Friday, 14 December 2012

The Price of Failure

You might not have noticed, but I spent the last thirteen months watching and writing about all twenty-three James Bond films and now it is over. I've been left a little bereft and contemplating life without 007. For a bit. Until Skyfall is released on DVD anyway. But this made me think, what about a world without James Bond? What if he hadn't been there to foil those all those dastardly plans? What if his absurd luck had run out half-way through a movie? What would the consequences have been? Luckily, we are about to find out.

Dr No

Evil Scheme: The eponymous villain wants to disrupt US rocket launches. Why? I can't remember, it was fifty years ago!
You Only Live Once: The villainous Doctor's obstacle course housed in a ventilation shaft might have stopped our man in our tracks - but it could so easily have all gone wrong for Bond with that spider if he wasn't such a light sleeper.
The Price of Failure: Very little. We know that Felix Leiter's on the case and he even has a boat load of marines with him. Worst case scenario, the US invade Crab Key and the American space programme is delayed a month or two - nothing that an extra few billion dollars overtime wouldn't have soon put right.

From Russia With Love

Evil Scheme: To kill James Bond and discredit British Intelligence.
You Only Live Once: That fight on the Orient Express could have gone either way.
The Price of Failure: In the short term, not much. Would yet another sex scandal have changed British or international politics much at the time? In the longer term though the effects would have been MASSIVE, if only because killing Bond would have meant he definitely wasn't around to save the world thereafter. Without him, as we'll see, the human race would have barely survived the Sixties.


Evil Scheme: To explode a dirty bomb inside Fort Knox.
You Only Live Once: Several chances here. Oddjob leaves Bond unconscious having lacquered Shirley Eaton and, famously, Goldfinger expects him to die but changes his mind.
The Price of Failure: It's at this point that we must consider the fact that, if Bond is killed on a mission, 009 will replace him, apparently. I think we can agree that this wouldn't make much difference. Firstly, we know he's rubbish and secondly, if he wasn't then he would have his own set of novels and blockbuster movie adventures, wouldn't he. Right, back to Operation Grand Slam. If it goes to plan we get either, a) a catastrophic economic collapse in the West, with Europe having to try and bail out the US; or b) a short-term wobble fixed by something like this, followed by a great big war as the undiminished manufacturing output of the USA was converted into weapons with which to bomb Goldfinger's sponsors (China, yes?) back into the Stone Age, facilitated by Soviet neutrality.


Evil Scheme: SPECTRE holds NATO to nuclear ransom.
You Only Live Once: Very lucky of Bond to make it out of Shrublands alive I reckon.
The Price of Failure: Tricky this one. I think we have to assume that the Blofeld of Thunderball is a gentleman terrorist and that he would not have used the nukes as long as he received his diamond pay-off. The British government are certainly resigned to handing over the ransom and that might have been the end of it (until someone else tried the same trick). Perhaps the crisis might even have led the West to think about disarmament? This might arguably have been a better outcome than the 'win' that Bond achieved - unless the USSR had tried to take advantage or SPECTRE had decided to keep asking for more money.

You Only Live Twice

Evil Scheme: SPECTRE wants to trigger WWIII on behalf of China(?).
You Only Live Once: Bond is half a sleepy roll away from poison on a rope here...
The Price of Failure: Towards the end of the film the USSR and USA are minutes away from open nuclear hostilities, from which we can project that North America and much of Eurasia would have been completely exploderised. Presumably China felt confident about profiting from such developments - but I worry that they didn't realise quite how cripplingly over-budget SPECTRE had gone, what with the volcano lair and the space programme and everything. Maybe, in the after-glow of nuclear armageddon, money might not matter too much in any case.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Evil Scheme: Blofeld plans to wangle a pardon and a title out of the UN by threatening to make strains of staple foods extinct.
You Only Live Once: I can all too easily imagine 007 getting his hands mashed up in the cable car gearings and falling to his death. Ew.
The Price of Failure: Two scenarios. One, the world refuses to pay, Blofeld eradicates rice and potatoes and mass starvation ensues. Two, the UN coughs up, the Comte de Bleuchamp swans off into retirement and Bond (assuming he survives) becomes happily married to Tracy. Which of these options you prefer largely defines where you sit on the Bond-fan spectrum.

