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A View to a Bond Baddie: Elektra King

To celebrate James Bond’s 50th birthday on screen (and the release of Skyfall), we’re going to take a look at the character and his films. We’ve already reviewed all the classic movies, so we’ll be looking at his iconic baddies, and even at the character himself.

Elektra King remains unique among Bond’s selection of big-screen baddies if only because she’ really the only major female villain. Of course, Bond villains have employed henchwomen before. Rosa Klebb was a major menace in From Russia With Love, even if she was answering to a mostly absent Blofeld. Largo employed the sinister Fiona in Thunderball, immune to the charms Bond used to seduce Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. A View to a Kill even gave us a female villain who wasn’t defined by her sexuality, with Mayday defined by her physical strength more than anything else. Still, it seemed like a villainess would never quite break the Bond movie glass ceiling, which makes Elektra such a fascinating character.

Of course, she’s trapped in a pretty terrible film.

It’s good to be the King…

The World Is Not Enough vacillates between incredibly clever and mind-numbingly stupid with a surreal ease, often within the same scene. The idea of transforming a disposable Bond girl into a would-be world-conquering villain is inspired, offering perhaps a bit of self-conscious commentary on how the franchise has treated its female characters – fitting with the general themes of the Brosnan era. Like using Scaramanga as a foil for Bond, it seems like a clever idea, an attempt to add depth to a long-running movie series.

However, the rest of the movie seems to blissfully ignore any questions the film might rise about how the Bond girls are typically used and disposed. Elektra’s betrayal is supposed to hurt Bond deeply, but the film provides Christmas Jones, a particularly unlikely nuclear physicist who exists merely so Bond can hook up with a warm body at the end. Allowing Bond to end the movie alone, emotionally devastated might demonstrate an awareness of some of the franchise’s issues with gender issues.

She can walk the walkie, but can she talk the talkie?

Is Bond any less exploitational than the series of men who took advantage of Elektra, creating a world where the only way for her to get ahead was through a sociopathic brutality? The women he loves are often a means to an end, and exist solely to develop him, to comfort him, to meet his needs. In a way, Elektra’s anger stems from being trapped in a world of men like Bond, where she is incapable of being her own person, always a pawn to be bartered or ransomed or taken. It’s a legitimate criticism of a franchise that has often had a bit of a problem in its portrayal of women. (Although the books are much more… products of their time, to put it neutrally.)

However, the movie mitigates any value in this self-exploration and -criticism when it plays all the other Bond girls in exactly the same way as it always did. Moneypenny gets catty with Dr. Molly Warmflash when Bond seduces the latter to get a clean bill of health. Rather than making Bond seem sleazy or exploitative, the movie makes it clear that Bond is still very much an object of desire. Instead of the somewhat pathetic “sleeping with the evaluator to keep his job” moment in GoldenEye, it seems like the women at MI6 treat it as a compliment to be used by Bond is such a fashion – making his seduction of his physician less creepy and more surreally wholesome.

A very grave villainess…

The World is Not Enough implies that Moneypenny would happily have traded places with Warmflash, even though she sees right through the façade. M seems slightly incredulous about Bond’s inexplicably optimistic prognosis. “I see the good doctor has cleared you. Notes you have exceptional stamina.” Even if M couldn’t prove what Bond did, it seems a little out of character to enable his manipulative womanising in such a fashion. She barely tolerated him seducing an evaluator in Monaco, and it seems she’d likely hold him to a higher standard given the murder of her close personal friend.

And that’s before we even get to Christmas Jones, the designated secondary Bond girl. Jones exists purely to serve as a prize for Bond at the end, when he vanquishes Elektra and Renard, to prevent Bond or the audience from reflecting too deeply on some of the questions broached by Elektra. Christmas is frequently ranked as one of the worse Bond girls in a franchise that gave us Tanya Roberts failing to notice a blimp sneaking up on her. That’s quite an accomplishment, and an illustration of just how bland she is. The World is Not Enoughwould work much better without her, but that would be too bold a deviation from formula for the film.

Strange bedfellows…

To say that the gender politics of The World is Not Enough are slightly confused is an understatement. On the one hand, there’s all the generic stuff involving Christmas Jones and the women of MI6 practically mud wrestling for a chance to let Bond prove “his dedication… to the job in hand.” On the other, there’s actually a lot of interesting stuff here. M is developed as a character for the first time in the series, and she’s defined by the one time she most firmly rejected her maternal instincts and allowed Renard to keep Elektra instead of paying the ransom:

After Elektra King was kidnapped, her father tried to deal with it on his own, with no success. So he came to me. As you are aware, we do not negotiate with terrorists. And against every instinct in my heart, every… emotion as a mother, I told him not to pay the ransom.

M, like Elektra, has found herself trying to survive in a world populated by men. While M asserts her authority by denying her traditionally feminine attributes, Elektra compensates by abusing her hyper-sexuality to dominate the men around her. Asked how she “survived” her experience, she explains, “I seduced the guards. Used my body. It gave me control.”That’s still the approach that she uses on Renard and Bond throughout the film.

The end of the affair…

It’s interesting that Elektra manages to subdue and capture M by exploiting her maternal instincts, those she abandoned during the kidnapping. She pleads for the director of British Intelligence to travel half-way around the world by acting as a victim, in fear for her life. “Could… could you come?” she begs. “I just can’t help thinking… I’m next.” M comes running, right into an ambush. It’s interesting, because it seems M can’t win. Ignoring her maternal instincts created the villain Elektra became, while indulging them led her right into a trap. Perhaps there’s a healthy balance that must be found, like the balance between Elektra’s aggressive and vindictive sexuality and Christmas’ more passive and tame femininity.

There is, I believe, some argument over whether Elektra qualifies as the primary villain in The World is Not Enough. I’d argue that she is most definitely the movie’s most important adversary. Bond is sent after Renard, but he’s a bit of a red herring. Played by Robert Carlyle, Renard exists to distract the audience while we’re meant to think Elektra is merely the primary Bond girl. It’s a great bait-and-switch, because the reveal that Elektra is not a Bond girl but a villain is a great way of subverting audience expectations.

Armed and dangerous…

The movie even gives us a scene that plays to the worst chauvinistic excesses of the franchise, only to seem much smarter in retrospect. “You should have had her before,” Renard boasts to Bond during their fight, “when she was innocent.” It seems like two men fighting over a woman is if she were a possession or a trophy, but it becomes brilliantly ironic once the film clarifies that Elektra is the one manipulating both of them. It’s just a shame that the movie lacks the courage of its convictions and everything around it is so generic, resulting in a surreal tonal mismatch. It’s simultaneously one of the most subversive Bond movies in the series, while also one of the most conventional. The result is far from satisfying.

Renard feels more like a henchman. His “gimmick” – feeling no pain – seems to set him up for comparison with Jaws, or Tee-Hee, or that guy with diamonds in his face from Die Another Day. Bond has certainly disposed of henchmen after killing the main villain – like in The Man With the Golden Gun. And it never seems like Renard has his own agenda once we get into the film itself. He’s very viciously pursuing that set by Elektra.

Anarchy in Istanbul!

In fact, it seems quite possible that Renard isn’t even entirely aware of Elektra’s plan. Confronting M, he boasts, “You will die. Along with everyone in this city and the future of the West.” Given Elektra is nuking Istanbul in order to secure her own oil pipeline, it hardly seems he’s killing “the future of the West.” Granted, he could be lying to M – but he’d have no reason to. They are both dead anyway. It seems quite possible that Elektra was simply exploiting Renard’s anarchist philosophy for her own ends, while he remained blissfully unaware of her try capitalist endgame.

While Renard has a gimmick, Elektra has the distinctive physical disfigurement that typically defines a Bond villain – like Blofeld’s scar, or Julius No’s arms, or Largo’s missing eye. She is missing her ear lobe, perhaps reflecting the little piece of her soul she lost during captivity. However, shrewdly, she conceals the scar behind an earring – perfectly symbolising Elektra’s clever camouflage as a Bond girl instead of a Bond villain. It also works quite well as a visual signifier to the audience that she is a villain.

