead actor, for a drama-undermining start, doesn’t really bother to give Bond any charm. There’s a nonsensical story, too, that leads around the world for no good reason, providing daft gadgets like the hovercraft gondola and inane twists like henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) getting a girlfriend. There has to be some semblance of reality to make the dramatic moments mean anything, and the Moore films sometimes move far from that.

One of the Brosnan films’ particularly important achievements is that they dial back drastically on the objectification of women, and unlike the Craig films, aren’t afraid to make female characters as present and capable as Bond. Connery film Goldfinger (1963) is a particular lowlight since it only has women as objects of desire, fated to be conquered and/or killed. In Brosnan’s Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Bond teams up with Chinese agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), who manages to fit in much more impressive action than the man himself on their dual journey. There’s even a female main villain in The World Is Not Enough‘s (1999) under-appreciated Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) who outsmarts all its men. The films do have some creepy lines, but there’s a serious attempt, one that’s largely successful, to balance the franchise’s past and future. It won’t be awkward to have the family sat around watching this, rather than the ’60s chauvinism of prior Bonds.

Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost holds a fencing sword to Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson's neck.
Image courtesy of MGM Distribution Co.

The Brosnan films take their humour seriously, too. They rarely go for cheap laughs but genuine, memorable chuckles. There are countless delightful moments, though usually embedded in the characters: GoldenEye‘s (1995) Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) mocking Bond’s very familiar character traits; Tomorrow Never Dies‘ Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) becoming maniacal enough to compare himself to God; and, of course, Bond himself. Brosnan embodies the character and cracks out absurd one-liners that no one else could deliver. They’re four movies where everyone involved seems keen to create future classics, rather than just more instalments in a series, which unsurprisingly leads to less superficial fun.

In the same way that Brosnan’s flicks put effort into the laughs, they are also committed to unforgettable action. Each movie has great physical combat, exciting street chases, and surprises that range from The World Is Not Enough‘s ski misadventures to Tomorrow Never Dies’ impromptu building descent. Few sequences feel like skippable padding. What makes the action here stand out – and not just in regards to other Bonds, but action movies more broadly — is how it’s always made to be memorable. Sequences are choreographed with maximum skill to wring out fun and drama, and so that we can actually see what’s going on moment by moment. Expertly filmed, easy to follow adventuring is an oft-missed target that the Brosnan era manages to hit, and does it with a panache that means epic, varied fun around every corner.

The stories that underpin the Brosnan films are great enough for actors to sink their teeth into and to make the films tie together in compelling ways. The plots often have an element of the grandiose and/or ridiculous, with the villains having world-upending designs involving stealth boats and space lasers. But the main plot is just the tip of the (sometimes literal) iceberg, each tale stuffed to the brim with subplots involving unforgettable henchmen and memorable allies. Bond rarely gets away without an emotional stake in the situation, too. However, it’s not the tortured, overwrought regret and self-loathing of the Craig era, and instead is tragedy and romance that fits perfectly with humour and fights. Such full-to-bursting, yet clearly plotted, narratives make for popcorn entertainment of an almost unsurpassable calibre.

Brosnan’s Bond deserves particular recognition as probably the perfect 007, an actor who is able to confidently handle all the characters’ dimensions. There are some surprisingly dark turns, including some cold kills, and it’s easy to read the inner grapplings of the character in Brosnan’s expressive manner. There are some very silly moments, too, with jokes often being genuinely funny and some ending up more cringeworthy — “I’ve been known to keep my tip up” being a painful example of the latter — but all handled with the same commitment. There’s no sense of shying away from any element of the portrayal that you can get from his less convincing predecessors. Here’s an actor who makes the character comfortably belong in this very heightened world. Without a convincing Bond, the bold storytelling wouldn’t work, and there’s no doubt that Brosnan’s craft proved an inspiration for his co-stars.

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond fences with Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves in an ornate, palace-like hallway. Two men, also in fencing outfits, come running toward them.
Image courtesy of MGM Distribution Co.

It’s worth recognising, too, that it’s not just a collection of very well crafted action-adventures within their franchise; I’d go as far as to say that GoldenEye is one of the greatest creations in its genre. It has plenty of fun from the off, including a massive shootout, a very risky cliff dive, and a famous leap from a dam. From the start, it’s clear that this is a film concerned with atmosphere – and so it combines striking imagery with a rough reality. Bond feels like a real spy, especially when he sees his fellow 00 shot by a Cold War-era general. This mixture of the cinematic with the gritty makes for a melodramatic cocktail much like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); one that leads to similar heights of awe and romance. It’s the sort of instalment that gets you hooked on a franchise.

Some people might argue that a real weak spot in this grouping is Die Another Day (2002), which has big ’00s vibes and contains the most absurdity out of its stablemates. However, Die Another Day is very much in the spirit of this era of its super-spy — and is Christmas all over. It’s joyous, indulgent, and celebrates the multitudinous nature of the long-running franchise. There are many famously over-the-top moments, such as Jinx (Halle Berry) diving off a hundred-foot wall, a hovercraft chase across the Korean demilitarised zone, and James Bond surfing a tsunami. This is also a film that knows what it is and packs in so much fun along the way, with dramatic double-crossing, an array of memorable new characters, and a particularly slimy main baddie in Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). It’s a comprehensive tribute to the franchise in a way that is truly unforgettable, and in that way acts as a perfect conclusion to a bold quadrilogy.

Watching these four films offers a delightful Christmas treat. It’s not the most sophisticated entertainment that you’ll ever see, and undoubtedly there might be a Moore or a Connery that can hold a candle to these. However, here is an absolute feast for basically any viewer with humour, fun, and drama in varied, surprising measures. People who have watched these a hundred times or have never encountered them before will find plenty to hook them. Even people who find that the films push their buttons will probably find them an enjoyable hate-watch, so committed are they to their inimitable style of blockbusting. It would be a waste of a few good days off to slump in front of whatever Bond is chucked on the telly, when it’s just as easy to choose four under-appreciated ones that punch way above their weight at any time of year.