Are Bond films really "only as good as their villains"?
There’s a common phrase reviewers and fans use to talk about Bond- “Bond films are only as good as their villains.” Now, there are clearly some Bond films where this adage holds true, and a good Bond film is improved in quality by a strong villain- see Goldfinger or Skyfall for obvious examples of this trend.
But I think if we look closer, what’s more evident is that the “Bond films are only as good as their villains” trope actually isn’t really true. In fact, most Bond films tend to fall into two categories. On the one hand, there are some Bond films with excellent villains, but which are lacking as a complete whole. The Man With the Golden Gun and A View to a Kill have very memorable, some would say iconic villains, yet are also two of the most critically slated Bond films. These films fail in spite of having well-written and played villain characters. On the other hand, there’s another category of Bond films which have pretty lacklustre villains but where the plotting and action are strong enough to overcome this- I’m thinking mainly of The Spy Who Loved Me and The Living Daylights here. These films succeed in spite of having poorly conceived villains.
An interesting example of this trope is Blofeld. A brief examination of Blofeld’s different appearances shows the “Bond films are only as good as their villains” cliché to be false. Blofeld’s Donald Pleasance incarnation is admittedly iconic and influential in You Only Live Twice- but does his presence entirely make up for the film’s uneventful and slow-paced first hour, and the ill-advised scenes where Bond turns Japanese? On the other hand, I would argue that Telly Savalas’ underrated Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service does actually improve that particular film- but this is a sole outlier. Charles Gray’s deeply unmenacing portrayal does damage the dramatic credibility of Diamonds are Forever, and the same can be said for Christoph Waltz’s ambivalent efforts in Spectre. Despite Blofeld’s supposedly legendary status as a villain within the context of the films, then, it can be argued that he is a fairly weak villain is at least two of the four films in which he makes full appearances.
What do others think of this trope? Is it actually true for most Bond films or not?