Monday, 6 April 2009

Perspective on James Bond Movie Villains: Part 3 - Freelancers of the Dalton and Brosnan Years

Of course, if I had written this before seeing 'Quantum of Solace' (2008) I might have put Mr. White into this category, but now I know that he is not freelance, but working for SPECTRE's 21st century equivalent, Quantum. I have already put in Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre, which is really the only freelancer Craig's Bond has met in Part 2, in order to compare him to the Welles version, so I will have to wait until the third Craig Bond movie (assuming there is one, look what happened to Dalton after a second dour Bond movie in a row) to add more.

For now, though, I have more than enough decent villains from the Dalton and Brosnan years (1987-2002) to keep me occupied. After years of speculation, going back to 1969, Timothy Dalton (born 1944), finally got to play James Bond but only for two movies, 1987-9. They were unpopular with the mainstream audience but kept the franchise alive and showed that it could be properly grounded after the excesses of the later Moore years.  It is simply a shame Dalton was not selected six years earlier, though ironically that may have meant no Bond movies today.

Major Brad Whitaker played by Joe Don Baker

Major Brad Whitaker
In 'The Living Daylights' (1987) we do not know a great deal about the arms dealer Brad Whitaker, except that he is a novelty for a Bond movie as he is an American and not a recently naturalised one at that. As with Charles Gray who played baddie Blofeld and good guy Henderson in different Bond movies, the actor who played Whitaker, Joe Don Baker (born 1936), gets to switch sides.  He went on to play Bond's CIA contact, Jack Wade, in 'GoldenEye' (1995).  Sometimes you do wonder if there is such a shortage of actors that so many have to keep turning up in the franchise in different roles. We know Whitaker's motive is disappointment in his military career and he seeks consolation in making a private army. Like Katanga/Mr. Big he wants to flood the USA with opiates, but he uses Soviet money funnelled to him by his ally General Koskov to fund this. He also has SPECTRE-like plans to provoke conflicts between East and West and sell the two sides high-tech conventional arms.

Whitaker also wants the British to assassinate General Leonid Pushkin played by Briton, John Rhys-Davies (born 1944) (he has played everything from the dwarf Gimli in the 'The Lord of the Rings' triology of movies (2001-3) to Italian Leonardo Da Vinci in 'Star Trek: Voyager' (1997) to an Egyptian, Sallah, in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981) and 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' (1989)) by suggesting, with the aid of Koskov, that the KGB has revived the SMERSH programme.  The evidence for this is the attempt at eliminating three British agents at the start of the movie on Gibraltar; 004 is killed. For a Bond villain, Whitaker is uniquely brash and self-confident, sneering rather than patronising. Like many Bond villains, however, it is clear that he is affected by disappointment in his past though that does not seem to have left him brooding like Dr. No or Blofeld. The closest to Whitaker previously has been Zorin and yet Whitaker is free of that psychopath element. He simply wants to be rich and thumb his nose at people who have looked down upon him. Baker's best villain role had come a couple of years earlier in the television series 'Edge of Darkness' (1985) in which he played arrogant Darius Jedburgh who seems to encapsulate all that was bad about Reaganite America.

General Georgi Koskov played by Jeroen Krabbé

General Georgi Koskov
Koskov played by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé (born 1944) is sometimes treated as a henchman of Whitaker's, but I think that is inaccurate. It is Koskov who provides the funds for Whitaker's drug purchases; sources the opium in Afghanistan and makes the re-appearance of SMERSH appear effective. Bond helps him defect and Koskov fakes his own recapture by the KGB in order to go freelance and work with Whitaker. Perhaps Koskov is not seen as a genuine villain as Bond does not kill him, he is simply returned for trial in the USSR. Like Whitaker, Koskov is a different kind of villain to the ones we have come to know.  He is jocular, playing almost naive when defecting with Bond. He does not really seem that sinister. His main nasty aspect is to portray his girlfriend, Czech cellist Kara Milovy, as a KGB assassin so that she will be killed by Bond. Her incompetence at this is what rouses Bond's suspicion that MI6 is being duped by Koskov.

