Should I Watch..? Never Say Never Again
What's the big deal?
Never Say Never Again is an action spy thriller film released in 1983 and is based on the Ian Fleming novel Thunderball. Unlike other James Bond films, it is not recognised as 'official' because Eon Productions had no involvement whatsoever in the production. Instead, the film was an independent production overseen by Kevin McClory who eventually won the rights to film the novel (which he helped write) back in the Sixties. It saw former Bond actor Sean Connery return to the role he last played in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever and was due to be released alongside the 'official' Bond film Octopussy, causing the press to build up a Bond vs. Bond story. In the end, Octopussy grossed slightly more than Never Say Never Again despite critical praise upon release. Due to its unofficial status, it has not been included in any 007 retrospective box-sets and remains Connery's final film appearance as 007.
What's it about?
After failing a routine training mission, James Bond is sent to a health spa to help him get back into shape after M disbands the 00-section of British Intelligence. While there, he witnesses a strange series of events - one of the nurses apparently beats another man who is later seen scanning his eye into a machine. After nearly being caught, Bond is forced to flee and narrowly escapes from an assassin.
Shortly afterwards, the US Air Force manage to lose two nuclear warheads which were substituted for dummies during a training exercise. The warheads fall into the possession of the criminal organisation SPECTRE who issue a one-week deadline for their demands to be met before they detonate the warheads. Realising that there's only one man for the job, M reinstates Bond and assigns him the task to finding the stolen warheads before disaster strikes. Following a lead, Bond discovers shady businessman and philanthropist Maximillian Largo and his lover Domino, whose brother was involved in the theft and has now disappeared...
Klaus Maria Brandauer
Max Von Sydow
Ernst Stravo Blofeld
Lorenzo Semple Jr *
Release Date (UK)
15th December, 1983
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to like?
There's no doubt why Connery's presence has overshadowed everyone else who has followed in his footsteps as 007. He brought everything to the role: charm, danger, action and sexuality. His performances always felt like the real deal as Bond and he demonstrates here why Moore's light-hearted interpretation was the wrong direction to go down. Alongside him, Brandauer as Largo is a surprisingly decent baddie who injects personality into the role. Certainly, I preferred him to Adolfo Celi's portrayal in the original Thunderball.
The film also manages to restrain itself from too many silly clichés - it doesn't have to follow up Goldfinger like the original had to so it can concentrate on being an actual thriller for once. The film thankfully cuts down the amount of screen-time underwater which slowed Thunderball down no end and the action scenes are decent enough to match the standards of the official series. In fact, other than Connery's quips, the only comic relief comes in the form of a young Rowan Atkinson in his feature film debut as Nigel Small-Fawcett whose name kinda sets the tone. Basinger might be stuck in the traditional Bond girl role and she does OK but Carrera's off-putting wardrobe and insane character are oddly reminiscent of Famke Janssen's Xenia from GoldenEye.
- Pat Roach appears as the assassin Lippe. This makes him the only man in history to inflict a beating to both James Bond and Indiana Jones as he also appears in all three original Indiana Jones movies as various baddies.
- A young Steven Seagal worked on this movie as a martial arts instructor. At some point, he managed to break Connery's wrist during training.
- It was decided to make Bond a retired secret agent in this film, seeing as Connery was 52 at the time of filming. However, he was still three younger than Roger Moore who was playing Bond still in active duty in Octopussy.
What's not to like?
I realise the various legal restrictions placed on the film but why did it have to be a basic remake of Thunderball? It would have been nice to have some variety other than changing a few character's names. Never Say Never Again misses the usual Bond staples - the gun barrel opening, the hypnotic opening title sequence, the famous theme music (in fact, the overall soundtrack is dreadful) - and it makes the whole film feel somewhat anaemic. It's also oddly jarring watching Connery back playing Bond but having his supporting cast played by other people. Alec McCowen's Q just feels wrong next to the unforgettable Desmond Llewelyn while Fox's M is a lot more shouty compared to the quiet authority we're used to from Bernard Lee.
And that, ultimately, is the problem. For all the exotic locations, gadgets, girls, gun fights and car chases, the film can't escape the overwhelming impression of being a knock-off of the real thing. It's a karaoke Bond film, hitting the right notes and putting on a decent show but inescapably not as good as the real thing. Of course, in this day and age of online videos and On Demand services, the thrill of seeing Connery back as 007 isn't as great as it might have been in 1983 and that robs the film of its last raison d'etre. When all is said and done, what exactly was the point of this movie?
Should I watch it?
It's amusing for Bond enthusiasts but generally speaking, Never Say Never Again is the Diet Coke of Bond movies. It offers a decent enough film to enjoy but without the magic that makes the Bond films so special. But at least it underlines what I've been saying about Moore's era for a while - they were too gimmicky, too comedic and nowhere near thrilling enough. This film knows the notes but sadly, not the tune.
Great For: Bond enthusiasts, Roger Moore's detractors
Not So Great For: Connery's dodgy hair piece, anyone who has seen Thunderball
What else should I watch?
There is no reason why the original Thunderball should be missed, despite not being the strongest Bond film so far. But it feels a lot more like the Bond we know and love, due to the Sixties styling and original cast members. By contrast, Never Say Never Again feels sterile, unimaginative, uninvolving and little more than the tired rehash it is.
Anyone familiar with the Bond series should already know which are the best films. Goldfinger is the complete package with its humour, plot and outrageous action scenes and characters - not to mention that stunning DB5. Casino Royale brings Bond screaming and kicking into the 21st century, despite taking its inspirations more from The Bourne Identity than anything else. Skyfall is another reminder to his detractors that Daniel Craig is one of the best Bonds yet and as if to prove that he could do it right when he tried, Moore's The Spy Who Loved Me is an under-rated Cold War thriller that is not content to sit back and let the action dominate the picture.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox