I am not certain what odd quirk of history has brought us around to Russian movie villains again. But it has. Need proof: go watch (as I did last night) the new “Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit”, with Chris Pine in the star role originally invented by Tom Clancy.
Kenneth Branagh (who also directs) and Kevin Costner play supporting roles as a Russian oligarch and a CIA handler/boss respectively; both are great – the best things in the movie as Pine is not quite strong enough to carry our interest. But the fact that Branagh’s character is Russian, and the Russian government is clearly implicated in the proposed terrorist attack in the film (and the attempt to bring the US economy to its knees) makes this film unusual. Don’t expect “Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit” to be playing in the Moscow multiplexes any time soon in this era of Putin. Or maybe they won’t notice that they are the bad guys this time?
In the Cold War, the “baddies” were always Russians or East Germans, but mostly Russian. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc and the reunification of Germany things changed. Movie people needed lots of different bad guys. So here’s a quick list, which includes a number of British films (James Bond):
“Die Hard” (1988, Germany – although changed to a generic “Europe” in the German release)
“Hunt for the Red October” (1990, Russians are actually the GOOD guys)
“Die Hard 2” (1990, South African drug lords, with Americans in assistance)
“Patriot Games” (1992, Irish Republican Army)
“Clear and Present Danger” (1994, American colleagues and Colombian drug lords)
“Die Hard 3” (1995, Germans again)
“Mission Impossible 1” (1996, internal Americans)
“The Siege” (1998, Arabs)
“Die Hard 4” (2007, rogue domestic Americans)
“Quantum of Solace” James Bond (2008, wealthy businessmen)
“The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3” (Americans)
“Skyfall” James Bond (2012, rogue British mercenaries and angry former spies)
“Die Hard 5” (2013, Russians are both good and bad guys)
“White House Down” (2013, renegade US armed forces)
“Olympus Has Fallen” (2013, North Korea)
Any patterns there? Although it’s not a complete list by any means, one of the biggest patterns arising is the presence of domestic terrorists and rogue agents. But perhaps the new, muscular Russia with Putin at the helm will give us a “big” bad guy again?