Analyzing the Modern Warfare Trilogy: The Bondilization of the antagonists

Welcome to this third and final part of the analysis of the Modern Warfare trilogy. Previously, we’ve taken a look at the reasonable things the games did, and a couple of days ago we looked at the many plot holes and inconsistencies that riddle the series, effectively preventing the games from ever rising to greatness. Today, we’ll be looking at something more specific, but nonetheless endemic of what the trilogy turned into: the slow Bond-ilizing of its antagonists.
With that said, the very first main antagonist, Imran Zakhaev, actually seemed human.Unlike another antagonist, who is introduced in the second game. In Modern Warfare 1, he decides to launch two ICBMs at the Eastern Seaboard after he learns of his son’s death, which he blames on the Americans as they hunted down his son while trying to locate Zakhaev himself. His decision to fire the ICBMs may be highly irrational, but it’s understandable as he’s pissed off after his son’s death.

In fact, Zakhaev’s entire being seems to be built around anger. He’s a nationalist whose desire for power is motivated only by unmitigated hatred for the United States, and a wish to restore his home country, Russia, to its former glory. Considering that he was also the target of a SAS-led assassination attempt, which resulted in him losing his arm, he has every right to be pissed at them.

Oh, the irony! Zakhaev's gets a statue, I just get shot.

As if that wasn’t enough, he’s been cornered as his involvement in the nuclear explosion has been discovered and the Americans are going for his throat. Under such emotional pressure, who can really say that they would think every possible result of their actions through? And to some extent the launch makes sense, as it at this point is Zakhaev’s only choice of action. It’s the only card he has left to play. In the end, maybe he got all that he wanted, as he becomes a martyr for the nationalists, who eventually take power in Russia, and even gets his own statue.
Nationalism as the main motivator is carried over into the second game’s principal antagonist, General Shepherd of the U.S. Army. He doesn’t reveal himself as the antagonist until Act III, where he kills several members of Task Force 141, the unit he is in command of, after they’ve secured information of the whereabouts of Vladimir Makarov. Why does he kill them? Apparently it is because he was in command of the soldiers who died in the nuclear blast in Unspecifiedistan. He’s seeking vengeance, and apparently he needs to erase all traces that connected him to Makarov.

You see, Shepherd is also a Bond villain, as his overall plan was to start a war between Russia and the United States, so that patriotism would be reignited, he could become a war hero, and people would actually give a damn about that people who died in the blast. Oh, and he also has a PMC at the ready. While his motivations are reasonable, the whole arrangement is contrived. In an attempt to get vengeance, he works together with one of the perpetrators, and then tries to have him killed? In the end, though, Shepherd is hunted down and killed by Captain Price and “Soap” MacTavish, a player-controlled character, who then become hunted men.

But he has such a trustworthy beard!

I think Infinity Ward tried to draw a parallel between Shepherd and Zahkhaev, as they are both driven by fierce nationalistic virtues and anger at their country’s perceived weakness, to show the hollowness of their ideas. It just doesn’t work, though, as Zakhaev was established as a human character, whereas we’re just told that Shepherd cares about anything else than his own status. For these kinds of people, sacrificing others is rarely something they think much about, but surely there are easier ways of reviving patriotism than having thousands of your countrymen killed?

Shepherd began the downward spiral to becoming a Bond-villain, with his overly callous plan to gain power for himself, but there were still some redeeming features. He, like Zakhaev, had a good reason for being angry; feeling betrayed by a weak home country, but the player can only take Shepherd’s own words for it. There’s no assurance that Shepherd isn’t just a power-hungry bastard.

The lack of plausible motivating factors, large amounts of disposable grunts and careful explanation of why they’d do such evil things reaches its height in Modern Warfare 3, when Makarov enters the stage.

Well, to be fair, he was actually the catalyst of Modern Warfare 2, but was eventually replaced as main antagonist by Shepherd in the third act. Even back then, though, Makarov showed himself as a Bond-villain. This is showed best with him keeping Captain Price captive in a Siberian gulag for several years, rather than simply disposing of him. There’s no rational reasoning for keeping him alive, as Makarov’s plans go beyond simply trying to use Price as a bargaining chip or something, making Price a simple liability.

The "You're the protagonist...and you get killed!" idea is getting old, too. This is the fourth time you're killed in a Modern Warfare game. Stop it!

What are Makarov’s motivations, really? It’s never truly made clear. All we know of his life before the events of Modern Warfare is that he was one of Zakhaev’s lieutenants, and that he was discharged from the Russian Army for brutal actions during the war in Chechnya*. Therefore, he joined Zakhaev’s Ultranationalists, where he earned his trust by driving Zakhaev away after the assassination attempt. Like Zakhaev, he seems to be motivated solely by hatred to the West, but has absolutely no redeeming human emotions. Like a Bond-villain, he simply exists so the hero can be justified in his actions.
He doesn’t even seem frustrated whenever his plans go terribly wrong, like when the Russians are repelled from the United States or when he is ousted from power after the invasion of Europe is repelled as well. Maybe his self-confidence just can’t take hits like that, so he has to hide it under a layer of smugness and pretending he doesn’t care, or maybe it just serves to enhance his role as a simple, evil, scheming man.
This is particularly evident while he is staying in occupied Prague, holding a meeting with his advisors. During this meeting, Captain Price and some of the other special troops move in to try and assassinate him. As expected, this goes terribly wrong as one of them for inexplicable reasons has been captured, and tells everything about their mission. It would appear that Makarov has anticipated this as he has rigged a nearby church tower, where some of the “good guys” are hold up, with explosives. Also, he doesn’t blow it up until after he has told them just what he has done, and bid them good riddance. I was expecting an evil cackle too. Unfortunately for him, this spectacular show of foresight doesn’t apply to the grand scale where he routinely makes massive misjudgments. Makarov is barely human at this point, as he seems to have superhuman ability to prepare for any eventuality for as long as the plot requires it.

In the end, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with having Bond-villains. After all, they are entertaining and they fill our need for easily recognizable evildoers. The Modern Warfare trilogy, though, could have had so much more than this. The Bond-villains and black-and-white plot that dominated the two last entries of the series make it evident that Infinity Ward either weren’t competent enough in actually crafting a plausible plot, or, more likely, that the implausible, the over-the-top, and the easily identifiable villains were favored over a more nuanced plot. Maybe black-and-white just sells better. In Modern Warfare 1, Infinity Ward put all the groundwork into crafting a series that could have been worthy of our current times. Willingly or unwillingly, they squandered that potential.

*This information was taken from the Call of Duty Wiki, and is the subject of some speculation.

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