With the release of the latest James Bond flick, the curiously titled, Quantum of Solace has already become the most successful film in the James Bond franchise. Daniel Craig is a formidable Bond and the fuel to its success. Bond flicks are known also for over the top villains, the best of which hale from somewhere in east Europe and preferably sport a Russian accent. Although Quantum of Solace’s bad boy, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is French and the Bond girl, Camille (Olga Kurylenko, an actual bona fide Ukraine born actress), is from somewhere in the west, there are no villains from Russia this time round. But all is not lost because fans of the Red Menace and those dodgy Ukraine oil barons can get their fix elsewhere as Russians still remain Hollywood’s all time favorite party poopers.
In cinema during the cold war our baddies were easily defined and romanticized. Even 1950’s McCarthy era alien flicks were really about the Red Menace and over the next 30 years used the Communist allure to retain Russians at the number one celluloid villain spot. Then the down turn came after 1991 and the fall of the mighty USSR. Not only did cinema lose its greatest villains, even Olympic sport became a yawn fest. Half the fun of Communist Russian baddies, and athletes, was the fantasy of difference and of living under a political regime at total opposites to that of the west. These white guys and gals looked like the majority of cinema-goers, although a little bit paler, yet they did not have what we have: money, comforts, and sunshine. Russians had it tough and it was written all over their faces. After September 11th, Hollywood picked on the Arab terrorist as the new generation of bad guys. Audiences were having none of it, due in part to the fact that terrorists seemed far too real and far more threatening. We wanted our Russians back and what we got was a new and evolved Russian menace. With money poring into Russia faster than the oil spewing from its land, the Russian commie was dead: long live the Russian Gangster.
Now there was nothing to distinguish the two except the purpose for his or her evil doings. The former wanted world domination in the name of Communism and the state, the latter killed for money. He was tougher than his western counterparts and these new Russian capitalist’s back-stories invariably involved past military action and mistrust of the west.
The Russian bad guy is so ingrained in cinema that just being Russian in a movie required little explanation to his or her motives. The audience gets it. He’s a Russian: he’s a brutal son-of-a-bitch. She’s a Russian: beautiful, sexy, and a two-face. But are Cinema’s Russian bad guys, gross stereotypes? Yes, of course they are but that’s not stopping Hollywood or our thirst for these eastern European party poopers.
Director Guy Ritchie’s is at his best with this fantastic and slick comic story of old school London crime lords pitting it out against the new kids on the block: rich Russian mobsters, who both compete for the riches and spoils of London’s booming real estate. Top Russian mobster, Uri, wears pastel sweaters and has a penchant for art, golf, and whiskey, while his two henchmen are near indestructible tough guys who wear their battle scars with pride.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008):
Steven Spielberg’s fourth outing in the Indiana Jones franchise swaps Nazi’s for Cold War era Russians. Set in 1957, Indiana Jones is captured by the Russian army, led by Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko whose in over the top form, complete with a rolling R’s Russian accent, plus she’s pretty nifty with a saber.
Eastern Promises (2007):
This is David Cronenburg’s first UK-shot film and one that shows a seedier side of London and a first rate performance by Viggo Mortensen as tattooed Russian gangster, Nikolai, who has a heart and a soft spot for Anna, played by Naomi Watts. Not to be missed is a naked Mortensen battling out in Finsbury Baths in what is undoubtedly one of the best onscreen fight sequences of all time.
The 17th Bond film is just dripping in Russians, from General Ourumov (John Gotfried) to Valentin Zukov (Robbie Coltrane). However, both are out classed by Femke Jansen’s murderess, Xenia Onatopp. If she isn’t crushing Canadian Admiral’s between her powerful thighs then she’s gunning down innocent bystanders and getting mighty hot and flustered about it.