There are some similarities to 'Octopussy' in that MI6 works with calm-headed elements in the KGB to bring another renegade Soviet general back into line. Renegade Soviet generals were a common theme of TV thrillers of the time. The alliance between a Soviet official and a US businessman was also a feature of the very successful novel 'Gorky Park' (1981; movie 1983) and in terms of criminal gangs, and with more humour, in 'Red Heat' (1988). 'The Living Daylights' was released two years into Mikhail Gorbachev's time at the head of the USSR and when Ronald Reagan only had one year left as US President. The Cold War seemed to be coming to a clear end and the threat of nuclear war, apparent at the time of 'Octopussy' six years earlier, had gone. In this less certain context there was room for a more old-fashioned kind of spy movie. Yet, 'The Living Daylights' is really the next step in the sequence begun by 'For Your Eyes Only' which eventually brings us to 'Casino Royale'.

Despite these changes 'The Living Daylights' does reflect lingering elements of the Second Cold War which was coming to an end. In particular, there is the jaunt to Afghanistan where Bond ironically finds an ally in another Afghan prince and Etonian, Kamran Shah (played by Briton Art Malik) who fights with the Mujahadeen against Soviet forces. Of course the Mujahadeen were the people who put the Taliban into power in 1996 until they were removed by the US invasion of 2001.  In the movie they are shown as ambivalent allies of the Snow Leopard bandits who are involved in drug smuggling for Koskov.

Neither Whitaker or Koskov are terribly frightening, but perhaps in the low-key Bond movie that would be excessive and their manners actually lift the tone. Even with a more brooding style, there is irritation for viewers with the key ring that responds to a whistle to trigger an explosion or tear gas.  However, the car is probably the best since 'Goldfinger'. Fighting Koskov and Whitaker, Bond seems like the 'policeman' he is sometimes characterised as.

Franz Sanchez played by Robert Davi

Franz Sanchez
In 'Licence to Kill' (1989) Sanchez played by American Robert Davi (born 1951) was simply a Panamanian drugs dealer aiming to expand his market through the use of technology, i.e. smuggling cocaine dissolved in petrol. Again Bond is acting as policeman. Sanchez is like any drug smuggler, shown as being callous and greedy. The feeding of Felix Leiter (now working for the Drugs Enforcement Authority) to sharks on the day of his wedding and Sanchez's killing of his assistant by exploding him in a depressurisation chamber show us how unpleasant he is.  This moves us from the jocular nature of Whitaker and Koskov. Bond gets closer to Sanchez than any of his opponents since Scaramanga and similarly is welcomed into the criminal's home.
In some ways Sanchez reminds us of General Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama 1984-90. Sanchez has US Stinger missiles of the kind supplied to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan by the US. Sanchez has bought two from the right-wing Contra rebels of Nicaragua who were well supplied by Reagan's USA during the 1980s. Sanchez threatens to use one to bring down a US airliner if the Americans do not stop trying to disrupt his business. Korean airline KAL007 was shot down in September 1983 by Soviet warplanes and Iran Air IR655 airliner had been shot down by US forces in July 1988, so attacks destroying civilian passenger aircraft were a current fear at the time.
We know that Noriega and other right-wing dictators and guerrillas in Central America received backing during the Reagan years because of the US fear of the encroachment of liberal regimes in that region. Noriega was a favourite of the USA until his time was done and he was removed when US forces invaded the country in 1990. Perhaps the similarity between real life politics and events in the movie explain its unpopularity. Maybe it is because people saw no global threat. Sanchez, like Mr. Big, seems only about to step up the drugs trade to the detriment of the USA. Drugs play a part in both Dalton's Bond movies, which reflects the growing focus of the time. Between the end of the Cold War around 1985/7/91 and before the perceived rise of Islamist terrorism in 2001 (though it dated back at least 7 years by then) intelligence agencies, notably the UK's MI5, saw organised crime, especially drugs trafficking as their new focus.
Another aspect, as in the recent 'Quantum of Solace', is that in 'Licence to Kill' Bond is working outside MI6 authority on a mission of personal revenge. The role of Pam Bouvier, an ex-CIA pilot is very much like that of Bolivian secret service agent Camille in 'Quantum of Solace'.  This is part of the legacy of female agents working with Bond certainly from 'The Spy Who Love Me' onwards, if not 'Live and Let Die'. The front used by the drug dealer of Professor Joe Butcher's study centre could have been a nice dig at the televangelists of the time (something else that would have made it unpopular in 1980s USA which was still enamoured by such men).  However, having him played by Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton makes him far too pleasant and missing the necessary focus and sinister nature.  Consequently it makes this an embarrassing element of the movie. The portrayal of a drug lord's base in 'xXx' (2002) or even, for Heaven's sake, 'Bedazzled' (2000) was far more credible.

