Why No Time To Die's use of scars to identify its villain is worse than you think

·5-min read
Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

Note: contains spoilers for No Time To Die

No Time To Die has finally arrived in theatres and it relied on a tired trope to fuel its plot – scarred villains. A mainstay in film for decades – think Voldemort, Freddy Krueger and so many more – the scarred or disabled bad guy is a cheap story device that No Time To Die's writers called on to wrap up Daniel Craig's legacy as Bond.

While the trailers and teasers certainly primed us for Safin's scars, what we didn't know was whether the film would actually do anything beyond the tired trope. Now we know that it didn't.

In No Time To Die, Bond briefly attempts retirement but gets pulled back into the spy world to foil a dastardly plot to infect the world with bioweaponry, giving him one last shot at heroism before Craig hangs up his 00 status for good. Rami Malek fills the role of the film's primary villain Lyutsifer Safin, a man bent on destroying the world in a twisted scheme inspired by the assassination of his entire family, and he plays subtle, manic villainy beautifully.

However, Safin's character development leaves much to be desired as it trips and lands squarely into a cliché: scarred villains. Safin's entire body is covered in scars, acquired during the aforementioned massacre of his family, of which he was the only survivor.

The audience gets their first glimpse of Safin in the opening scene, where his “horror” is covered up under an eerie white face mask. While Safin's scars — and how he got them —appear to be the primary motivator and identifier of his villainy, this detail is never developed beyond the surface level.

The director did not even bother to manipulate creative camera angles to artfully expose the "horror" of his scars that the mask carefully tucked away earlier. Instead, a swift jump cut introduces a mask-less Safin to the world in a brief one-shot so low-lit you would be forgiven for missing the scars completely.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

A typical set up for scarred villains, the delayed reveal of Safin's appearance goes nowhere. Alluding to his scarred appearance in the tense opener with a small reveal of the scars on his chin, the film swiftly moves on, later reintroducing Safin and revealing him during an anti-climactic meeting with Bond's lover Madeleine Swann.

A blink-and-you'll-miss-it line later confirms how Safin acquired his disfigurement (via the poison used to kill his family) and reaffirms that they cover his entire body, yet we only ever see how they have been etched onto his face. So much effort is put into shoehorning Safin's backstory into an overwrought screenplay, yet they contribute nothing to his character development.

The dastardly plan is simple – destroy the world – but Safin's motivations are a confused mess. He escalates from straightforward vengeance on the man who destroyed his family to killing on a global scale. Safin's leap from revenge plot to global mass murderer is worlds away from his traumatic origins, meaning the central baddie of the movie is undermined by a nonsensical character arc completely unrelated to his backstory.

Photo credit: MGM
Photo credit: MGM

While the film relies on scarred tropes to identify villainy – including the brief return of Bond's old foe Blofeld – it does little else to capitalise on their villain's apprearance. The scars do not enhance their characterisation and only end up morphing into an awkward elephant in the room waiting to be addressed.

Including scars as a motivator and identifier of villainy is a waste of precious screen time that could have been spent filling in plot holes and barely-there characters like Paloma, a CIA agent who briefly assists Bond in a mid-film action sequence.

Not only does No Time To Die fall into this trap of scarification once but calls on it again for one of Safin's henchmen, a man nicknamed ‘Cyclops' by Bond himself. Equipped with a biomechanic eye that should have all sorts of uses and abilities, the henchmen is visibly disabled – so must be a villain for Bond to destroy. An easy villain identifier for an underestimated audience, the trope screams 'We've run out of ideas' and wastes yet more valuable time on an undeveloped plot device.

Photo credit: MGM/Nicole Dove
Photo credit: MGM/Nicole Dove

Partial sight is used as a signpost for villainy in what could have been a small, but brilliant, subplot. Imagine all the fanciful villainous activities this henchmen could get up to with a cutting-edge biomechanical eye assisting him! Sadly, all we can do is fantasise, because No Time to Die's writers forgot to offer this character any creative development.

Again, the writers dreamt up a villainous identifier to separate hero and villain but neglected to invest any screen time to take advantage of it. Relying on offensive 'scarred/disabled equals villains' stereotypes is tiresome enough but No Time To Die drove home the grossness by abandoning any efforts to develop the scars or differences as character-developing subplots.

No Time To Die wasted crucial screenplay development on forging backstories for our villains that never take centre stage. Poor Safin never even gets the chance to properly explain the motivation behind his devious plans before being taken down; he dies bland, his scars a discarded subplot.

Photo credit: MGM/Nicola Dove
Photo credit: MGM/Nicola Dove

And our ‘Cyclops' henchman is dispatched by way of his own eye, with audiences deprived of ever exploring the potential of its scientific prowess. The latest Bond instalment squanders its potential with a barrage of villainous caricatures designed to scare the audience with blemished skin and bodies while 007 sets up his next action shot.

If filmmakers insist on using scarring and disabilities as signifiers of villainy, the least they could do is use the plot device for more than shock, awe and cheap one-liners about a Cyclops.

All films are a form of escapism but they also have significant power in the real world. Relying on scarred villains hurts people living with visible differences and scars in everyday life, so it's time for Bond to retire this particular trope in its future endeavours and inject some innovation into their villains.

No Time To Die is now available to watch in cinemas.

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