Hello everyone and welcome to what would be the fourteenth installment of my series of reviews chronicling the official James Bond film franchise, were the movie in question actually an official James Bond picture. As you may have surmised from that last statement however, this movie is not an official EON production, nor is it in any way affiliated Bond film franchise and EON productions founders Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and therefore this review will follow suit and serve as an unofficial compliment to the rest of the series instead of being an actual part of it. The movie in question is 1983’s ‘Never Say Never Again’ which saw the return of the one and only Sean Connery to the role that made him an international superstar. The title of the movie is the first featured in a Bond film of any kind to not draw its origin from an Ian Fleming title. It is a reference to a statement Connery made years prior when he vowed he would never again make another James Bond movie. Going into this movie I was very much relieved to be getting back to ‘the master’ after enduring six straight movies of Roger Moore, which, even though I don’t dislike Roger, sometime’s a little bit of his campiness (or the movie’s campiness I should say) can go a long way. I’ve written at length of my opinion of Connery in earlier reviews, so there’s no need to waste words on that here.
I will say though for starters that this movie is definitely not his finest moment in the role. He does bring a lot of fun to the movie simply with his presence alone, but, in 1983, at the age of 53, Sean Connery, though still smoother, cooler, and more badass than most men could ever dream of becoming, was simply not the same Sean Connery from the early to mid 60s who perfected the Bond role in movies like Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. Heck, he wasn’t even the same Sean Connery from the early 70s, who already looked considerably older and less animated in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’… To be honest, this movie caught Connery at a weird stage in his career. He wasn’t the young smooth movie idol of years prior, and he was also not yet the tough-assed old codger we would see in The Untouchables, and his hair, while thinner, had not yet receded into that iconic bald profile we all know and love today (although he could’ve been wearing a hair-piece here for all I know). He still had charisma to spare without question, and when it came down to it, he could still do this role almost absolutely perfectly with his eyes closed, and his hands tied behind his back, without breaking a sweat, and bottom line, I’ll take an old Connery over an old, or even middle aged Roger Moore, any day of the week, and again, I say that as someone who does not completely dislike Sir Roger or his movies. Sitting behind the director’s chair for this movie was none other than Mr. Irvin Kershner, who some of you may recognize as the director of Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.
This movie is a direct remake of 1965’s Thunderball, which itself was originally co-written (which is how it was available at the time to be remade unofficially) as the screenplay for the first Bond feature film in the late 1950s/early 1960s, but when that was officially changed to become Dr. No instead, Ian Fleming just turned it into a stand-alone novel of its own. The plot is, as it was in both the novel, and the previous film: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, villainous wretch that he is, is holding all the major leaders of the free world up for ransom after hatching an overly complex plot to steal two nuclear weapons that could destroy two major metropolitan cities, anywhere on the globe. Running this evil scheme for him is a man named Largo, Emilio Largo in the book and in the first movie, Maximilian Largo in this one, who serves as his official number two in the SPECTRE crime syndicate (which stands for the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). As usual the only man capable of foiling this nasty set up is Agent 007 of the British Secret Service. How does he go about this task you might ask? Well, for starters he travels to the Caribbean, has sex with a small handful of the local beauties, carouses around expensive private parties, all the while enjoying the occasional dry martini ( and remember that’s to be served shaken, and definitely not stirred). I mean, seriously, what’s the point in saving the world (for the umpteenth billion time I might add) if you can’t have a little fun in the meantime?
Largo here played by Klaus Maria Brandauer, did not exactly light my world on fire as a Bond villain but he was adequate as the wealthy, smarmy European stereotype that he was called upon to portray. He definitely did not have the same menacing and effective presence as Adolfo Celi did in Thunderball with his portrayal of Largo complete with the classic black eye-patch which every serious movie villain needs to have lying around somewhere, even if both of their eyes work perfectly fine, just for the style effect. There was one scene involving Largo here which may be my new personal low-point in any Bond film. It involves Largo and Bond engaged in a primitive video game battle in a game called ‘Domination’ which both players control joysticks and try to shoot through the opponents “force field” upon which the loser of the round receives an extremely jarring electrical shock through the controls. Seeing James f’n Bond reduced to this level of geekdom brought deep pain to the cockles of my heart. I don’t care if it was the 80s, as soon as he saw that huge nerdy table top video game contraption, Bond should have, for the sake of his own image, just slapped that goofy blonde bastard, and said plainly “If you need me for anything, I’ll be at the baccarat table, feeling up your girlfriend’s naughty parts. Ta.” Max von Sydow plays Blofeld in this movie, although his screen time is minimal. I personally think it might have been a more interesting choice, and a nice nod to the original Bond films if they had just shown Blofeld like they did in the early movies, always shooting him from behind, or from the neck down and never showing his face, but only the face of his purry white kitten (something else every evil villain, in both film and real life needs to equip themselves with post-haste).
