Sep 14, 2015
Why James Bond will never fight Blofeld again
Next month, a new James Bond movie comes out, and I’m pretty excited about it. I like Bond movies more often than I don’t, but what’s really got my attention is the title: Spectre. Say no more. A title like that can only mean the return of a villain not seen since the Connery era.
The Bond films, for the majority of their history, have been mostly self-contained stories. Ongoing plot threads like the ones seen in the Daniel Craig movies are a fairly recent development. But back in the early days, every time Bond hit the screen, he was menaced by the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. (They’ll never mention that SPECTRE is an acronym in the new movie, of course, because spy movies at some point decided they were too cool for acronyms, but they should, because it’s awesome.)
Whoever was after Bond in any given movie inevitably answered to a mysterious mastermind whose face was always concealed, identifiable only by the white Persian cat eternally in his lap. Until You Only Live Twice, that is, when Bond finally came face to face with SPECTRE’s supreme leader: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Even if you’re not at all familiar with classic Bond movies, I’m willing to bet the image above is very familiar to you. But it probably doesn’t conjure up images of terrifying villainy or superspy intrigue. It probably just reminds you of this guy.
It’s been a while since the Austin Powers movies were popular. Hell, it’s been a while since Mike Meyers was popular. But the franchise still holds a place in our collective consciousness. You can go most anywhere in the United States, extend your pinky finger and demand “one meeelion dollars!” and you can generally trust the reference will be understood.
Why am I bringing up Dr. Evil? Because, dear readers, Dr. Evil is the very reason why we will never see Blofeld in another Bond movie again.
No, never. Yes, SPECTRE is returning to the Bond franchise for the first time in decades, complete with their signature octopus signet rings. Yes, there’s been much speculation that Christoph Waltz, cast as the film’s main villain and presumably SPECTRE’s leader, will be playing Blofeld. And yes, he’s even seen wearing a very Blofeld-esque collarless jacket in the trailer. But Waltz has publically stated that his character, Franz Oberhauser, is most definitely not Blofeld, and I believe him. Because honestly, how can you possibly bring Blofeld back in a post-Austin Powers world?
Sure, back in his day, Blofeld was the Moriarty to Bond’s Sherlock Holmes, his most persistent nemesis, and responsible for arguably the greatest personal tragedy 007 ever endured: the murder of his wife Tracy on their honeymoon. But unlike other famous arch-nemeses of pop culture, Blofeld has the odd problem of being weirdly obscure despite his massive influence. While Bond himself has remained a constant presence in pop culture, Blofeld hasn’t been seen since 1983, allowing him to become largely forgotten. So many villains since him have copied his iconography that he’s somehow become overshadowed by his own legacy.
Dr. Evil is the most obvious example, every bit as much a thinly veiled caricature of Blofeld as Austin Powers was of James Bond himself. The cat stroking, the gray suit, the bald head, the scars, the penchant for exotic lairs, doomsday weapons, and elaborate death traps, they all invoke the original image of the SPECTRE head. But a close second in infamy is Dr. Claw, rival to Inspector Gadget. Claw copied the earlier appearances of Blofeld, appearing only as a chair with its back to the audience, a single arm visible for yet more cat stroking. And his evil spy network MAD was an obvious reference to SPECTRE itself.
But you’ll notice a distinct difference between both those examples and their source: Blofeld wasn’t a comedy character. Aside from one weird moment where he dressed as an old lady for some reason (Diamonds are Forever was not a good movie), he was a legitimate threat to be taken at least somewhat seriously by the audience. Donald Pleasence in particular gave him a subtle, creepy menace. But Dr. Evil is a comic farce, and Dr. Claw is a literal cartoon character.
In fact, of Blofeld’s many imitators, almost all of them are parodies or spoofs. The “villain with a cat” trope has become universal shorthand for comedy villains. The Great Mouse Detective, Bolt, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, and hell, even the friggin’ Spice Girls movie did it. Giving your villain a fluffy cat to pet is now one of the quickest ways to inform your audience that they’re not to be taken seriously.
With that is mind, is it any wonder Spectre bowed out of bringing back the evil organization’s iconic leader? The moment a bald, scarred Christoph Waltz walks onscreen carrying a cuddly kitty cat, theaters nationwide will burst into laughter. It would take modern audiences completely out of the movie. So for the sake of maintaining immersion, it’s perhaps best that they leave Blofeld at the bottom of that smokestack Bond dropped him down in the opening of For Your Eyes Only. Tragic as it is, he’s an idea too dated to work anymore.
Which is not to say we’ll never get some version of Blofeld in the future, but at this point, he’d have to be stripped of everything that makes him unique, so what would be the point? Suppose that at the end of Spectre, Christoph Waltz does indeed reveal that his real name was Blofeld the whole time, Cumberbatch-Khan-style. It’d be a cute Easter egg, but without the cat, the look, and the hidden volcano fortress under attack by ninjas (seriously, if you haven’t seen You Only Live Twice by now, you’re missing out), he’s not really Blofeld anymore.
Now, if somehow Waltz’s character loses his hands during the movie, gets a pair of robotic replacements in a post-credits teaser and decides to start calling himself Dr. No? That would be legendary.