Friday, July 03, 2015

Octopussy (1983) | Villains

The best thing about the recurring character of General Gogol is that he's not the typical, cliché Soviet general that used to be so ubiquitous in Cold War-era adventure films. As it turns out, the Bond series was saving that stereotype for General Orlov.

Steven Berkoff played this kind of character a lot in the '80s. Even when he wasn't directly giving us Soviet military officers (like in Rambo: First Blood, Part II), he was the go-to guy for instantly hateable villains like Beverly Hills Cop's Victor Maitland or Kristin Scott Thomas' bigoted father in Under the Cherry Moon. He even played Adolf Hitler in War and Remembrance. He's way over the top in Octopussy though and his zealous screaming of random words in hilariously cartoonish.

Orlov's biggest flaw though is that he's just so dumb. His plan sucks, to begin with. His end game is to get a nuke onto a US base where he can blow it up, but to do that he comes up with a bizarre plan involving replacing Soviet jewelry with fakes and smuggling the real stuff to Western Europe. It's not until late in this plan that someone realizes, "Oh, crap. What if there's an audit?" Which of course there is, leading to a clumsy fix that alerts MI6 to what's going on.

The plan is only one example of Orlov's stupidity though. Trying to keep Bond from preventing the bomb's journey to the US base, Orlov gets in his car and chases the train with Bond and the bomb on it. That's fine, but when the train crosses the border from East to West Germany, Orlov gets out of the car and chases the train through the checkpoint on foot, past the screaming guards with machine guns. I understand that he thought it was important to stop Bond, but how did he think that scenario was going to end?

I don't understand Kamal Khan at all. He's as stupid as Orlov, but even more overconfident. I mean, the guy cheats at backgammon with loaded dice that always roll double sixes. It doesn't get any more unsubtle than that. And while he's got Bond at the Monsoon Palace, he decides not to cancel or relocate his meeting with Orlov, but goes ahead and lets the general fly in on a big, Soviet helicopter, giving Bond his first clue about the Soviets' involvement in the smuggling scheme.

The thing I really don't understand about Kamal though is his motivation. His role in the smuggling is easy enough to figure out. Orlov provides the jewelry, Octopussy gets it over to the West, and Kamal sells it. But why is Kamal involved with the bomb? What reason does he have to help with that part of Orlov's plan?

Like I mentioned earlier, I have big questions about Mischka and Grischska, the knife-throwing twins from Octopussy's circus. They work for Octopussy, but aren't part of her cult. And they seem to take their orders from Kamal.

I wonder how separate Kamal and Octopussy's organizations really are. There's a lot of overlap in people who seem to answer to one of the leaders, but actually answer to the other. That makes it seem like the two groups have been working together for a long time. Long enough, say, for Kamal to plant Mischka and Grischska in the circus. But that makes it even less clear why Kamal is willing to nuke the circus and everything he's invested in it.

Not that the movie is thinking that hard about any of this.

Gobinda is my favorite bad guy in the whole movie. He starts off shaky though by deliberately calling to mind one of the most iconic henchmen in the whole series. Exactly like Oddjob, he vindictively crushes the equipment that his master was using to try to cheat Bond. That's a bold move.

But I like Gobinda better than Oddjob. We don't get to know Oddjob well enough to have a sense of his intelligence, but the fact that he doesn't show any sign of figuring things out is probably telling. Gobinda on the other hand is observant and smart. A lot smarter than his boss, anyway. There are a couple of times when Bond tries to outwit Gobinda and fails.

Incidentally, one of my favorite parts of the movie is when Bond is a "prisoner" at Kamal's palace and Magda turns Bond down for a drink in his room. Bond looks at Gobinda, who's escorting him, and says, "I don't suppose you'd care for a nightcap?" I always wish Gobinda would take him up on it and then they'd become buddies and fight Kamal together. Gobinda deserves a better ally than the one he has.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
4. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
6. Doctor No (Dr. No)
7. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
8. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Emilio Largo (Thunderball)
10. Hugo Drax (Moonraker)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Gobinda (Octopussy)
6. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
7. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
8. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Irma Bunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
10. Miss Taro (Dr. No)


snell said...

The Orlov/Khan thing creates a big thematic problem for the movie I like to call "villain confusion."

Orlov is the big boss--it's his plan, he the one who wants to blow up millions and start WWIII. Yet Bond never even meets the guy, nor does he have anything to do with the "mastermind's" downfall!!

Meanwhile, for all his charm and venom, Khan is just a glorified henchman--he's the money, and he's in this for the profit! (And no doubt, to answer your question, he's made some investments that would pay off in the case of a major nuclear incident). Yet the film tacks on an extra 20 minutes after the true climax just so Bond & Octopussy can chase him down!!

So, thematic problems. It's the equivalent of Strax or Stromberg dying offscreen with no help from Bond. Yet the film doesn't understand it's own plot well enough to see that.

See also The Living Daylights.

Michael May said...

I hate to admit it about The Living Daylights, because otherwise it's one of my favorites, but you're right. The final confrontation between Bond and Whitaker is anticlimatic.

Also, the villains' schemes in Octopussy and Living Daylights are really similar. That had never struck me until this last viewing of Octopussy.


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