Diamonds Are Forever

Evil Scheme: Blofeld demands nothing less than total global nuclear disarmament - enforced by his diamond-clad orbital space laser - so he can then auction nuclear supremacy to the highest bidder. Apparently.
You Only Live Once: Bond narrowly escapes being cremated alive.
The Price of Failure: The imminent threat (narrowly avoided by swinging a submarine against a wall) is to Washington DC. The destruction of the federal government of the United States would not have been without repercussions. The loss of data, infrastructure and personnel would have crippled America for generations; states would have been forced to take over federal responsibilities (and powers) for themselves, with many becoming semi-independent nations. In the short term Russian and Chinese cities would be Blofeld's next targets, but I assume someone would have agreed to pay up at this point, though whether any country would be prepared to admit Blofeld afterwards is an interesting question. But perhaps Ernst has thought of that and is planning to move to the Moon?

Live and Let Die

Evil Scheme: Kananga wants to destabilise the USA by getting it hooked on heroin.
You Only Live Once: Crocodiles, definitely.
The Price of Failure: A great big uptick in American drug-users in the early Seventies would have been unfortunate but would it have lasted? It's not as if little San Monique would have been able to resist a War on Drugs, so re-supplying his new punters would have been a nasty problem for Kananga - assuming he was still alive by then and that the existing organised criminal forces in America hadn't already dealt with their new competitor. The long term impact on the USA would have been bleak, with a whole generation blighted by addiction, and with the taxpayer lumbered with all the additional social costs of crime and so forth. With Kananga out of the way, no doubt the mafia would have sought to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities, putting further pressure on US law enforcement, further corruption of US government and institutions and prompting more farmers in developing countries to try and meet demand instead of growing food. On the plus side, little chance of World War III.

The Man With the Golden Gun

Evil Scheme: Hang on. Either Scaramanga wants to kill James Bond, or his mistress wants Bond to kill Scaramanga, or both, or China wants to harness a new form of solar power during an international energy crisis. It's not entirely clear.
You Only Live Once: Shot dead with a golden bullet, or stabbed in the goolies by Nik Nak.
The Price of Failure: I'm still unsure about this, if only because Bond's successful recovery of the Solex doesn't seem to dramatically improve life in the West that much (not much evidence of massive solar energy infrastructure in subsequent films). So maybe if Red China had got their hands on it, nothing much would have changed either? Who can say? What we do know is that if Scaramanga had killed 007, the man with the Golden Gun, China and the world as we know it would all have been utterly destroyed in the very next film.

The Spy Who Loved Me

Evil Scheme: Sick of humanity, Carl Stromberg decides to trick the USA and USSR into nuking each other so that civilisation can be rebuilt below the waves.
You Only Live Once: I can't decide which is more implausible: that Bond can be expected to have known about the trick floor in the lift, or that Amasova should change her mind about shooting him. Sadly neither of these moments come early enough in the film for Bond's demise to allow Stromberg's plan to succeed. So we're left with Jaws or (most plausibly) the Lotus developing a catastrophic leak.
The Price of Failure: This is yer standard Bond Cold War apocalypse. Stromberg remains convinced that no human society will flourish on the surface so he obviously doesn't rate China's chances of survival. He does though have a plan for underwater cities, which might have been alright. But given Stromberg's crushing misanthropy (he won't even shake hands), does he really want to save anyone? Or does he just want to sit on the sea bed and sulk?