I mentioned the villain’s girlfriend above, who was here played by a young Kim Bassinger who had the usual innocent blonde ‘doe in the headlights’ look about her for most of the picture. And if it were anyone besides Sean Connery doing the romancing here the relationship between her and Bond here would’ve come off as quite creepy, but as we all know, Connery, even when he’s 103 will still be able to land the kind of women ordinary mortals can only read about in magazines, or in others words, young Kim Bassingers. Other than the aforementioned Bassinger we also have the lovely and seductive Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush, who, while not an all time great henchwoman perhaps, was still a pretty damn sexy and very effective femme fatale in this movie with her sexy leather attire and pet snake. I dug her performance here very much. Aside from the Bond girls, we’ve also got the Bond gadgets to consider, as well as the other lesser foes and allies. In this film Bond is equipped by Q, (who without Desmond Llewelyn becomes such a lesser character here) with both a rocket powered motorcycle, a laser cutting wristwatch, and a union jack fountain pen with an exploding tip which can be shot as a projectile.
There is no classic custom Bond car here, unless you count the motorcycle, although we do get a nice nod to the novels when Connery is seen driving a classic Bentley. Moneypenny is back, and played by Pamela Salem, who bares a passing resemblance to Lois Maxwell, which probably helped get the role in the first place. The role of M here is given to a younger actor (Edward Fox, who would’ve been in his mid 40s at the time) playing a ‘new M’ who assumingly has taken over from Bernard Lee’s M, who sees the entire Double-O section as an outdated group of agents who need to be put out to pasture. Bond as such, at the beginning of the film is sent to a health clinic to eliminate some of his well known bad habits here called “free radicals”. During his stay there, aside from seducing the head nurse and stumbling upon SPECTRE’s latest zany plot, he has an a slapstick-o-riffic battle with a SPECTRE assassin that ends with Bond killing said assassin with a glass of his own urine. I kid thee not. Another interesting side character is Nigel Small-Fawcett, a minor Bond ally played by Rowan Atkinson, later famous for his performances as Mr. Bean and the Blackadder television series. He basically plays the same bumbling comedic entity he does in all his roles, and was pleasantly amusing enough here in small doses. Also Felix Leiter here, who was a wiry redneck from Texas in the novels, is played for the first time by an African American actor, that being Bernie Casey.
My final verdict on this movie is as follows. On the whole, there are a few enjoyable aspects here, such as Sean Connery, old or not, he’s still the coolest dude walking the face of the earth, and in the role that he perfected. He literally saves this movie from being a complete dud in many respects, as he can get away with certain lines that no other actor could and just has that style and presence as Bond that just puts an audience at ease, knowing they’re going to get a relatively fun and not too heavy on the drama action movie. There’s also plenty of eye candy such as Kim Bassinger and Barbara Carrera, and of course, this movie, like all self respecting Bond movies of this era, never takes itself too seriously. That said, I really can’t give it my full recommendation at all. If you want to see this exact same story told well, with just as many good looking girls, better villains, a younger, hipper Connery, and done in the 1960s, a historical time that the Bond character fits into much more seamlessly than in the 80s or today even, just go watch Thunderball for pete’s sake.
There is absolutely nothing done in this remake that was not done better, and with more style and pizzazz in the original movie, so on that front, this remake is pretty useless. Heck, we don’t even get the cool James Bond gun barrel sequence or the classic Bond theme music/groovy intro, (due to copyrights held by EON productions) in this movie. I still give it a mild, passive thumbs in the middle ranking because aside from a few annoyances and lame features, and generally being a lackluster Bond film, it did not completely bore me, but still, this is a long, long ways off from both Connery, and James Bond at his best. Bottom line, if you’re a casual Bond fan, there are plenty of Bond films more worthy of your time than this one, but if you’re a hardcore fan, who needs to see everything, by all means, give it a watch, but be sure to keep your expectations reasonable. That will conclude my review of 1983’s James Bond feature, “Never Say Never Again”, and with this review, for good this time, we wave goodbye to Sean Connery. Next time likewise we will be waving goodbye to another Bond legend, as we review Roger Moore’s last ever Bond movie, that being 1985’s “A View To A Kill”. So do not fret as “the official” James Bond will indeed return at that time. Thanks for reading and see you all there.
Never Say Never Again gets a two out of five: DECENT.