Sanchez is a threat but we see him as evil more for personal reasons than for the larger scale activities he is carrying out. Perhaps with the news of battles with drug lords in Colombia at the time, this approach seemed nothing special.

Alec Trevelyan played by Sean Bean
Alec Trevelyan/Janus
'GoldenEye' (1995) represented a return for Bond after six years caused by a combination of legal wranglings and the uneasy reception of the two Dalton movies. Though the critics like more serious Bonds, the cinema-ticket buying public, and, increasingly, the DVD-buying public want romps. 'GoldenEye' managed to straddle both camps. It had a current focus, reflecting on the changing face of the USSR as it had become the Russian Federation and other states.  This charted the next stage of a development which had been mapped in Bond movies certainly since 1981 and especially 1987. Interestingly, the motives of Alec Trevelyan played by British actor Sean Bean (born 1959 [sporting an upper class rather than the northern English working class accent he is typically directed to use]) go back to the end of the Second World War as his parents were Lienz Cossacks. Owing to the creation the 1st and Cossack Divisions that fought alongside the Germans, units drawn from this people had been part of the SS from 1944 onwards. These Cossack divisions surrendered in the British zone of Austria in 1945 but were returned to the USSR in line with the agreement between the British and Soviets. Josef Stalin had already been persecuting the Cossacks before the war and naturally killed all of those who had collaborated with the Germans and their families. Cossacks fought on both sides of the Soviet-German front and were always portrayed by their opponents as brutal.

Trevelyan seeks revenge for what he sees as the betrayal of his parents by the British, and, having been a successful Russian gangster for the previous six years, aims to secure hundreds of millions of pounds from British bank accounts by using the GoldenEye satellite to fire an EMP blast on London knocking out its computers. As noted throughout these postings, a lot of Fleming's villains had unresolved issues from the Second World War, notably Hugo Drax. We can also recall that in the movies Max Zorin was bred by the Nazis at the end of the Second World War.  He developed silicon chips immune to EMP just like the French Tiger helicopter that Trevelyan's agents steal.
Xenia Onatopp played by Famke Janssen

Trevelyan is many things, first he is 006, supposedly killed and certainly scarred in a raid on a Soviet chemical weapons factory in 1989.  He is also Janus, head of the Russian mafia body of the same name, chosen presumably because of the looking forward/looking back nature of the Roman mythological Janus and Trevelyan's facial scarring. Like Kamal and Whitaker before him, Trevelyan uses a Russian general with a desire to make money, this time (Colonel in 1989) General Grigorivich Ourumov (played by German actor Gottfried John (born 1942) who looks suitably like a lanky version of Russia's Vladmir Putin, prime minister of Russia 1999-2000; 2008- and president 2000-08) head of the space division of the Russian forces. The fear of Russian generals going their own way is an enduring one, despite Russia's political changes. Ourumov also has the best female assassin since May Day: Xenia Zigavna Onatopp (played by Dutch actress Famke Janssen (born 1964)), a former KGB assassin, though we never learn her rank. Just contrast Famke Janssen's portrayal of Onatopp with her roles in the 'X-Men' trilogy (2000-06) and even as another spy in 'I Spy' (2002) to see her range of acting ability.
Trevelyan, like Grant in 'From Russia With Love', is portrayed as a mirror image of Bond and himself questions Bond's motivations, excuses even, for behaving how he does, especially when it causes so many deaths to innocent people. The battle with Trevelyan is unsurprisingly very physical, like that with Grant and to some extent, Katanga/Big's bodyguard Tee Hee. We are not really given a satisfactory explanation of why Bond's behaviour is any more excusable than Trevelyan's, but I suppose that the bulk of movie goers have no doubts.  Yet, it is interesting to see the issue raised. Trevelyan is an excellent villain. Like Goldfinger and Zorin he combines a large scale plot with personal gain.  Like Blofeld, and to some extent Stromberg and Drax, he seeks revenge too and he has the strength, unlike so many Bond villains, to actually fight fist-to-fist with Bond. It is no wonder that 'GoldenEye' made such an impact and remains a credible movie even 14 years on. This longevity is helped to some extent by the fact that after six years of abrupt change 1985-91, Russia has remained pretty much the same since.
Eliot Carver played by Jonathan Pryce

