Sunday, 1 June 2014

James Bond references in Muppets Most Wanted

A Bondian poster for Muppets Most Wanted

The other week I managed to catch the latest Muppets film, Muppets Most Wanted (2014). In the film, the Muppets are persuaded by an agent to the stars, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), to embark on a world tour. Unbeknown to the Muppets, the tour is a cover for a string of museum and bank heists perpetrated by Dominic Badguy and his partner-in-crime, an evil frog called Constantine. Having escaped from a Siberian prison, Constantine assumes the place of his doppelgänger, Kermit the Frog, who in turn is mistaken for Constantine and is 'recaptured' and sent back to Siberia. Given the film's European settings and use of a master criminal character, I was half expecting a few references to the James Bond films, and I was not disappointed.

An obvious link to the Bond series is made fairly early in the film when the relationship between Badguy and Constantine is being established. Constantine is clearly in charge, referring to himself as Number One and Badguy as Number Two. The reference is reinforced through an accompanying song, 'I'm Number One'.

The idea of numbers to identify members of a criminal group was introduced (or re-introduced; it is possible that the idea was not entirely new) in Ian Fleming's novel, Thunderball (1961), and popularised in the films From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). In the novel, Blofeld is Number Two, while Largo is Number One. The films introduced an element of rank, with Blofeld being Number One. Over time, the meme has gained sufficient cultural traction to survive outside specific novels or films, and today generally brings to mind, usually for comic effect (for example in Austin Powers), a hierarchical criminal organisation led by a Bond-style meglomaniac.

Between cities, the Muppets travel by train, and one cannot help feeling that there is an allusion here to the rail journeys in From Russia With Love or The Spy Who Loved Me, though films such as Murder on the Orient Express or The Lady Vanishes could equally have provided the inspiration. However, it is one of the train scenes that provides a much more certain reference to the Bond films, as Constantine, in an attempt to deal with some inquisitive and suspecting Muppets, wears a set of sharp metal teeth, à la Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me.

There was another clear Bond reference towards the end of the film, when Kermit gains entry through a restricted-access entrance to the Tower of London by disguising himself as a member of staff delivering flowers and other goods in preparation of a wedding. “You're like James Bond there,” says an admiring fellow Muppet (Fozzie, I think). The scene recalls the sequence in The Living Daylights when Bond, disguised as an Afghan tribesman, carries a sack of opium (and a bomb) on to a Soviet plane, but the line might simply have been meant more generally to underscore Kermit's surreptitious, spy-like, action.

The Bond memes in Muppets Most Wanted show, of course, how deeply the Bond films are engrained in popular culture, but also reveal how well adaptable aspects from the films are to different genres. This may reflect that the Bond films are not seen exclusively as spy films, but more broadly as crime, action and adventure tales with a global scope.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting piece as always, Edward. The double theme might also recall the similar plot device in Raymond Benson's Doubleshot (2000) although this is of course much less well known than the Bond films.

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    1. Thanks! Glad you liked the article. Good point about Doubleshot. Thinking about it, the 'bad double' is probably a fairly common device (eg in the Moore/Caine effort, Bullseye).

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  2. Yes, the doppelganger or 'bad double' is as old as the hills as an idea. It also features in John Gardner's second Boysie Oakes novel Understrike (1965) which may have went on to influence Benson's Doubleshot.

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