Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bond Week, Day 3: Best Bond Villains

    Countdown to Skyfall, Day 3...

    As has been said by people much smarter and far more prolific than I, a hero’s only as good as his villains. The villains of the Bond series may not have been the first to attempt world domination with secret lairs in volcanoes and henchmen with strange physical attributes and diabolical schemes, but they certainly defined and influenced all the others that came thereafter - and they continue to redefine just what a villain should be.

    So grab your razor-brimmed hats and golden guns and metal pincer hands, ’cause it’s time for the Five Best (and Worst) Bond villains…


5: Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan, Goldeneye

    The singular element elevating rogue MI6 agent Alec Trevelyan is his personal connection to Bond. As his former friend and partner, Trevelyan’s betrayal lends his global terror scheme a personal element often lacking in many of the colorless dictators 007’s tackled in the past. As former agent 006, Sean Bean gives a menacing performance of Bond gone wrong - a look at the evil that someone with the training and resources of Bond could actually pull off. Trevelyan knows just where and how to get to Bond, and in doing so is often able to be several steps ahead of the world’s number one secret agent. It’s a great performance, and a novel idea in a series flooded with boring, clichéd villains.

4: Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, Casino Royale

    Mads Mikkelsen has to compete with the likes of Peter Lorre and Orson Welles, but easily takes the crown as the best screen version of the very first Bond villain. Mikkelsen’s portrayal is fantastic through and through, whether he’s crying blood or threatening to torture Bond in the simplest way possible, by going after “what men value most.” There’s a quiet desperation to Le Chiffre, a sort of sweaty determination to survive his debts to his superiors by any means necessary - all of that conveyed by Mikkelsen in the most minor of gestures.

3: Gert Frobe as Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger

    Like the rest of the film with which he shares a name, Auric Goldfinger crystallized the prototype set up by previous villains such as Dr. No and the other agents of SPECTRE. As the power-mad villain with ample resources, Goldfinger doesn’t want to rule the world, but merely profit from it’s burning. Gert Frobe relishes in the sophisticated villainy of the role, ensuring that lines like “No, Mr. Bond - I expect you to die,” would forever be immortalized in cinema history. Add in possibly the best death scene of any of the Bond villains (which sees Goldfinger sucked out the cabin window of an airplane), and we have the classic antagonist for everyone’s favorite 00 agent. Plus, he cheats at golf.

2: Donald Pleasance as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, You Only Live Twice

    Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty, Batman has the Joker… Bond has Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the leader of worldwide terror organization SPECTRE. Three actors have portrayed Blofeld through the years (and even more than that, when you consider the voice actors and stand-in hands stroking white cats), but Donald Pleasance was the first, and still the best. After all the build-up to Blofeld’s reveal, it had to be something special when we finally saw who owned the hands that stroke the cat. By casting Donald Pleasance as the bald-headed, scarred fiend, the Bond producers ensured the character’s legacy, and Pleasance’s overall weird, creepy vibe certainly leaves an impression even though we only really see him at the very end.

1: Robert Shaw as Red Grant, From Russia with Love

    The very first thing we see Red Grant do is strangle 007 to death, and although it turns out not to be the genuine article, we’re left with the impression that this is a character not to be taken lightly. As written in the script, there’s not a whole lot to Grant other than “stoic badass,” but in Robert Shaw’s hands the actor elevates the henchmen into a work of art. Shaw is sublime throughout, whether impersonating a buffoonish British agent or tussling with Bond on a moving train - and he doesn’t even speak until over an hour in! It’s all in those fierce, flaming eyes that Shaw is able to capture so much with so little.


5: Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene, Quantum of Solace

    Much like the movie he appears in, Mathieu Almaric’s Dominic Greene isn’t bad so much as he is supremely disappointing. The Craig-era Bond has one foot firmly planted in reality, so world domination isn’t exactly the most viable motivation for his villains anymore. But surely they could have come up with something better than Dominic Greene, who wants to control the world’s water supply. Not the worst idea, I suppose, but Amalric fails to be much of a threat to Bond; physically or intellectually. Bond used to routinely prevent nuclear warfare and exclusive undersea colonies; he deserves a little better.

4: Richard Kiel as Jaws, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker

    I’m sorry, folks, but Jaws is where I have to draw a line in the sand and politely say, “No, thank you.” He’s not all that bad in The Spy Who Loved Me, but his follow-up appearance in Moonraker pretty much demolishes any good will he had going for him previously. The Bond series should always be pulpy and a little bit silly, but Jaws spills over too far into Saturday morning cartoon territory. I’m okay with poisonous shoe knives, razor-sharp bowler hats and furry white cats… but steel chompers? Come on

3: Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves, Die Another Day

    Gustav Graves’ single claim to fame is that he’s not in fact a billionaire playboy, but rather a rogue North Korean terrorist who’s decided to have his DNA rewritten and his face swapped with Conan O‘Brien’s. It’s a pretty ridiculous character, and actor Toby Stephens doesn’t help things by starting his performance at 11 and only dialing up from there. And that’s not even taking into consideration the Iron Man-esque exoskeleton he uses to beat down 007 at the end…

2: Herve Villachaize as Nick Nack, The Man with the Golden Gun

    How do you explain the utter lunacy that is Nick Nack? It’s not enough that the world’s greatest assassin has an island getaway wax museum in which he toys with his victims. It’s not enough that he kills with golden bullets fired from a - wait for it - golden gun. It’s not even enough that he has a third freakin’ nipple. But he also has a diminutive, traitorous manservant who taunts him during his kills via loudspeaker? If I were Scaramanga, I’d have killed the little shit years ago. Nick Nack has the distinction of being part of one of the worst fake-out climaxes of the series, in which he tries to kill 007 by ducking under furniture and throwing wine bottles. Thrilling…

1: Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, Diamonds Are Forever

    As bad as the ones above are, nothing comes even remotely close to the utter horror and despair of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the worst villains James Bond ever had the displeasure of squaring off against. Their ponderous, aimless conversations carried out over their assassinations are truly some of cinema’s most wince-inducing moments. Making matters worse, just when we think their wretched movie is almost over, they come back for the fake-out climax - dragging out the ending of one of the worst Bond films ever made. If you need any further proof as to why these two take the bottom of the heap, I leave you with their exchange upon locking 007 in a crematorium:

Mr. Wint: Very moving.
Mr: Kidd: Heartwarming, Mr. Wint
Mr. Wint: A glowing tribute, Mr. Kidd.

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