Elliot Carver
The problem with Elliot Carver is that he is acted by Jonathan Pryce (born 1947) who is terribly over-rated. He was alright in 'Brazil' (1985) and even in the two 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies he appeared in, in 2003 and 2006, but no better than alright. He is hopeless as a villain. He is bad in 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (1997) though far worse in 'Ronin' (1998) playing Irish terrorist Seamus O'Rourke (Sean Bean also appears in that movie as a man pretending to be formerly in the SAS). 'Ronin' is a good thriller and has one of the best car chases seen in movies; with Pryce's role taken by another actor it could have played a larger part in redefining thrillers at the end of the 1990s. In both of these movies Pryce's poor portrayals really bring down the movie and counterbalance excellent acting from his co-stars. The trouble with Pryce is that he seems so devoid of passion, not in a cold clinical way, but it is almost as if he is rather embarrassed to be there and/or weary of the role he is playing. As a villain, his Carver is reminiscent of Savalas's Blofeld, equally lacking in life or conviction. The best bit about Pryce's performance is Carver's death.
Pryce was terribly miscast in this role and it is a shame. Teri Hatcher (born 1964) as his wife and Bond's former girlfriend does not do much better. However, they are over-shadowed by Dr. Kaufman played by Italian Vincent Schiavelli (born 1948) whose appearance on screen is fortunately brief. His portrayal of a supposed expert torturer is painfully embarrassing.  It is so much trying to be a comic turn that you are utterly lost and are begging Bond to kill him. Why he could not have played it more seriously, I do not know. He has appeared in many comedy things, hundreds of TV series, but also more serious stuff too, like 'The X Files' and 'Amadeus' (1984). If that is his real voice then he should have been dubbed as have many other actors in Bond movies been. Myself, I would have recast his role, along with those of Pryce and Hatcher.
Carver is portrayed as a media villain suited to the 21st century. He has white-grey hair but no disability or peculiarity or beard, but yes, he wears an almost Nehru-collared jacket to his launch party. His newspaper 'Tomorrow' harks back to Eddie Shah and his 'Today' newspaper which led the way in the smashing of trade unions in the UK newspaper industry in 1982. The kind of ruthless behaviour Shah used is clearly seen in Carver.

Carver also has elements of Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates as we hear references to deliberately putting bugs into software in order to make customers come back for patches (have you ever tried using Vista? my employers will not go near it with a bargepole) and, of course, to multi-media tycoon Rupert Murdoch (born 1931) who has sought control of different media in Australia, the UK and USA and was very involved in keeping the Thatcherite regime in power 1979-97, especially at the 1992 election. Tony Blair personally went to gain Murdoch's support before winning the 1997 election and that kow-towing probably bought him some millions of votes.

As commentators pointed out at the time of the release of 'Tomorrow Never Dies', Murdoch had already won the kind of media rights in China that Carver is seeking in the movie, to some extent aided by his third wife, from 1999, Wendy Deng. In addition, the announcement of Carver's death echoes that of another newspaper mogul, Captain Robert Maxwell, MC (born Ján Ludvík Hoch; lived 1923-91), who could have been a model for many of Fleming's villains.  There were rumours he had been a Mossad agent. Surrounded with debts and questions over his misuse of the Mirror Group newspapers pension fund, he committed suicide by swimming away from his luxury yacht, off the Canary Islands.
Carver's plot is to provoke a war between Britain and China by misleading a British naval vessel into Chinese territorial waters (a challenging thing to define anyway given how many islands China claims) by altering the global satellite positioning signals coming into the British ship. To some degree this warns us against over-dependence on technological solutions. A similar way of causing disaster is used in 'Die Hard 2' (1990) in which the level that an aircraft perceives the ground as being due to beacons, is intentionally altered, causing it to crash. Carver is happy to kill a ship's crew (he uses a stealth ship [like a stealth aeroplane, but a ship] and an undersea drilling device to achieve this). He also has his wife murdered (why are these women always left draped on beds?) when she betrays him to Bond. He is sneering, but despite these activities, due to Pryce's inabilities, there is no real credibility in his manner. Carver might have been appropriate for current affairs, but needed a more effective actor to play him, instead we are left with someone as lacking in impact as Savalas and Gray.
Colonel Wai Lin played by Michelle Yeoh

