Recent Bond villains have come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the bleeding-eye ruthlessness of Le Chiffre to the state-building schemes of Dominic Greene or the technological hacking skills of Raoul Silva.
And, over the course of 24 on-screen adventures for 007, each actor who has played James Bond has had to confront some highly memorable rogues and psychopaths, each one usually convinced that they have the right to God-like powers over life and death. As we eagerly await the release of No Time To Die, part of the anticipation involves wondering what dastardly plan the new 007 villain, Safin, will attempt to put into action. Every James Bond movie, and nearly every Ian Fleming novel, has had some kind of watershed confrontation or key moment between 007 and the latest villain. The classic line “I’ve been expecting you, Mr. Bond” (probably influenced by Stromberg’s comments in The Spy Who Loved Me) has become almost a cliché line used in wider popular culture when it comes to discussion of all things James Bond.
In No Time To Die, Safin (played by Rami Malek, with suitably atmospheric darkness and menace) is at one point told by Craig’s 007: ‘History isn’t kind to men who play God’. It’s a great line and is just a taste of what promises to be some classic ‘Bond versus Villain’ dialogue. But what makes a good Bond villain? The JBIFC offers a few thoughts on this ‘delicious’ topic.
Bonding with Evil
As the late, great Sir Roger Moore, with tongue firmly in check, wrote in 2012: ‘They’re a jolly bunch of people, all loved by their mothers and all with a sick plan to take over the world or dominate it in one form or another’. This was true – to a point. But not all the 007 villains have had such grand ambitions: some of them were more interested in drug smuggling, or boosting their bank account or, in the case of Scaramanga, it was more about the sheer thrill of confronting James Bond in a physical duel to the death.
Everybody, of course, has views on the key characteristics of the typical Bond villain and what makes a particular one memorable. Over the years, a number of commentators have tried to capture the ‘essence’ of such a Baddie. Back in 1964, when the first two James Bond films had made such an impact on the public, author O.F. Snelling penned a fascinating Panther paperback entitled James Bond: a Report, in which he tried to pin down the nature of villainy in the Ian Fleming novels.
In an entertaining chapter on Bond’s ‘Adversaries’, Snelling observed: ‘No secret service agent, private detective, Scotland Yard policeman or amateur freelance… ever came up against as impressive an array of rogues and villains as James Bond. He’s had them all: master spies, arch-criminals, paranoiacs and plain, if unordinary gangsters’. Think, for example, of Le Chiffre, Mr. Big, Sir Hugo Drax, the Spang brothers, Kronsteen, Rosa Klebb, Red Grant, Dr. No, Auric Goldfinger, Oddjob, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, to name just a few.
As Snelling noted, as if this Rogues’ Gallery were not enough to contend with, Bond has also crossed swords with powerful organisations such as SMERSH and SPECTRE (the latter, of course, will re-appear in No Time To Die). In Snelling’s estimation, a number of these classic Bond villains showed similar traits: some appeared ageless, a number were fairly short, a number had a ‘Napoleon-like’ complex, and a selection were fond of changing their appearance through plastic surgery. A selection of them also had an egotistical habit of explaining to Bond their psychological motivations and, moreover, precise details of what their big master-plan entailed.
Another early writer on Bond villainy was John Brosnan, whose book James Bond in the Cinema (1972) was arguably one of the first detailed popular discussions of the EON Bond movies and every aspect of 007’s big-screen world. In the book, which appeared in a Second Edition in 1981, Brosnan (no relation to Pierce!) offered a number of observations on what makes a classic 007 Baddie. At one point he noted: ‘Another facet of the Bonds is the simplicity of their themes – Good and Evil are easy to identify, the black hat of the early Western villain being mirrored by the Chairman Mao jacket of the chief Bond villain and the blatant grotesqueness of his underlings’.
Moreover, for Brosnan, the movies took Fleming’s villains and translated their evil traits or egotistical boasting perfectly for the big screen. While Joseph Wiseman captured Dr. No’s ‘inhuman, machine-like’ qualities and ‘supreme confidence mingled with total ruthlessness’, it was really Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger who seemed to reinforce the template for many of the Bond villains of the future: this was helped by the hugely talented scriptwriters in the EON films who paid much attention to the confrontational ‘duelling’ in dialogue that often took place between Bond and Baddie (“You expect me to talk Goldfinger?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”).
Another feature of classic Bond villainy that Brosnan noticed was the Baddie’s fondness for grand architecture or secret bases with spectacular designs, whether Island lairs, volcanoes, underground tunnels, deep-sea HQs or space-stations. Much of this was helped by the distinctive and brilliant designs of the late Ken Adam, whose influence can still be detected in recent Bond films. Adam often commented in interviews that he himself had been influenced by the tendency of nasty dictators in the 1930s to go in for over-the-top buildings to match their huge egos, with combinations of classical designs and modernist extravagance. Some of this seemed to personify evil.
As many Bond fans know, the villains in the Tim Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig years have tended to be more down-to-earth and psychologically complex human beings, partly in an attempt to reflect our more gritty and ‘shades of grey’ world. But a number of them would not look out of place in Ian Fleming’s novels and still embody the ‘evil’ traits that we all seem to love about our Bond villains. And all the indications are that Rami Malek’s Safin will be a very formidable and devious foe for 007 in Daniel Craig’s final Bond adventure, with some very thoughtful set-designs to reflect Safin’s menacing villainy. Delicious.
Watch this space for further Bond news as it develops. You know the name, and you know the number.