James Bond has had to cope with quite the disparate rogues’ gallery over the course of some two dozen adventures. Some of his nemeses are flamboyant to the point of camp. A few are obsessed with a personal cause, while others as often cause chaos for the money and the game.
And in many memorable encounters, when 007 faces off against his principal foe, he’s actually facing off with himself.
Ian Fleming’s creation begins in films as in the original novels, a workaday government investigator whose antagonists are similarly earthbound. Though the likes of Dr. No and Auric Goldfinger are tinged with exotic touches and comic exaggeration, they’re mostly nasty Eurotrash who could fit into a John LeCarre procedural.
Sean Connery tossed the odd quip at assorted Spectre thugs, but mostly brought them down with a dogged determination that seemed appropriate at the height of the Cold War.
But as scoundrels were dispatched by means often verging on the superhuman, and as movie tried to top the last, the fiends had to get increasingly fiendish. At times, the only bad guy bad enough to threaten Bond seemed to be a Bond doppelganger — a dark reflection of the hero.
The idea of a Bond doppelganger first surfaces in 1964’s “From Russia With Love,” when Connery is stalked and shot dead before the opening credits. (It’s actually a Spectre goon in a Bond mask.) Entering later is Robert Shaw as blond stud Red Grant, a neurotic extension of Fleming’s icy professional operative — and as such, easily the most formidable foe of the early pix.
As Connery gave way to Roger Moore, the villains remained literally and figuratively big — the actors playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Dr. Kananga and Hugo Drax must have drawn heavily on the plus-sized racks at Pinewood Studios’ costume department. Then Chistopher Lee emerges from the sea as suave, svelte assassin Scaramanga in “The Man With the Golden Gun,” and for a moment you think it’s Bond himself.
And why not? “He speaks of you,” the baddie’s mistress informs 007. “He even has a likeness of you.” The assassin-for-hire with the superfluous nipple greets him like a long-lost bro. “We have so much in common, Mr. Bond. … Ours is such a lonely profession,” he burbles.
That pic was a fizzle, and in the era of detente the commies and crooks of Smersh and Spectre no longer seemed as threatening, so Bond found himself battling grandiose planet transformation schemes (Stromberg’s undersea kingdom in “The Spy Who Loved Me”), and efforts to lure East and West into unwanted nuclear confrontations (General Orlov in “Octopussy”). But the budgets, gadgets and comical streak had all begun to balloon out of control.
Bond came back to reality as the role was assayed by thesps who visibly winced at the inane puns they were forced to utter. No sooner did Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan start exploring 007’s psyche as a licensed assassin with serial mistresses and a heart of cold, than Bond’s evil twins reappeared. “I’m alone,” 007 whispers in “GoldenEye.” “Aren’t we all?” retorts Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan, erstwhile 006 now working to bring England down. “We’re both orphans, James.”
Sophie Marceau shows up as a kind of distaff 007 in “The World Is Not Enough,” swaying men with sex as Bond had so often seduced women. (Remember he once turned Pussy Galore to his side by appealing to her “maternal instincts.”) Then “Die Another Day” delivers Gustav Graves, a demented Richard Branson-type cast in Bond’s very image: “I chose to model myself on you,” he sneers. “The unjustifiable swagger; the crass quips; a defense mechanism concealing such inadequacy.”
Daniel Craig countenances none of that guff. Through two efforts to date, and “Skyfall” just around the corner, he’s the realest, cruellest, most tortured Bond ever. Bond is back to human scale, and his nemeses are, too.
But some things don’t change. In “Casino Royale” he sits across the poker table from the elegant, chilly, tuxedoed Le Chiffre — one more, and almost certainly not the last, malevolent mirror image of Bond himself.