The only other thing to mention in a movie which is good despite having such a weak villain, is that as with the Soviets in 'The Spy Who Loved Me', in 'Tomorrow Never Dies' we have a Chinese secret agent, Colonel Wai Lin (very well played by Michelle Yeoh [born 1962 in Malaysia]) who is actually more competent than Bond, especially in the early investigation parts of the movie. Yeoh has had a successful martial arts movie career behind her and often played police or military characters such as Inspector Ng in 'Huang Jia Shi Jie' [I am using Mandarin titles as despite being Hong Kong movies I do not have the Cantonese titles; 'In the Line of Duty'] (1985), Inspector Jessica Yang, a Director of Interpol (though she turns out to be a Colonel in the Communist Chinese police, presumably the Ministry of Public Security, most likely the People's Armed Police, formed in 1983) in 'Jing Cha Gu Shi III: Chao Ji Jing Cha' ['Police Story 3'] and is best known in the West for 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' (2003) and 'Memoirs of a Geisha' (2005). Interestingly the Guoanbu (contraction of Guojia Anquan Bu, the Chinese Ministry of State Security) is shown as having bases in Vietnam, a country with which China has had fraught relations not least since China's defeat there in 1979.

The actress and the character, certainly have the abilities to be more than credible assistance to Bond, excelling Major Amasova, though still not being able to avoid being seduced by Bond. With him having saved her life, I suppose she felt obliged to show her gratitude. This is Bond's first close encounter with an Oriental woman since 'You Only Live Twice', thirty years earlier.

Elektra King played by Sophie Marceau

Elektra King
Elektra King, so far, is the only female head villain Bond has encountered and director Michael Apted says she is the main villain.  Some commentators view her as an assistant of anarchist Viktor 'Renard' Zokas, but they clearly have not been watching 'The World is Not Enough' (1999) closely enough. King (played by French actress Sophie Marceau, born 1966) is half-Azeri whose family fled Azerbaijan when it was absorbed into the USSR in 1920. Her mother married Sir Robert King and, because, accordingly to Azeri custom, with her maternal grandfather having no male heirs, King inherits Elektra's family's rights. With the independence of Azerbaijan from the USSR in 1991 the region has been opened up to economic development and King's company is exploiting oil there. Elektra was kidnapped by terrorist Viktor Zokas known as 'Renard' (also a fictional name for a fox in medieval Franco-German stories). Head of MI6, M adhered to the British governmental policy of not dealing with terrorists, something which angered Elektra and she seeks to kills both her father (which she succeeds in doing) and M.

Elektra has subverted Zokas who demanded a ransom that Elektra could use. She mutilated her ear (so, given the fact she does not wear Nehru collared jackets, this shows us she is a Bond villain as it gives her a physical peculiarity) for him to send to demand the ransom. Elektra has Zokas steal a nuclear device and uses part of it to damage her own company's pipeline so that she appears under threat and can fool Bond and M into travelling to western Asia to protect her. She plans to have Zokas use the rest to blow up a Russian submarine in the Bosporus (part of the straits between the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea) through which all the other new supplies of oil coming from the Caspian Sea region, bar her own (as her pipeline comes on the southern side of Turkey) will be transported, so giving her a monopoly for her pipeline.
Of course, if anyone had read their classical mythology they would know that Electra, daughter of King Agamemnon was terribly scheming. The Electra complex would suggest that she had an unhealthy sexual attraction for her father. Perhaps she did and that is why she loathes him so strongly when he refused to pay the ransom for her. Elektra plays the victim very effectively, though is incredibly manipulative getting MI6, Zokas and the crew of a Russian nuclear submarine, among others, to work for her. She can wield a gun efficiently and enjoys using a torture device on Bond. Her plot would kill millions of people in Turkey and Greece and contaminate the region for centuries. Elektra's manipulation of Zokas reminded me of Dr. Esther Martin's (played by Harriet Walter (born 1950)) manipulation of a prisoner to make him think she was the embodiment of a demon queen to get him to carry out murders in 'The Day of the Devil' episode of 'Inspector Morse' shown in January 1993.
Elektra does have another trait and that is a patriotism for the Azeris and she enjoys the acclaim when she has the pipeline diverted around an ancient Azeri church. This is a blunder as 96% of the Azeri population is Muslim. The suggestion must be that these people are in fact Armenians (Armenia neighbours Azerbaijan and there is an Armenian enclave, Nagorno-Karabakh, within Azerbaijan), but, for some reason, they are not portrayed that way, presumably because Turkey has bad relations with Armenia going back to the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915. Azerbaijan is antagonistic because of the enclave.  Alternatively, Elektra may be half-Georgian. Georgians are Christian, but if they started referring to Georgians and Georgia in a movie shown in the USA, it would have caused immense confusion for the American audience because of their own state of Georgia. The British audience might think it was about the Georgian period of their history (1714-1830/7).

