Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Licensed to thrill - Baddie confusion in No Time to Die - by Tracy Darnton

Spoiler alert* If you haven’t seen No Time to Die yet, be warned that I’m about to discuss the role of the baddies. You may wish to wait until you’ve seen the movie.

I watched the latest James Bond film No Time to Die recently and I want to talk about the baddies. Reader, I was CONFUSED. I’ve discussed with friends, read reviews, googled it and rewatched Spectre (previous movie) so I have tried – I’ve really tried - but I’m still hazy. Maybe the James Bond script needed the expert eye of a childrens’ author along with all the other script consultants like Phoebe Waller-Bridge who got involved. Kids’ books and films get the need for clear motivation for a clear baddie. Every dashing hero protagonist in an action plot needs a villainous antagonist.

First off, there are two main baddies in No Time to Die – Blofeld and Safin - never in the same scene. They both have major facial disfigurement – surely in 2021 we can dispense with that old trope? Plus there’s an evil baddie scientist who kills that nice Hugh Dennis off the telly, and the CIA guy Logan Ash. That’s a lot of baddies.

Blofeld is locked up in Hannibal Lecter fashion but has a roving bionic eye out in the world. He’s been imprisoned thanks to MI6 and James Bond, which I was meant to remember from the Spectre film in 2015 (six long years ago, people!).  You’ll remember Blofeld from other Bond movies – most memorably for me Donald Pleasance with the white cat in You Only Live Twice - but also Telly Savalas aka Kojak, Charles Gray and Max Von Sydow. And for some complicated legal reasons, Blofeld (and Spectre) ducked out of the Bond movies for a while before returning, played by Christoph Waltz. Is it any wonder I’m confused?

The other main baddie, Lyutsifer Safin, is played by Rami Malek, aka Freddie Mercury. 

He's possibly also the guy in the scary mask at the beginning of the movie at the house in Norway with the French-speaking mum and daughter. Safin’s demeanour is sulky adolescent rather than criminal mastermind.

We had the baddie accessories - a set piece extreme danger/torture scene (which I couldn’t watch), a white cat, and the evil lair nanobot factory island which had a dash of the Thunderbirds Tracy Island about it. 


In fact, maybe I could justify a trip to the Faroes for research. Anyone else?: tour

I’m digressing, back to the baddies. What is their motivation? Why are they doing this?

There are numerous examples in kids books and films – Cruella deVil wants a fur coat made from dalmations; Voldemort wants to kill Harry Potter as he thinks he can’t survive with him alive because of the prophecy; not unlike the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe who fears the prophecy that sons of Adam and daughters of Eve will cause her downfall. The baddies’ actions make sense in the context of their motivation.

Let’s look at the first baddie I was properly scared of: the wicked Queen in Snow White. She made me afraid to eat a nice, juicy red apple for many years. All part of the evil stepmother stereotype but for me, aged 5, I clearly understood that the Mirror, Mirror on the Wall had told her that Snow White was the fairest of them all and the vain queen therefore wanted her dead. Easy. Extreme, sure, but understandable in fairy tale world.

The baddie is a worthy adversary for our hero – she looks like she will have the upper hand over Snow White. She moves the plot on with the instruction to the woodchopper guy to kill Snow White, and later with the poisoned apple. Something clearly happens as a result of her interventions – there are obstacles for Snow White to overcome to get the happy ending with the prince and to stop doing all the cleaning for Grumpy and his mates.

Back to the Bond film. Boy, is it a lot of effort setting up an evil lair, recruiting, training people to tend the poison garden, getting them into those red boiler suits and then defend the place to the death from incursion by James Bond. This baddie needs to be seriously wealthy already. Where did all this dosh come from? Has he managed to set up a cult-like ideology to keep the workers there rather than opting for the easier life of, say, a much-in-demand delivery driver? I’m literally wondering about their employment contracts while munching on my popcorn.

“Why? Why develop a lethal virus?” is one of the questions in the debrief as we blunder out into the daylight.  Maybe my friends and I are just too scarred by the last eighteen months on planet earth. Maybe we’re just too nice to be baddies.

“What was in it for him? Or for all the people on the island?”

My brain whirrs. “Because his dad, Mr Oberhauser, had taught James Bond how to ski one winter and he felt a bit jealous? Or was that Blofeld?”

I just don’t know anymore.

And what’s any of that to do with everyone else on the planet who might get hit with the virus? The evil queen, villain extraordinaire, wasn’t feeding poisoned apples to everyone.

As you can see, I’m still confused. But the point I want to make is that it shouldn’t be this difficult! Should it?

Anyway, can’t imagine why no one from my actual family agreed to watch the movie with me. Thank goodness for my similarly bewildered friends.


Tracy Darnton is the author of YA thrillers The Rules and The Truth About Lies. She likes a clear antagonist and has very patient friends. You can follow her on Twitter @TracyDarnton.

1 comment:

Rowena House said...

Sounds like they threw the kitchen sink at the plot. Shame. Maybe the rules of good storytelling won’t apply to us either when we have a multimillion dollar franchise behind us. Sigh.