The Problem with Bond Villains…

A friend of mine was complaining about the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall.

He did not like the movie because the Bond and the MI-6 team did several things that he felt were… well… dumb.  Dumb to the point that they ruined the movie for him.  And, I had to admit that some of the items he listed had merit.

However, I still had to laugh as he didn’t seem to have any problem with the villain’s plan until I pointed out that the bad guy could have accomplished his goal, wrapped things up nicely, and gone off to live happily ever after in the first 30 minutes of the movie had he not been bat-shit insane.

And that is a major aspect aspect Bond Villains.  To get in the cross hairs of 007, you practically have to be certifiable.

I wrote a piece back in December, Travels with Commander Bond, which included some lists of some of my favorite aspects of the film series.  However, I felt one list was clearly missing, the list of my favorite Bond villains.

The problem was that, while the other lists sprang to mind pretty much fully formed, when I think of Bond villains, things get a bit confused.

Certainly some quips come to mind.  “I don’t expect you to talk Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” is a favorite.

I speak English well! I learned it from a book!

I speak English well! I learned it from a book!

But then I start thinking about henchmen.  Rosa Klebb, Odd Job, Jaws, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd… but they are just the hired help.  They aren’t running the show.  Then there are the various incarnations of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Does he count as one Bond villain, or is he a different villain in each movie?

Then there are the plots.

And here is where thinking too hard about Bond movies starts to fail you, because the schemes, when examined, can underwhelm.  Wikipedia has a nice list of Bond villains from the movies, what their plan was, and the result.  Simplifying the plans down to desired results, out of 23 films, I count the following motives:

Money – 14

Surprisingly, to me at least, this seems to be the most popular motive.  I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.  Twice it is in the name of drug cartels.  But a lot of the time… especially in the SPECTRE years… it seems to be an already fabulously wealthy organization spending a lot of time and money on a result that, even if successful, would have paid off less than just investing in US Government securities.  Max Zorin, for example, wants to destroy Silicon Valley in order to increase his company’s market share.  That is his business plan!  I suppose you have to go to some lengths to look evil relative to Bill Gates… though this pre-dated most Microsoft shenanigans… but still, couldn’t he have just lured away a few key execs?  He already had immense wealth.

Start a War – 3

Actually, starting a war comes up four times, but I am not counting Elliot Carver because he was trying to start a war merely to expand his media empire… so, really… money. And I am not sure I should count SPECTRE’s attempt in You Only Live Twice, since they are doing it for a third party.  But since they spent enough money to create a secret space program more advanced than either the US or USSR (whom they want fighting) and hid it in a dormant volcano, I have to imagine that the return on investment will be pretty poor.  And, of course, in none of these movies does the whole war scenario really seem like a good idea.

Revenge – 2

This is at least a raw, emotional motivator.  It just doesn’t come up very often.  SPECTRE wants revenge for the death of Dr. Julius No (After all, the R in SPECTRE stands for Revenge! It is part of their mission statement in a way that smart financial planning is not.) and Raoul Silva wants revenge because he simply isn’t as tough as James Bond.  Alex Trevelyan claims he wants revenge, but his revenge involves stealing a lot of money and covering his tracks, so I put him in the money column.

Utopia – 2

Kill all of humanity except for a chosen few, who will repopulate the world.  In one the chosen were going to hide under the sea, and in one they were going to hide in space.  This plot came up twice in the 1970s, back when we thought we were destroying the Earth (global cooling) and running out of resources.  I am glad we’re past that now.

Just Doing My Job – 1

In For Your Eyes Only, Aristotle Kristatos steals the ATAC device for the Soviet Union… because that is who he works for.  And when the plan fails, his boss doesn’t even seem that upset.  Maybe the most realistic plot ending ever in the world of James Bond.

Random Asshattery – 1

I am not sure it is ever fully explained WHY Dr. Julius No was messing with the US space program in Dr. No.  I guess SPECTRE was funding it, though it could have just been a hobby.  Or it might have been version 1.0 of SPECTRE space program.  It could have been meant to start a war eventually, or used for extortion.  But in the movie Dr. No just seems to enjoy pissing off NASA.

So the prime motivator for a Bond villain appears to be money, followed by, but not exclusive from, insanity.  After all, in Live and Let Die, Dr. Kanaga’s drug cartel plans were built around readings from a tarot deck.  Then there is how all these guys plan to kill Bond after they inevitably capture him during the course of the film.  Like that SNL skit said, when you capture Bond, don’t screw around, just shoot him and be done with it.

And don’t even get me started on the poor rank and file of these villains.  How do they recruit them?  And what entices people to work for these guys?  I have to think the death benefits for your family must be excellent, since these villains kill their own rank and file on a regular basis.  Their HR staff must be going crazy.

So, in the end, it is very hard for me to pick a favorite James Bond villain because they are all so bad at what they do.

It is almost like they are put up there simply to make James Bond look good…

Oh…

Yeah…

Well, without them, we wouldn’t have had the Austin Powers series.

Roll on Dr. Evil.  Your plots are not half as mad as they could be.

7 thoughts on “The Problem with Bond Villains…

  1. Sj

    The part I found stupid in Skyfall was the baddie spent what must have been years creating a plot to get captured and take out M only to cower like a girl behind a door when he finally gets his chance. Oh wait there’s smoke too and loud bangs, no he’s right better to think about his own personal safety (?) than just run forward 10 steps into the smoke and confirm the kill.

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  2. NoAstronomer

    A list of best henchman would be nice. Personally I find the henchmen more interesting than the main villains. After all what’s *their* motive?

    Though I have to admit that I quit watching Bond movies quite some time ago after seeing one stunt that was more than usually physically impossible. And no, I didn’t enjoy Moonraker either.

    Mike.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Liore – Indeed, you naughty moose! I am not sure if that is the exact quote, but it is one of those phrases that stuck with me and which I repeat at random. I confuse my daughter quite often as she lacks the context to understand what I am talking about. By this point my wife, who also lacks the context, just ignores this sort of thing.

    And, in its own way, the reference is apt. Gert Fröbe, who played Goldfinger, didn’t actually speak English and all of his dialog had to be dubbed by somebody else. This sort of dubbing routine was surprisingly common in the Sean Connery Bond movies.

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  4. Samuel Flory

    The worst problem with the movie for me was that James Bond was actually named James Bond. I’d always assumed that it was an assumed name. What sort of agent wanders around the world handing out his real name right and left!!!!

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Samuel Flory – There is a persistent fan debate as to whether James Bond is an actual person or just an identity.

    Having it be just an identity helps close some holes in continuity, not the least being different actors playing Bond.

    The movies themselves beg to differ, and so we have Bond’s family home and loyal retainer in Skyfall or Bond (Moore) visiting his the grave of his late wife (who married Lazenby) in For Your Eyes Only.

    In the end, EON does whatever it takes to move the story along, a burden that falls heavily on the villains. So Goldfinger, for example, plans to kill all of his mafia suppliers, but first he has to describe his plan, using an elaborate set of models in his huge transforming billiards room, just so Bond can witness it. (And then get caught and carried off just before the room is gassed.)

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