Viktor 'Renard' Zokas played by Robert Carlyle

Zokas is a dying man. He was trained (like Scaramanga) as a KGB assassin but was let go for being mentally unstable. He was shot in the head by 009 which did not kill him but the bullet has removed all feelings from the man.  This means he has increasing endurance and no ability to feel pain, but has a limited life expectancy as the bullet moves through his skull. He is killed trying to explode the reactor in a Soviet nuclear submarine in the Bosporus. Elektra seduced Zokas when he had kidnapped her and held her on Cyprus.
We know little about Zokas's past. Zokas is a Lithuanian surname. This fits, given that Lithuania was part of the USSR 1940-90 so he could have been recruited direct into the KGB. We can guess Zokas is the same age as the Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle (born 1961) who played him, so aged 38 in 1999, and, having grown up in the Soviet system, has seen it dissolve in the previous eight years. His nihilist, anarchist attitude is very much like the Anarchy 99 Russian criminal group in 'xXx' (2002), who seek to eliminate the world population through a binary chemical weapon from a mini-submarine, rather like a combination of Stromberg's and Drax's plot. Seeing little point in life of the early 2000s they seek to take the rest of the world with them. Of course, this is the populist view of 'anarchist' and it is more accurate to portray Zokas and Anarchy 99 as nihilists.
Zokas is reminiscent more of a protagonist in 'The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale' (1907) by Polish-born Joseph Conrad (born Teodor Józef Konrad Korzeniowski in what is now the Ukraine; lived 1857-1924) which features a Adolf Veloc a nihilist agent in Edwardian London. Given we know Zokas has been in the eastern Mediterranean (Cyprus and Syria) this suggests it was where he was assigned. Renard means 'counsel hard' or 'to be made hard by the gods' which would seem a suitable interpretation for the injured Zokas in this movie. That spelling of the name is of Germanic origin (the French name is 'Reynard'; Germans settled in Lithuania in the middle ages), though interestingly a few Renard families lived in northern Scotland in the 19th century.
King and Zokas are two excellent villains that weave a complex double-plot for this movie. Both are portrayed by very strong actors. The story has reach, but is believable: not about the end of the world, but a serious enough threat to need Bond on the case. It is current given the persistent upheaval in the Cis-Caucasus, Caucasus and Trans-Caucasus regions since 1986, notably in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Abkhazia, North and South Ossetia and Chechnya.

Colonel Tan-Sun Moon played by Will Yun Lee

Gustav Graves played by Toby Stevens

Colonel Tan-Sun Moon/Gustav Graves
When 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (2002) was released there did not seem to be a great number of dangerous countries left in the world. Eschewing the easy option of Islamist terrorists which were being portrayed in other thrillers, the writer went for North Korea, which remains a true Communist state (unlike capitalist China ruled by the CCP) and, with its developments in nuclear weapons, seems a genuine threat to the world. I am waiting for a movie featuring the regime of Burma/Myanamar which had the suitably Bondesque name of SLORC from 1988-97, but of course it is not a nuclear power.

Featuring the North Korean officer, Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (played by American Will Yun Lee, born 1971) allows nods in many directions: back to the Cold War as he is seeking to reverse the outcome of the Korean War 1950-3 and reunite the two parts, plus to the business-orientated villains we have seen in the Bond movies since 1981 and especially since 1985. Even while in the North Korean Army, Moon is behaving corruptly, dealing in conflict diamonds, i.e. ones being sold from regions in conflict, notably in central Africa, which, in an attempt to reduce chances of such fighting should not be traded officially, but are smuggled. His behaviour shames his father, General Sun.

Sun disappears after a battle with Bond and, 14 months later, in which time Bond has been being tortured by North Korean forces, (as seen graphically across the credit sequence), Colonel Moon has undergone plastic surgery and reinvented himself as Gustav Graves (played by Briton Toby Stephens, born 1969) a billionaire who is being knighted. Graves has built his wealth using conflict diamonds and, like Blofeld in 'Diamonds Are Forever', constructs a satellite which can focus intense light on to the Earth. Though we know such a device using diamonds would not work, this kind of satellite has received increased credibility since 1971, as there were plans announced by Russia in the 1990s to use a huge reflector to bring greater sunlight to Siberia, though naturally there were concerns about the environmental impact. Graves aims simply to use it to explode the land mines which separate South Korea from North Korea to permit an invasion by North Korean forces to win the war. In this way, like Elektra King, patriotism remains a strong motive for Sun/Graves. Given that defending one's country has often been a motive for Bond's action it is naturally interesting when he comes up against patriots of other countries whose interests conflict with those of the UK.