Evil Scheme: Sick of humanity, Hugo Drax plans to poison everyone with orchids. From space.
You Only Live Once: Given the sheer absurdity of his escape, I must proffer the Venetian hover-gondola chase. But then there's also the fight with Chang which 007 conducts with a fragile vial of killer poison in his shirt pocket.
The Price of Failure: Arguably, this would have been the most disruptive of all these foiled schemes. Killing literally all humans except for a very small and hand-picked sample would have irrevocably changed our species and its evolutionary path forever. On the plus side, its unlikely that climate change would have happened as we have experienced it over the last thirty years. On the other hand, the chances of humanity surviving into the 21st century must have been slim indeed. For one thing, Drax seems to have hand-picked a shuttle-load of beautiful chinless wonders to continue the human race and I can't help but wonder just how capable they would prove when it came to taming a wild and unpopulated world, or repairing a space station. For another thing, Drax is clearly off his rockers - what is to stop him having further culls until there is really nobody left?

For Your Eyes Only

Evil Scheme: Top secret Royal Navy technology is pilfered and offered to the USSR. Quite low key really.
You Only Live Once: Ersatz Blofeld should have killed Bond very quickly during the PCS if only he had stopped yapping on.
The Price of Failure: I can't see this being a big deal. Even if the Russians could command our submarines to attack our own cities, I'm sure they wouldn't have done. In the Bond universe of the Seventies, the USSR is much less of a threat than it was in real life. In fact, there seems to be quite a special relationship between London and Moscow, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if the KGB weren't after the ATAC just so they could politely hand it back to M over tea in Whitehall.


Evil Scheme: Let's cut to the chase and just say that frustrated bad Russian General Orlov wants to provoke NATO nuclear disarmament so that he can have a conventional war in Europe.
You Only Live Once: There is no doubt in my mind that the correct response of a tiger, having been told  to 'sit!', is to leap forwards and rip the throat out of any aging spies in the vicinity.
The Price of Failure: Let's assume, for now, that Orlov's plan works. The West panics, disarms and the USSR tanks start rolling towards the Atlantic. Remember that China in Bond's universe seems to be much more belligerent than the one we know, and they're unlikely to have disarmed themselves - so would they let Russia expand so aggressively? But I doubt it would even get that far. I don't think the USA would have abandoned a nuclear deterrent in 1983 under any circumstances, so the Praesidium would end up quietly murdering Orlov and then publicly wringing their hands over the terrible and unfortunate accident in Feldstat.

A View to a Kill

Evil Scheme: Psycho entrepreneur Max Zorin wants to monopolise the manufacturing of silicon chips by causing a catastrophic earthquake in California.
You Only Live Once: It might be unkindly suggested that spending a night with May Day is the thing would most easily have killed our now very elderly gentleman spy.
The Price of Failure: We know that the earthquake would have caused massive devastation and loss of life. But then what? Zorin would start to make a whole heap of money, but surely not for long. We know the British know of his involvement in Operation Main Strike and presumably they would mention this to the CIA fairly promptly? At which point Zorin would wake up with the muzzle of an M16 in his face, and General Electric would start manufacturing their own chips.

The Living Daylights

Evil Scheme: This is a complicated one. Corrupt Russian officer tries to trigger a spy-war between KGB and MI6, get very rich and rearm the Soviet army in Afghanistan. I think.
You Only Live Once: Good thing that cello case didn't fly straight off a cliff.
The Price of Failure: If Georgi's money-making scheme paid-off, well, there'd be one more rich idiot in the world. But everything else would have had greater consequences. Bond's death, especially if it was thought the KGB were responsible, would have dramatically soured the cozy relations between London and Moscow, possibly even leading to a Cold War. Meanwhile, the USSR might have been able to turn its new high-tech weaponry into a military advantage in Afghanistan, defeating the Mujahideen and securing the country as the southern border of the USSR. I doubt this would have prevented the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it might have been bolstered somewhat. It would have prevented the rise of the Taliban, and stopped Afghanistan becoming a centre of global Islamic extremism in the '90s. After the USSR disintegrates, Afghanistan instead experiences a civil war between secularists and fundamentalists, the former supported by Moscow and the latter weakened and lacking experience following the defeat of the Mujahideen in the late '80s. Let's say the secularists win. As a result there would have been much less radical Islamic terrorism than we experienced, and what there was would have been directed as much against Russia as against America. In short, much less chance of 9/11 and no Afghan War.

