Next to the world-famous Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC is a less well-known but no less intriguing showcase. It’s called… The International Spy Museum. It chronicles the cloak-and-dagger spy-craft history of not just the United States, but also its allies and enemies. However, what would such a place be without tipping a hat to the Most Famous Spy Ever and those baddies intent on eliminating him? Yes, we’re talking about James Bond and the endless list of iconic villains who have tried and failed again and again over 5 decades and 24 films to vaporize him.
Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains is the last exhibit before you emerge into The International Spy Museum’s gift shop – and it’s the best one. Celebrating those sometimes-scary-sometimes-seductive-sometimes-both-but-always-larger-than-life antagonists who want nothing more than James Bond to be a distant memory, the vast display features some very interesting sights, to include (but not limited to) the following:
JAMES BOND ORIGINS: The creator of the Bond phenomenon, Ian Fleming, shared many of Bond’s traits and worked in military intelligence but didn’t get a chance to go out into the field nearly as much as Bond did. The Bond novels were a way for Fleming to vicariously dive into adventure and intrigue. Also, Fleming wanted to give his vibrant character the most mundane name he could find, so he used the name of a real-life author who wrote a book on bird classification. Guess who?
REAL-LIFE VILLAIN PARALLELS: The smooth-but-deadly drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) in 1989’s Licence To Kill was based on Pablo Escobar, a real-life South American kingpin. Also, the insider trading/airline stock shorting machinations of terrorist financier LeChiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in 2006’s Casino Royale were inspired by rumors of the same type of illegal activity around the time of 9/11 (although the exhibit states an investigation of those rumors yielded nothing conclusive).
PROPS AND MEMORABILIA: The plutonium core that Bond ally Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) removes from the nuclear warhead in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough is here – so is the warhead, itself. Ditto the psychedelic light mask/dream machine that baddie Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) uses in 2002’s Die Another Day. There’s also the bloody note Franz Sanchez leaves on Felix Leiter’s (David Hedison) shark-maimed body in Licence to Kill. You’ll also see the gravestone of Bond’s murdered wife, Teresa “Tracy” DiVicenzo (Diana Rigg), featured at the start of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. There’s also a Bond board game, vintage Bond comics, and quirky action figures (e.g. Goldfinger’s Oddjob).
REAL-LIFE TECHNOLOGY INSPIRED BY BOND: In 1985’s A View To A Kill, cheerful bizarro billionaire Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) uses facial recognition technology to identify Bond as an MI-6 operative. The catch: facial recognition technology didn’t exist at all in 1985, making this element a bit of fanciful science-fiction at the time. However, then-head of the CIA William Casey was so intrigued he had the CIA develop the technology. As we know now, facial recognition software is widely-used today. Go Max!
KILLER WARDROBES: Remember that purple lace-and-satin dress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) wore in The World Is Not Enough as she tortured Bond in the garrote chair? Or that leather bustier Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) sported as she tried to fillet Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) in Die Another Day? How about that military uniform Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) paraded around in as she gunned down the Severnaya Station personnel in 1995’s Goldeneye? They’re all here, baby.
ACTUAL FORMER SPIES TALKING ABOUT THEIR “BOND MOMENT”: A video presentation called “My Bond Moment” features real-life former CIA operatives like Valerie Plame discussing their exploits and adventures. In Plame’s case, she discusses a “hand-off” in an unnamed European city where she traded briefcases with an asset. The contents of the briefcase Plame received? A single floppy disk with vital info. A floppy disk, folks. I guess this mission wasn’t a recent one.
ONE GLARING MISTAKE: The exhibit incorrectly identifies terrorist Renard (Robert Carlyle) as the villain of The World Is Not Enough and Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) as merely his henchwoman and a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. While this may be the deceptive set-up in the first act of the film, it is soon revealed that Elektra herself is the actual Big Bad pulling all the strings and Renard is merely a patsy she manipulated into carrying out her Master Plan. He is the actual victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Elektra King is the first Chief Villain in the Bond franchise who is a woman – it’s unfortunate the exhibit doesn’t give her this important credit. Oh, well – no museum showcase is 100% perfect.
Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains is ongoing at The International Spy Museum in Washington DC. If you’re a Bond Buff who plans to be there anytime soon, check it out. But stay on your toes, don’t let your guard down, and make sure you who know who is an ally and who is the enemy.
John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.