I wouldn’t like to be a round her house for Christmas, because she’s going to nuke the Turkey…

Elektra’s rage is understandable, particularly in the context of a Bond villain. Even her last name, King, suggests that she is living in a world ruled by men. She stresses, time and again, that her family’s wealth came from her mother’s side of the family. “My mother’s family discovered the oil here,” she assures Bond, even as one can’t help but notice the fact that her father’s name brands the company and equipment. Later on, she gets more explicit about her opinion of her father, “His kingdom he stole from my mother.” Of course, King did name his daughter Elektra. What was he expecting?

(There’s also a bit of interesting, if more subtle, cultural commentary going on here. As with many Bond villains, Elektra is of mixed heritage. Her father is English, but her mother came from Central Asia. She seems proud of her male relatives on her mother’s side, perhaps suggesting that she resents her father’s colonial attitude as much as his usurping of her mother’s rights. She boasts, “And when I am through the whole world will know my name, my grandfather’s name, the glory of my people.” It feels like this could be a swipe at the colonial attitude of some of the Bond films, or even the Bond franchise as a whole. Bond is, after all, another British man who arrives in foreign lands and asserts his own moral authority, often with little respect for local law enforcement.)

Bond finds her an Elektra-fying presence…

Elektra exists surrounded by men. When she fails to live up to the expectations of those men, they send Davidov to help steer her. “I’ll talk to her,” he promises during one early episode, as if to suggest that part of his job description is to micro-manage the oil heiress. It seems highly unlikely that Davidov is aware of Elektra’s true nature. He reports to Renard, but doesn’t seem to know Renard reports to Elektra. He seems to treat Elektra as somebody who needs to be steered and directed by those who know better. Looking at Elektra’s ensemble, it seems like those people are mostly men.

It’s interesting that the movie opens with a rather fascinating subversion of conventional Bond form. Bond visits a Swiss banker in Geneva. He flirts with the pretty girl and ends up taking on a bunch of henchmen. Most interestingly, it’s the girl (the “Cigar Girl” – itself a credit rife with Freudian implications) who ends up being the greatest problem, and the movie suggests that Bond ignored her because she was a woman – exchanging little more than a cheeky double entendre. “Would you like to check my figures?” she asks. Bond responds, “Oh, I’m sure they’re perfectly rounded.” There’s no sense he treats her as a threat in the same way he considers the other men in the room, including the accountant.

King for a day…

Elektra similarly exploits the men around her, by playing up her femininity. When she wants to bring M to Istanbul, she plays the part of the lost and confused victim. When Bond falls for her, she keeps him off-balance by playing on his own hesitations and insecurities. Even though she knows she has nothing to fear from Renard, she strikes a never, demanding, “You used me. You used me as bait.” The scenes between Bond and Elektra are frequently over-written, a little too awkwardly structured with exposition and blunt statements of motivation, but Sophie Marceau and Pierce Brosnan play well off one another. Even before Elektra is revealed as a villain, she comes across as a particularly well-developed Bond girl.

Elektra’s also fascinating as a Bond villain because she has a sense of tragedy. Of course, she loses any real audience sympathy when she plans to nuke Istanbul to make a fortune, but there’s a sense throughout the picture that Elektra is at least as much a victim of fate, and a product of circumstance, as she is a monster. Even M seems to acknowledge as much, even after Elektra has rather brutally murdered her support staff, agreeing with Renard when he states she is worth multiples of him.

Well, at least he didn’t drop her from a satellite dish (and then drop the dish on top of her), or throw her into a shredding torpedo…

Even more than the vaguely sympathetic Bond baddies of the past (“poor little Alec” avenging his parents’ murder-suicide), it’s hard to know whether Elektra can really be held accountable for her actions. It distinguishes her from the vast majority of villains, who are presented as inherently deformed and dysfunctional. Elektra’s wounds were inflicted upon her. In a way, that makes Bond’s brutal execution of her at the movie’s climax seem even colder.