Licence to Kill

Evil Scheme: Sanchez' drugs cartel wants to become a global supplier by expanding into SE Asia. Eez bizness. James Bond wants to avenge himself on Sanchez for escaping from custody and maiming Felix Leiter. It's personal.
You Only Live Once: Perhaps Bond should have died when the house fell on him?
The Price of Failure: Not much of consequence here. The attack on the Leiters goes un-avenged, and organised crime gets very organised. Perhaps the opening-up of the Asian drug market would have lead to greater law-enforcement cooperation between China and the US? Frankly, it's difficult to care.


Evil Scheme: To electronically steal money from the Bank of England and then destroy all the computers and electronic records in London with an EM pulse. From space.
You Only Live Once: Is it churlish to suggest diving after an aeroplane on a motorbike?
The Price of Failure: As this article points out, destroying London as a financial centre would have the immediate consequence of devaluing the pound, making Trevelyan's ill-gotten gains largely worthless. Which is a shame for him as he must have a hell of a mortgage on that secret rising-out-of-a-lake base in Cuba. Britain would be crippled, the world's financial centre would probably move to Amsterdam and the rest of the world would carry on pretty much as normal.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Evil Scheme: Media baron decides engineering a war between China and the UK is the perfect way to launch his new cable news channel.
You Only Live Once: I'm not sure there's any one moment of jeopardy that should have done for our James here, but it is a wonder that Q hasn't rigged one of these cars to blow up out of sheer irritation.
The Price of Failure: This is a no-brainer. The Royal Navy sails into Chinese waters and the People's Liberation Army Air Force bombs the crap out of it, humiliating Britain. China blossoms, full of confidence; the UK sinks into a pit of self-loathing, orchestrated, no doubt, by the headlines in Tomorrow. Carver's network is a massive success and he becomes one the most powerful men on the planet, boo, hiss.

The World is Not Enough

Evil Scheme: Elektra King nukes Istanbul so that her pipeline becomes the only way to supply oil to western Europe.
You Only Live Once: Luckily for Bond the O2 is dome-shaped or he would have gone splat, falling off that balloon.
The Price of Failure: So much for the Solex, eh? Like a neo-con's wet dream, it's all about the oil here - at least, it is once the vaporisation of nine million people and thousands of years of culture have been absorbed. As with the 2011 Japanese tsunami, the disaster in Turkey would have prompted a world-wide panic regarding nuclear technology, with many countries closing down power plants, as well as much hand-wringing over the availability of nuclear matter. So oil and gas prices would rise and there would be more pressure to drill in the Arctic, Antarctic and pretty much everywhere in between. We could expect to see Russia playing hardball with its European energy customers, America involving itself in foreign wars over oil and perhaps increased tensions over territorial disputes where energy reserves had been detected. So, yeah, pretty bad!

Die Another Day

Evil Scheme: Half-baked North Korean ex-pat plots to attack the South with an orbital solar powered space laser.
You Only Live Once: For sheer implausibility, it has to be the laser-escaping, collapsing glacier-dodging kite-surfing.
The Price of Failure: It seems clear that Grave's plan would quickly lead to total North Korean control of the peninsula, killing thousands and destroying towns and cities in the process. But what would be the international reaction? The USA (and other NATO countries) would immediately insist on North Korean withdrawal from the South, but they would be unable to enforce such a demand. China might exert pressure behind the scenes, but would feel obliged to support North Korea publicly, which would leave China and the US at a nuclear impasse. What would Russia do? Traditionally, in the real world at least, one might suspect them to attempt to block intervention in any rogue state but - faced with the power of the solar laser thingumy - they might relent in this instance and back the NATO position in a UN Security Council vote. Even then, without even an abstention from China, the US might feel it had no choice but to act. In which case a trigger-happy President might chance his arm with a nuclear strike in order to try and destroy Graves and the control mechanism. If that were unsuccessful, and it might well be, given that the laser could be used to swat missiles from the sky, then there might be no other course left than to accept the situation and to try and do a deal with North Korea on their terms.

