Difference in Bond Villains

Ask any Bond fan to name a villain, either from the books or from the movies, and you will get a range of answers. Some will admire Auric Goldfinger, Rosa Klebb, Kananga, Drax, or everyone’s favourite, Dominic Greene. No?

Yet many will drift towards the more – noticeable? – villains, because either Ian Fleming, or the writers of the films, made them look “different”.  And in literature and movies over the years, a noticeable difference between heroes and villains has become a bit of a stereotype, a trope. Like any trope, the use can get tiresome, but they are often shortcuts to helping an audience already versed in seeing such stereotypes “tune in” to a character, theme or storyline.

DOCTOR NO (1961)

Julius No had radiation burns so had his hands replaced with metal versions.  Slick, black and creepy. Sadly slippery when wet.

THUNDERBALL (1965)

SPECTRE’s number 2, Largo, sports an eye patch, evoking memories of pirates, or soldiers injured in battle.

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)

When Ernst Stavro Blofeld is finally seen in all his glory (his previous appearances having avoided showing his face), he arrives with a huge scar down his right cheek, which distorts his eyelid. Presumably this version of Blofeld has an unspoken back story explaining the injuries. This visual difference is extremely memorable, arguably the only memorable thing about the villain.

LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)

Henchman Tee Hee has a mechanical metal claw, replacing the hand he lost to a crocodile in the past. Dubious physics aside, the claw is used very well in the story.

Interestingly, Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter is mauled by a shark in the novel, losing a leg and an arm, and he returns actively in the books – but none of that happens in the films, even when they make Felix suffer in Licence to Kill. No heroes with prosthetics in Bond movies, just villains.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Scaramanga doesn’t have a scar, but has a third nipple. This is taken from the book, and a slight plot point is made of it in the film, but unless the villain is going to spend more time topless, it has little impact to the story or the character – to the point of leaving viewers asking why they bothered. Unless we tune in to the centuries old idea that witches had a separate nipple to suckle their famiiar creatures. Extra nipples = evil (at least that’s what Anne Boleyn’s naysayers pronounced when sullying her reputation).

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

Stromberg wishes to create new worlds under the sea, so the filmmakers gave him webbed fingers. In two short blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments, the webs are visible. (Memories of The Man from Atlantis TV show here). Naomi does warn Bond that Stromberg doesn’t like to shake hands (and in some epic sh*thousery Bond still makes the attempt).

The huge assassin Jaws haunted many children’s nightmares, and it’s easy to see why, with a mouth full of metal teeth.

Sure, that would make him quite recognisable for an international assassin, but then again, Bond introduces himself by name all the time (so much for the SECRET service). Jaws reappears in the next film too…

MOONRAKER (1979)

GOLDENEYE (1995)

Janus is the mythological god of duality – and villain Janus does have two faces. A nice handsome one at the start, then a horribly scarred one later on. Like many Bond villains the external difference is a visual representation of the evil within, yet once more, we have to accept that SCARS equals EVIL.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

In this film, the anarchist Renard has a bullet lodged in his brain which is not only removing any sensation of pain, but making him stronger. A great idea, which has a nice payoff in the submarine later when Bond gives him news that hurts him emotionally. Not that Renard needed a scar, but the bullet wound is visible in his right temple.

DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)

Terrorist Zao gets caught in an explosion and diamonds end up embedded in his face. An interesting look, and the injury is obviously AFTER he became an evil villain, but again, the visible difference is used to attract attention. Or perhaps distract attention from the other villain…

CASINO ROYALE (2006)

In the film Le Chiffre has a scar and pale wounded eye, and a condition where he weeps blood. After forty plus years, scars are still being used as plot points. The scar is small, the eye is glassy, and the weeping blood is an interesting macabre idea. Yet Mads Mikkelson‘s performance would be chilling without obvious tropes of scars or glassy eyes like something out of Edgar Allen Poe’s A Tell Tale Heart.

SKYFALL (2012)

Silva is a good looking man, slowly revealed in that delicious monologue and long take when he walks towards Bond. His problems with M and MI6 are clear and for once, the evil doesn’t need a physical difference…  until he is captured in London and he removes his false teeth and half his face collapses. The idea that a failed MI6 suicide capsule caused the damage is a nice one, but then conveniently for the CGI budget the teeth are replaced for the rest of the film.

SPECTRE (2015)

Blofeld is back (no spoilers needed for that, surely?) and he has no facial difference. This is because it is part of the Daniel Craig softly rebooted films so he doesn’t need— no wait, he gets caught in an explosion and finishes the film with the eye/scar homage to YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Finally we meet Safin, a tortured man whose family were used by SPECTRE to cultivate and develop poison to be used against enemies. Similar to Doctor No, Safin‘s occupation caused the facial scars, and in the chilly opening in Norway we see them beneath the broken Japanese Noh mask.

The idea of a villain looking different isn’t a new one, with Victorian villains in literature being different because of appearance,  heritage, class etc. In Westerns, scars, missing fingers or eyes, contributed to the trope of different = evil. Bond films embraced the idea and have created some indelible images. I remember seeing Bond films as a child and Blofeld’s scar alongside Jaws’ teeth are embedded in my brain. Metaphorically.

REPRESENTATION

Individuals, or parents of children with facial difference endure negative stereotypes in the media on a daily basis.

Yet charities like CHANGING FACES have been pushing back against the tropes with their I Am Not Your Villain campaign:

And then, when NO TIME TO DIE was released, they produced “I Am More Than Just Your Villain“.

Bond films haven’t always used that trope, and arguably some of the best villains are morally or spiritually corrupt rather than looking different. The baddies in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Goldfinger himself, Hugo Drax, May Day, Zorin, the villains in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and LICENCE TO KILL don’t need the  scars.

Interestingly though, in almost all examples, that difference isn’t actually adding anything to the story or the character. The scars of Janus, Safin, Le Chiffre have no impact. No one cares about Scaramanga‘s third nipple.

Yet, we must reflect on some of those villains in the movies that had no visual difference. For many casual viewers, those villains are not necessarily memorable: will they remember Grant? Kananga? Kriegler? Khan? Whitaker? Carver? Stamper? Greene?

Is it because of poor writing or lazily drawn characters that casual viewers may not remember some of the best villains in the series? Does the lack of scars make us forget them? Are we so attuned to scars = evil that any variation on that theme has less impact to us as viewers?

Finally, a fact that Bond devotees are very aware of. James Bond himself, the suave, good-looking hero, according to Ian Fleming, has two very visible scars: one on the back of his hand, carved there by a SMERSH agent in the first book CASINO ROYALE, and of course the main one, on his face, revealed in the novel FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE:

It was a dark, clean-cut face, with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek.

From Russia with Love, (1957) Chapter 6: Death Warrant

Daniel Craig‘s Bond had many cuts to the face, but as yet no Bond actor has had that facial scar.

The question is: Why Not?

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