As famous as Agent 007 remains after five-plus decades at the movies, many of his nemeses remain equally well-known.
Typically, Bond films don’t work very well if the villains don’t measure up; if they don’t present the audience some electric jolt suggesting that Bond -- and the world itself -- might truly be in danger.
We have long since come to expect that Bond will drive fast cars, romance beautiful women, and defeat monstrous enemies, but we also must believe at least a little during the course of the movie that the outcome is in doubt. The best villains help us suspend that disbelief.
I’m a long-time admirer of the late Donald Pleasence and his many great performances. He was -- rather famously -- in a bad movie or two (Pumaman, Warriors of the Lost World) during his time. But Pleasence also made a hell of a villain in films such as Fantastic Voyage and You Only Live Twice.
Joseph Wise portrays Dr. No in the Bond film of the same name, the very first Bond film in the canon, in fact. As the first of the “bad guys,” Wiseman makes a tremendous impact.
Physically powerful and endowed with destructive, crushing metal hands (because of an accident), he also boasts a cruel, cool intellect. As No, Wiseman set the tone for many of the future Bond villains by memorably terming our hero a “stupid police man.”
Timothy Dalton’s James Bond went up against Davi’s diabolical, physically-intimidating drug lord, Sanchez in Licence to Kill (1989).
Although I remember vividly at the time of the film's release that some critics were disappointed to see Bond battling a drug baron in South America, I believe that the character worked brilliantly not only because of Davi’s fearsome, intense (method) portrayal, but because the character boasts a psychological frailty.
Well, this is a huge surprise, right?
I think everyone knew this selection was coming. But Goldfinger is surely the ultimate James Bond villain, one oft-imitated but never quite duplicated.
A genius, a mad-man, an ego-maniac, and more, Auric Goldfinger, like Sanchez, can be discussed in terms of one key quality: an obsessive love of gold.
Goldfinger is single-minded in his pursuit of gold, and he lets nothing stop him. In part, Goldfinger is so memorable because he doesn’t engage much with Bond directly, not when there's Operation Grand Slam to plan, anyway. Hence his famous retort: “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” or another good quip: “Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr. Bond. It may be your last."
Goldfinger is so single-minded that he can’t quite see that Bond is clever enough to be his undoing and not just a nuisance. I also love the fact that film defines Goldfinger as, essentially, a cheat. He obeys no rules in his quest to control the world's supply of gold, and that kind of obsession/lawlessness makes for a very powerful opponent indeed.