Friday, August 21, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) | Villains

Elliot Carver may just be my least favorite Bond villain. I like Jonathan Pryce in most things (especially as Keira Knightley's dad in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), so I don't know why he's so unbelievably exaggerated in Tomorrow Never Dies. Ultimately, the blame has to fall on director Roger Spottiswoode. He's made some movies that I enjoyed (Shoot to Kill being my favorite of his), but I'd need to go back and revisit them to see if overblown villains are a recurring theme for him or if he just thought that's what was needed for a Bond film. Either way, it's a horrible choice and if it wasn't his idea, he should have reined Pryce in.

Pryce isn't even trying to look real. One of the most hilarious things he does is his fakey way of typing, with his fingers flying all over his pad without his looking at it. That mirrors the character who also isn't trying to fool anyone, not that that makes it any better. Carver is clearly insane and how he's risen to such influence is even more incomprehensible for him than it was for Max Zorin in View to a Kill.

A minor example of Carver's craziness is his paranoia about Paris. He goes nuts and orders her execution when he overhears her asking Bond whether he still sleeps with a gun under his pillow. That's hardly incriminating if Bond used to date Paris' roommate, which was their cover story. Why wouldn't that be something she knew?

A bigger example though is his cartoonish megalomania. He thinks himself so untouchable that he pays no attention to covering his tracks. On the contrary, he draws attention to himself by reporting news before it's possible to know it. And he sends a British ship to its doom with a fatally misleading GPS signal that's easily tracked to his own satellite!

I always enjoy seeing magician Ricky Jay on camera, but he's the only interesting thing about the character of Henry Gupta. We see these scientist/tech support bad guys a lot in Bond movies and I don't usually mention them, but Ricky Jay has such a distinctive look that he makes me happy when I recognize him. And even though the part is thankless, it's still way better than the next guy.

The assassin Dr. Kaufman is the best example of my biggest problem with Tomorrow Never Dies: Its tone. Vincent Schiavelli is always weirdly comedic, but his dialogue in Tomorrow is impossible to take seriously, too. He belongs in a Get Smart episode, not a Bond movie where he's just murdered the alleged love of Bond's life. I was already having problems investing in Paris; Kaufman also makes a joke out of her death.

Stamper is the latest in the blonde, buff henchman archetype. Götz Otto is a handsome dude, but the only other thing that makes Stamper stand out is that he claims to have been Dr. Kaufman's protégé. And that's not standing out in a good way, because it makes him look dumb by association. Why would anyone follow that goofball?

None of these people crack the Top Ten.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Doctor No (Dr. No)
9. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)
10. Karl Stromberg (The Spy Who Loved Me)

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. May Day (A View to a Kill)
7. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
8. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
9. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
10. Necros (The Living Daylights)


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I wondered if Carver's ineffectiveness was a result of trying to go big and caricaturist with a Rupert Murdoch figure so as not to be sued but then I remembered that the Simpsons (a half hour cartoon) was much more subtle and nuanced with their portrayal of Steve Jobs as a super villain than this public figure expy.

Michael May said...

I read that Carver was more directly influenced by Robert Maxwell, who'd already died. I don't know much about Maxwell's personality, so maybe they were trying to caricature him? Even if that's true, it doesn't work for the movie.


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