Brosnan’s Bond had a habit of executing his foes rather then killing them in the heat of the moment. He dropped Alec from the satellite dish, and he threw Carver into a shredding torpedo. However, neither character seemed especially redeemable. Bond even suggested that Alec was using his tragic family history to justify a common bank robbery. It seems like Elektra might have been redeemed, had she received the proper help and  care.

Flirting with danger…

(This points to another problem with The World Is Not Enough. Bond understandably felt upset at the betrayal, and his murder of Elektra was a cold and dispassionate response to that – the kind of thing that Fleming’s literary Bond might have done out of spite. However, having Bond hop into bed with the second designated Bond girl immediately afterwards, for the Roger-Moore-esque closing pun undercuts any sense that Bond himself has been deeply affected by what happened. He doesn’t seem to give Elektra a second thought, despite a superb performance from Brosnan in their final scene together.)

I think you could argue that The World Is Not Enough is something like a Brosnan-era tribute to the Roger Moore films (with a healthy affection for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service thrown in). Of course, Die Another Day would go further, but The World Is Not Enoughhad that surreal tonal dissonance that I find in many of the Moore films, trying to balance reasonably dark ideas and themes with decidedly campy and ridiculous set pieces.

Equal opportunity villainy…

Unfortunately, another aspect of the Moore era was that many of the best villains got trapped in some of the worst films. That definitely seems the case here.

You might be interested in our other Bond villain character studies:

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17 Responses

  1. Shes not hot enough. Lol

    • Interesting. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I remember a friend telling me that Sophie Marceau was not hot in The World Is Not Enough, but beautiful. Quite a distinction for a then-teenager to make, but as I get older I think there was a lot of truth in his words. Marceau is one of the most elegant, stylish and stunning of the Bond girls, and possibly the best performer until Eva Green in Casino Royale.

      But it’s all subjective.

    • lol you must be blind and your comment contributes nothing to the article 🙂

  2. “had that surreal tonal dissonance that I find in many of the Moore films, trying to balance reasonably dark ideas and themes with decidedly campy and ridiculous set pieces.” Which basically applies for all Bond movies , not just the Moore or Brosnan ones. And is imo one of the attractions of a Bond movie. They are all “dumb” and “dark”. A combination that can work if you add it to all the other Bond tropes and have good actors and money to work with.

    • Fair point, but I think it doesn’t work at extremes and together. Bond threatening to break Andrea’s arm if she doesn’t tell her what he wants to know (dark) and then trying to sleep with her while drinking champagne (camp) is one of the most awkward moments of the Moore era.

      I think those elements work best when isolated from one another. For example, Thunderball features Bond punching a woman (“she’s a man, baby!”) at a funeral and flying off on a jetpack, but it’s not anchored into the story. Largo’s abuse of Domino is still incredibly disturbing, and Fiona Volpe is the most fascinating femme fatale of the series. Goldfinger opens with Bond wearing a seagull on his head and pulling a tux out from under his wetsuit, but Goldfinger’s obsession and Oddjob’s brutality are consistent throughout.

      On the other hand, The World Is Not Enough has Bond wearing X-ray spec’s (camp) in the same scene where he’s bonding with an emotionally damaged young woman (dark). Elektra has a claustrophic attack (dark) inside Bond’s giant bubble jacket (camp). Bond has just witnessed the brutal murder of one of M’s oldest friends inside MI6 (dark), but straightens his tie underwater and splashes some clampers (camp).

      I think, for example, Tomorrow Never Dies did better balancing the camp (walking up walls, returning the car to the dealership) with the darker stuff (the murder of Paris and Bond’s cold-blooded murder of Carver). It never seemed like the tone of the movie was taking a sharp left turn and then countering it with an immediate right.

      Don’t get me wrong, Skyfall, for example, has some lovely camp moments, but they don’t undermine the drama in the same way, because the movie’s shrewd enough not to position the contrasts so close together that they seem discordant.

      • You make a solid case sir. The Moore and Brosnan movie are mostly not among my favorites ,but anxious to see above is the main reason.

      • I hope you enjoy! I had great fun digging through the archives this month, I must say. Almost sad to see it end.