Zao played Rick Yune

In both incarnations Sun/Graves is handsome and it is up to his assistant, Zao, who is exchanged for Bond's release, to carry the physical peculiarities that mark out a Bond villain. First he has diamonds embedded in his face from the explosion that Bond triggers at the start of the movie. Second, his features are altered at the plastic surgery clinic (which uses gene therapy and some form of benign brainwashing that leaves the patient unable to sleep) in Cuba, as a precursor to transforming him into a German businessman. Zao is provided with a car by Graves which is even better equipped than anything Bond can take into the field (though Bond's can turn invisible, but let us sweep that embarrassing aspect aside). Neither Graves or Zao inflict the usual killing of an innocent or a naif that one expects in a Bond movie, but I assume it was thought we had seen enough cruelty in the credit sequence. Both seek to fight Bond. Graves is almost an archetype of the gallant villain especially in the fight scene at Verity's (played by Madonna as a lesbian) fencing club.

Zao played by Rick Yune showing effects of explosion and preparation for plastic surgery

The other interesting thing is the range of strong women characters. Aside from Verity we have Giacinta 'Jinx' Johnson, played by Halle Berry (born 1966), an NSA (makes a change from the CIA) agent who assists Bond in Cuba, Iceland and aboard Graves's aircraft and is a strong fighter who kills Miranda Frost with a dagger. Johnson is in the style of quite a long list of female US agents who are tough and assist Bond. Frost, played by Rosamund Pike (born 1979), is an MI6 agent working undercover as Graves's publicist. She comes across as an uber-public school girl, in fact very much like many leading women in the British civil service. She is in fact a double agent and her loyalties lie with Graves who she has known since being on the fencing team with Sun in the USA as a student. M's mistaken impression of Frost is the second example of her making a dangerous blunder.  Previously we have seen her bending over backwards to help Elektra King when she wanted revenge on M; was the killer of Sir Robert King, M's friend, and behind the nuclear explosion plot seen in 'The World is Not Enough'. This suggests M is not a good judge of character. Thinking of that, her bodyguard, Mitchell, also turns out to be a traitor in 'Quantum of Solace'.
Miranda Frost played by Rosamund Pike

Frost seems to sum up the self-focused, arrogant, terse, devious, greedy, treacherous, at times aggressive, women you find in the UK public school system producing (in the UK public schools are elite fee-paying schools), much to the detriment of UK society. (I know: I have worked with women like Frost; one called Tiffany, who represented all of those traits painfully remains in my mind). I can see why she was a popular character in the UK and I understand why so many teenage public school girls see her as a heroine rather than a villain, because her traits are those their schools are fostering. Though no fan of the US intelligence services, I am glad that Jinx rids the world of yet another of these despicable women.

As the last Brosnan-Bond villain, Sun/Graves is pretty good. He is acted in a sneering yet charismatic way and his motives seem credible and genuine. For Europeans and Americans his focus on the Korean peninsula seems very parochial, yet, that reinforces our belief in him as a villain. He does not show his cruelty either, which perhaps is a mistake. His business focus that means he is willing to go outside the rules, is something we are familiar with coming from business people for many decades, but especially in the 2000s.

Post-Brosnan Villains
I have spoken a little about these already and I think the extent and nature of Quantum has yet to be revealed. As has been a recent trend in Bond movies, we have a mix of business-based plots with a desire to control much of the world as possible. Sensibly, not too much has been revealed too quickly. Keeping things secretive is always the best as with the early portrayal of SPECTRE. The Craig-Bond movies, eschewing any silliness, have a very adult feel about them akin to that of the Bourne movies and I hope that that nature does not slide.

Having reflected on all these Bond villains, I started dreaming about them, and awaking the other morning came up with my own James Bond plot, which I share here for what it is worth. I envisaged a plot to drain China's huge savings reserves, currently US$4.8 trillion (£3.3 trillion; €3.6 trillion) (compared to only US$215 billion held in India) which is sufficient to buy every bank in the USA outright.

