I’m like most longtime admirers of Bond, James Bond. I’ve my favorites. The venerable series has held a unique fascination of the movie buying public for over five decades now. We’re all pulling for the fictional British Secret Service agent, one licenced to kill. First created by novelist Ian Fleming in 1953 and brought to the big screen in ’62. But like any great character in thrillers, you must have a worthy antagonist to make it work.
Usually, there are exceptions, the better the villain, or henchman (er…henchwoman…oh damn it all… the heavy) the more entertaining the Bond film.
A couple years ago, I briefly touched on this with the best in villainy segment in a compilation piece on the various aspects of the longstanding movies series. Clearly, when each new actor takes the reins with this unique character, it’s a whole new era for OO7. So, continuing another arcane exercise in what I’ve come to call excessive Bond minutiae (eBm™, for short), I’ll pick such for each epoch. From Connery to Craig.
Obviously, I have nothing better to do right before Thanksgiving, but I am eyeing the turkey. Carrying on the out-of-order thing I’ve started. Fewest and on to the most, I’ll bracket each villain and most of their sidekicks (the important ones) for that specific slate of films. Naturally, there are spoilers to be revealed. No way around it. Please sign the non-disclosure agreement — you have been officially warned.
Bond Ranking: #2
Films: Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (1989), Skyfall (2012)
Villains: Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene, Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva.
Henchmen: Claudio Santamaria as Carlos and Sébastien Foucan as Mollaka, Neil Jackson as Edmund Slate, Ola Rapace as Patrice (among a spate of others).
Without question, Daniel Craig revitalized the series, in style and manner, for our post-9/11 world. It’s why he’s my second favorite Bond. Who cares if he’s blond. Even at this young point in his tour, though, we’ve a mixed bag when it comes to bad guys. Right off the bat, Mathieu Amalric was the weakest villain here in the problematic second movie. Kind of following in Roger Moore’s steps with an awkward sophomore film. So, it inevitably comes down to either Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre or Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva for the top spot. Natch.
Another sign of our times: Bond fails utterly at his Skyfall mission with protecting “M”, Dame Judith. For that, he gets his old job back, along with a new boss, who bares a striking resemblance to Sean Connery’s “M” and his old way of doing things.
I’ll go with Mads. Surprised? You shouldn’t be as Mr. Mikkelsen’s ongoing career has proven. As opposed to Javier’s Silva, he’s a serious (and far less hammy) performer in a role that could have been more of a throwaway, but wasn’t. Especially given the allure of Vesper (one of the best Bond girls ever) and the unnamed crime organization pulling strings in the background. Still, it was close. Silva being the only Bond villain ever to actually pull off his dastardly scheme: wasting and upending much of MI6, and successfully killing off “M”, his prime target all along.
The other revealing aspect when we come to the current era of Bond, are the traits of the henchmen. All are overly athletic, highly skilled, and seemingly a dime-a-dozen. Only a few standout, and merely as fodder for Daniel Craig’s various methods of dispatching them. Gone are the days of the beguiling, and memorable, heavy that took OO7 the whole movie to figure out a way of killing him or her.
Sébastien Foucan’s human Super Ball (for those of us old enough to remember that long ago kids toy) Mollaka was spectacularly impressive, for about fifteen minutes at the start of Craig’s debut film. Just about everyone else less so. Not a positive trend for the series, I believe. Still, Claudio Santamaria’s Carlos likely the best, and gave the new Bond qualms at the half way point of the film, in this now “short-lived” category, .
Another reason Casino Royale continues to standout, no matter what director Sam Mendes says or does.
Bond Ranking: #4
Films: Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002)
Villains: Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan (OO6), Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver, Sophie Marceau as Elektra King, Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves.
Henchpeople: Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, Götz Otto as Richard Stamper, Robert Carlyle as Renard, Rick Yune as Zao.
Pierce Brosnan should have had a better run as OO7 than he did. His last two films brought him down some. But I blame the producers for that. Again, a mixed bag among the four, but some interesting ones, nonetheless. The least memorable being Jonathan Pryce’s “evil media mogul” Elliot Carver for the second movie. Please1. The promising Toby Stephens somewhat wasted and burdened with the inane Gustav Graves role2 for Die Another Day, which just happened to be in the second worst Bond flick, in my ranking.
Interesting began with the better, though comparatively low-ranked third film. The World is Not Enough laid claim to something none of the other films had. What set it apart was the best Bond girl in the movie, Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King, was behind it all as the female villain (not the evil underling) in the series. Only Sean Bean’s OO6 outdoes her. Goldeneye not only was one of the best Bond debuts, but featured an actor on par with the protagonist as the antithesis adversary. Bean pulled off the anti-Bond persona with the same British spy cool we’ve all come to know and love. He would’ve been OO7 without a beat skipped.
Brosnan’s time had the better batting average when it came to the cronies trying to end it. Three out of four ain’t bad. Götz Otto’s Richard Stamper, though physically intimidating, was like his boss Carver. Pretty much forgettable. The others faired far better. Robert Carlyle’s damaged Renard for one. Masquerading as the mastermind for much of the third film (and giving Bond hell while he was at it), but actually Elektra’s henchman. A clever change-up for the franchise.
“…sexual arousal or gratification contingent on the death of a human being.”
The next two are in my Top Ten for Bond Henchmen. One of the few things I admire in my second lowest-rated Bond film was Rick Yune’s Zao (#10). A physical presence and personality you wanted to see more of, but didn’t (okay, that’s a complaint). Anyhoo, nothing beats Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp in this era anyway. Beauty, brains, and one word in particular — erotophonophilia — makes that so. Placing the lustful Georgian at #4 all-time in my book. Why nothing surpasses Goldeneye for Our Man Pierce.