  3. Elektra King wasn’t really good at all. One, she was the worst at not making herself look like the bad guy. Two, she acted bratty, and to the point to where she made me wonder why she was a grown up in the movie – *face plams*. And three, SHE WAS JUST A SLUT – That and being sexy was the only thing that made her a bond baddie, she used her body with her wooden acting, which makes me why she was alive for more than half the movie. Just because she was sexy, doesn’t mean she pulled it off, she had very little wit – the chair scene was the only part of the movie that she was stupid in. And M never thought of her as a bad guy? She couldn’t hide it if she tried. A lest Christmas had something other than looks.

    • “And three, SHE WAS JUST A SLUT ”
      um, can you not? someone in her situation did what she could to survive and the men (and women) around her fell for it.

  4. “The World Is Not Enough vacillates between incredibly clever and mind-numbingly stupid with a surreal ease…”

    e.g Bond holding a barreta with one hand….and some failhard, early-2000s fad gadget in the other.

    I know I defended this film, but it’s hard to argue with facts. Another thing I would change: If Bond can simply jump onto the submarine, isn’t it a waste of time to hold up Elektra? I might have gotten rid of the submarine sequence altogether, since it’s not a very effective sequence on its own and shares too many similarities with Carver’s boat. Maybe swap the boat/balloon chase from the beginning and place it at the end. That way, when Elektra refuses to call Renard off, Bond is stranded at the lighthouse and all seems lost — until Q shows up with a speedboat.

  5. “…if you can’t figure out this chick is the bad guy in .03 sec of her first scene you need to go fire that guy called OJ that you just hired to babysit your kids. First, she’s French. Always a dead giveaway. Second, she can act and they never let the gals who can act be good guys.”

    –my favorite review of the movie

  6. I know this is a little (or a lot) old, but I wanted to point out this is a fantastic analysis. It’s above and beyond anything I expected from a Bond review.

    Although I enjoy TWINE immensely, the ending of the film does not have a satisfactory resolution. I think your comments about the existence Christmas Jones and overall inconsistency may pinpoint my issue with the ending. Elektra and Bond’s final scene/exchange is among the most memorable in the series for me. However, after a 5-second grieving period, he jumps back to action and the movie closes too predictably. Future installments (Skyfall and Casino Royale) handle reflection of lost loved ones in a more appropriate manner. It could have ended focusing on Bond reflecting on how Elektra descended into lunacy. Perhaps he rethinks his decision with M and regrets how he also had the option to simply disarm her and lock her up (you know, that solution ALL the baddies use to restrain captive Bond girls). Like you said, she could have been saved. It doesn’t seem like anyone tried to help her, at all.

    But instead, the film tries to be the master of all trades: thought-provoking, hilarious, crude, tragic, heart-pounding, even self-critical. All within the same film. In fact, I’d say that’s how the film ended, in the order of thought-provoking and tragic (confronting Elektra and silencing her), heart-pounding (the submarine sequence), and finally, crude and “hilarious” (the Christmas pun and late-night romp with Doctor #2). I suppose they’d rather the film be partially satisfying for all than be completely disappointing for a few.

    The transitions were too jarring in this movie, but maybe they didn’t have a choice. Given the demographics, I would assume deviating from the formula too much and not having a single “good” Bond girl would have been too risky. Similarly, a consistently dark movie may have exhausted the typical viewer that was just looking for an entertaining action movie. This movie was never going to redefine the series, not in the middle of Brosnan’s era. If it was ever going to happen, it would be with a new Bond.

    Anyways, I am very thankful for review, as your in-depth analysis does resolve the uneasiness I had about the ending and the movie itself. Elektra King is a fascinating character and Sophie Marceau’s acting is top-notch in this film. “You wouldn’t kill me, you’d miss me,” she delivers with a smirk on her face. Even with all her arrogance and delusion, I still feel empathetic to her character. I’m glad she’s given the proper respect by most reviews I’ve read (which tend to place her in the top 10 Bond villains of all-time).

    • Thanks for the kind words, Jordan!

      And it’s never too late to leave a comment. I see all the comments on the site, and I try to reply to most of them. I kinda hope some of the writing holds up, even after all these years.

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