In the story, Quantum's agent, Madame Brune (or 'Marron' or even 'Châtain'; 'Noire' would be too obvious, anyway, played by Grace Jones perhaps as May Day survived the blast, perhaps scarred to show she is a villain) is operating from a palace outside Samarkand in Uzbekistan, has subverted leading financial officials in China to funnel millions of dollars into Quantum accounts with the objective of buying a new lease for Hong Kong to control this very prosperous part of China as the British once did. However, when one official (played by Chow Yun Fat) begins siphoning off funds himself, Brune employs freelance assassin Francesca Scaramanga (born in 1973 to Francisco Scaramanga and a Khmer or a Filippino woman) to kill him (the golden gun was never seen to be retrieved from Scaramanga's base. Perhaps Nick Nack has come out of prison in UK or Thailand and allowed Francesca access to her father's legacy). He tries to flee to the West via Hong Kong (where MI6 retains a base), attracting the attention of MI6 which assigns Bond to find out what is happening.

Whilst doing this, however, alerted by Dame Dr. Melina Havelock, European Maritime Commissioner (aged 52 now), suspicious about certain petrol shipments into China, Bond stumbles across a plot by a high-ranking PLA (Chinese Army) official (played by Jet Li). Li's character is actually a double-agent long working for the Taiwanese Political Warfare General Bureau but has gone off the rails. He borrowed from Fat's character to fund his plan. Working with Karl Sanchez (brother of late Franz Sanchez) and his nephew (born to Franz's lover Lupe Lamora after Franz's death), he intends to flood China with cocaine using the solution in petroleum method neglected since the late 1980s. This way he hopes to weaken China and allow a reconquest by Nationalist GMD forces who have held Taiwan since losing the Chinese Civil War in 1950.

Bond works with Brigadier Wai Lin (promoted after 'Tomorrow Never Dies') to prevent the smuggling through Shanghai. Given the US long-term involvement in Taiwan, a US agent (Jinx?) may be involved too, or, more interestingly, a Russian spy, say Captain Anna Dmitriova of the FSB. Dmitry is the Russian equivalent of 'James'. The Amasova in Major Anya Amasova was her middle name, her patrynimic (i.e. formed from adding '-ova' to her father's first name); we never find out her surname. Anna would be the daughter born to Major Anna Amasova in 1980 after her encounter with Bond. Of course, with Daniel Craig only being born in 1968, it cannot be his Bond's child so we presume Anna will have been the child of another British agent named James.

Of course, the reappearance of descendants of previous villains will mess with the chronology, but Judi Dench as M has overseen two Bonds just as Bernard Lee's oversaw three without any narrative upset. The plot is both current yet refers back to the Bond legacy and allows the reappearance of some of my favourite villains or their children.


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Robert said...

Interesting analysis of all the villains. However, you're idea of bringing back and linking so many characters in your draft for a new story strike me as a quite 'campy'. It's almost like the James Bond Jr. tv-series.

On the other hand, the background of these characters are certainly very plausible, ignoring the trouble with the chronology.

But considering that Bond has discovered something like the 'fountian of youth', this might also have have happened to another former character, like Amassova. Bringing back 'a woman from his past', as Brosnan suggested to do so for Tomorrow Never Dies, could easily be a former character.

By the way a suggestion, as well as an homage, would be Sir Sean Connery to portray the main atagonist. The most important reason for bringing him back to the series is that he is one of the few, perhaps the only one left alive, who worked closely with Ian Fleming, besides the fact that he is a great actor. Connery has stated before in interviews he might be interested in such a role.

After all, thanks again for your vision on the villains. I might use the information as an inspiration for my own Bond story.

Rooksmoor said...

Robert, yes, it was only supposed to be light-hearted. The whole chronology of James Bond himself is difficult; he has almost become a 'Doctor Who' character, reincarnating. I have long thought that the name James Bond is more a title than the actual name of the man, in this way like the old superhero, The Phantom. In the movie 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', George Lazenby as Bond refers, I think to 'the other chap' not having as much difficulty, after he is attacked on the beach. It is a brief breaking of the fourth wall which suggests that this incarnation of Bond knows he is not the first.

It is easier to match the ages of the villains who are not constrained as much. In the movies we do not really see Blofeld age, but the consequences of previous encounters do take a toll on him physically. I have not read any of the post-Fleming Bond novels, bar 'Colonel Sun', so I have no idea how this is handled in the books or whether it is simply ignored with Bond being ageless.

I think Connery is pretty much in retirement these days. His villain in 'The Avengers' (1998) was suitably over the top, it would be interesting to see him as a low-key villain for the Daniel Craig era. I could easily see him as someone like Alec Trevelyan, perhaps an embittered former agent