Casino Royale

Evil Scheme: Terrorist banker plots first to make a load of money from a bombing, then to recoup his losses at a game of poker.
You Only Live Once: New Bond, new vulnerabilities. For the first time in ages there is the sense that Bond could die during any of the fights or stunts. Jumping off that crane perhaps? Or grappling with a war lord in the hotel stairwell? He comes closest to death after drinking a poisoned Martini and even needs to have his heart restarted.
The Price of Failure: <Click> goes the reset button and suddenly we are in a whole new timeline, seemingly, and all that stuff above us on the screen never happened. Hey ho. Two schemes here: if Bond had failed to thwart the Skybus attack then Le Chiffre would have made a whole ton of money and ruined an airline. If his poker gambit had worked, he would have also made a load of money for the bad guys. That's all by the by. For us what matters is that if either of these schemes had worked our jolly naive little Bondling would never have suffered, never have met and lost Vesper, never survived to learn the lessons and burst from his Brioni chrysalis as Bond, James Bond 007.

Quantum of Solace

Evil Scheme: Evil consortium Quantum plot to take control of Bolivia's water in order to.. I don't know, actually. Drink it? Put out a large fire?
You Only Live Once: The plummet from the DC3?
The Price of Failure: Quantum is a bunch of ultra-rich, mega-important guys who want to throw their weight around and do whatever they like. There are plenty of people like that in our world anyway and they rarely have anyone stand up to them, let alone defeat them. The best you can say about Bond's 'victory' here is that this time, at least, Quantum don't get away with it. Without his interference things would simply have carried on as normal.


Evil Scheme: Unhinged ex-spy is desperate to take revenge on his former employer, M.
You Only Live Once: Rather obviously perhaps, but [SPOILERS!] Bond appears to run into some insurmountable problems at the end of the pre-titles sequence.
The Price of Failure: Well, this is tricky isn't it. Because [MORE SPOILERS] Silva does manage to kill M and Bond does fail to save her. So perhaps we have to turn this around and say what would have happened if Bond had succeeded? M would presumably have carried on in her job and Bond would have undergone some emotional catharsis from having 'saved his parents'. Which would have been terrible of course because we need him emotionally damaged and orphaned, just as we needed Judi Dench to regenerate into Ralph Fiennes. Maybe M couldn't dodge the bullet, but we - and Bond - definitely have.

* * *

All fun and games, but there's a serious point to be taken from all this. In the old days, Bond was regularly required to thwart gargantuan schemes that would have devastated the world. Faced with the real and obvious threat of nuclear war (something we couldn't, ourselves, actually do anything about), society produced Bond and used him to make us feel better about our precarious existence. This trend continued right through to the end of the Cold War, after which the films had to cast about for other dangers: drugs, media and energy corporations, a smattering of light terrorism, and even rogue states; throughout the '90s Bond remained a triumphant heroic figure, able to deal with all of these worries.

But suddenly all that reassurance has gone: the Craig films have swapped grandiloquent but thwartable villainy for ambiguity and, arguably, futility. There's a tragic and wearying quality to these stories. Some of the threats are familiar (terrorism, corrupt cartels and corporations) but there's a sense in which such problems are just too big for Bond to deal with. It's all he can do just to survive, and there's no longer any expectation on our part that he will triumph. Worse, the forces of 'good' are often complicit, with government officials throwing up their hands or even joining in with the baddies. Does this reflect a tired resignation on our part? Is it that we see the problems we face as insurmountable? I'm worried that the answer is yes and I hope that Bond soon regains his cocksure swagger. And in the real world, without a 007 to save us, we have no choice but to deal with the great threats of our age, intangible and complex though they may be.

We can't afford not to.

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