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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Breaking Bond: Part Two of the Skyfall Review

Continuing the review of Skyfall by discussing the evolution of Bond Baddies over the years. Spoilers ahead.

Bond villains are of a special breed. Most have some physical deformity, ranging from the slight to the ridiculous. Most are geniuses in their own right. All are certifiably wacko. Over the last 50 years the blueprint for a Bond villain has primarily stayed the same; crazy, smart, well funded, singled minded, and short sighted. However, the latest seems to have done a lot of homework on his predecessors and then built a better mouse.

It always made me laugh how inept the Bond villains were. First of all, you knew from the opening gun barrel that James Bond would always return. The villain would never win. Even in the case of Casino Royale, Bond catches up to Mr. White… who is immediately dispatched in the beginning of the next film. But, in every film, once Bond gets his orders, he usually encounters the big bad by the end of the first act.

He meets Bond, explains pleasantries and then immediately tries to kill him with an elaborate, yet easily escapable situation. There’s a reason Austin Powers called that out. It’s true. In fact, it’s not even like Bond disguises himself to the villain very well. Even with a fake name and back story, the villain knows it’s Bond. And yet, they do the dance of one-up-man-ship to prove who has the bigger Goldfinger… or is it Thunderballs?

Bond has faced many lethal and quite capable villains, yet none of them have ever done the simplest of tasks… kill Bond. In Skyfall, the closest he came to death was being shot by his own team. Most rely on their henchmen, physically over matched for 007, yet the Goliath to his David. Easily felled, usually by their own physical traits. Odd Job is killed by being electrocuted by his own hat, and Knick Knack gets trapped in a suitcase due to his size. Maybe that’s how he got to Fantasy Island. Mr. Rourke found him floating by in a suitcase.

But you can bet Scaramanga’s third nipple that the Bond villain is probably the best role any actor can land in terms of having fun on a Bond film. In fact, Bond films are probably the only place where the villain can be free to be as outlandish and scene gluttonous without fear of totally overshadowing the blunt instrument that is 007. I don’t think Roger Moore or Sean Connery felt like Michael Keaton did going up against Jack Nicholson’s grand larceny of scenes in Batman. Bond is never the comic relief, he’s the straight man anchoring the film while the villain is free to take a jet pack ride through the stratosphere of over the top performances in a Bond film. Skyfall’s Silva seems to borrow most of his crazy…and hair care tips from A View To a Kill’s Walken, while carving out his damaged psyche and motivation from the same cloth as Goldeneye’s Alec Trevelyan, and finally a referral from Jaws’ orthodontist. While Blofeld is probably Bond’s biggest nemesis, his kind of villain is probably never going to make an appearance in the 21st century world of Bond and QUANTUM.

With the Craig era of Bond villains, we get a more subdued and not quite so flamboyant performance and back story… That is until we reach Javier Bardem in Skyfall. Le Chiffre is hardly bombastic, with his plans. He hires a bomb maker to blow up the maiden flight of an airline in order to tank the stock… helping to fund terrorism. He intends to make up his losses to his war mongering clients by winning it all on cards. He’s sort of a down on his luck villain that cries blood. In Quantum of Solace, we have a somewhat green terrorist… get it, green? Well, at least he pretends to be trying to save the planet, but it’s all about money in the end. Dominic Greene isn’t even that much of a physical threat… sure, with a gun, he’s dangerous because he’s nuts, but he doesn’t even appear all that smart… just opportunistic. His death doesn’t even come at the hands of Bond, but played as a footnote, related to Bond by M. He was found with two slugs in the back of his head and a stomach full of motor oil. Now, why they bothered to do an autopsy with the apparent cause of death as lead poisoning and cranial ventilation, I don’t know.

When we get to Skyfall, the rules change, somewhat. As I said, Silva could be most closely compared to Alec Trevelyan in his back story; a field agent who ended up being a little more of a hacker than he should have been, traded for other agents, betrayed by M and MI6. He finds his place in the Pantheon of Bond Villains with the three basic traits: physical deformity – collapsed face and damaged vocal cords from a faulty cyanide pill, brilliant – cyber terrorist extraordinaire who outwits Ben Winshaw’s young and geeky Q, crazy as balls – bent on revenge against M and MI6. But where other Bond villains rely on sophisticated torture devices and henchmen to soften up Bond, Silva used a very simply tactic; sexual harassment. That scene was ridiculously uncomfortable yet ten times better than Le Chiffre “scratching” of Bond’s balls.

Ultimately, Silva suffers the same problem as most villains. He is too hell bent on his plan. He continues even when all is lost. While chaps like Blofeld try to escape in their subs, like in Diamonds Are Forever, Silva hunts M down like a dog, asking to end it all. Well, he got his wish… and I’ll say nothing more.

Coming up next… Bond Girl Interrupted.

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