The real challenge facing Bond 25 is that 007 hasn’t faced a decent villain in years
At the start of Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s frenetic Nazi-hunter drama/black comedy, Christoph Waltz, playing the role of Colonel Hans Landa, orchestrates one of the most striking and atmospheric openings to a film in recent memory. As an SS officer nicknamed “The Jew Hunter” sniffing for victims in rural France, he is taut, charming, menacing and hypnotic. A barely-hidden psychopathy dwelling beneath black pupils and the white smile of a shark.
He’s brilliant, basically.
And then (well, after Django Unchained) he was cast as a James Bond villain, Blofeld, and seemingly asked to play the exact same role, but… worse?
In Spectre, Waltz appears to play a Hans Landa-lite, rather than the fearsome head of a new world order. His signature erudition and weight of delivery is in tact, but the potential for explosion and gleeful cruelty that made Landa so watchable has been hollowed out, leaving us with a smooth-but-boring bad guy. A polished mosquito for Bond to swat, rather than anything resembling an engaging nemesis.
Going back to (at least) 2012’s Skyfall, 007 has a villain problem. One that sees immensely talented actors like Waltz and Javier Bardem – selected thanks to their menace and magnetism as lead antagonists in other films – attempt to transplant their villainy into the PG-13 body of the Bond universe. An idea that, in theory, makes a lot of sense, but on screen leaves the viewer feeling short changed.
In Skyfall, as cyber villain/ rogue agent Raoul Sousa, Bardem and/or the script seem to be playing it safe. The deranged smirk is sort-of there; the nihilism and sudden bursts of mania, but it feels like more of reminder for just how good No Country for Old Men is, rather than a brilliant, original portrayal. This is Javier Bardem, so of course he’s good, but it’s a performance that’s underwhelming when compared to one it is so clearly based on.
In fact, when was the last Bond villain that properly stuck with you beyond the proximity of the cinema? Well, except for that hilariously bad “Russian computer hacker” played by Alan Cummings during the Piers Brosnan era (and even then for all the wrong reasons).
There is a notable exception – Mads Mikklesen as the glacial, chess-loving terrorism king pin Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Here was an actor able to approach the role with a solid C.V. and the kind of face that seems genetically engineered to play a man who’s up to no good, but not with an iconic former role hanging over his head for the entirety of the film.
With Daniel Craig now confirmed to return and more details for Bond 25 (hopefully) just around the corner, Barbara Broccoli and her band of Bond cronies (we don’t actually know if they’re cronies) are presented with the opportunity to reinvigorate the archetypal Bond villain with an actor who might not have the pre-packaged clout of a Bardem or a Waltz, but who will give audiences an opportunity to enjoy the ride without feeling like they’re watching a gutted, sanitised rehash of another film’s character.
You know what you’re getting with Craig (solid, cold, strong, consistent… a bit grumpy), so it makes perfect sense to introduce a fresh foil with some risk and mystery attached.
Or just make it 18-rated and give them a cattle gun.
That’d work, too…