Never Say Never Again (1983)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham with Ian Fleming
Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr
Yet another return to the role he made and became famous for, Sean Connery broke the EON Productions party line in 1983 and suited up as 007 in the rival production of the Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. Thanks to a long and complicated legal battle with real life Bond villain Kevin McClory, this attempted franchise coup forced Cubby Broccoli to bring back Roger Moore for Octopussy, so the two Grandpa Bonds could battle it out at the box office to see if anyone can do it better than the ones who did it first.
Ian Fleming made the mistake of letting his ambition get him in bed with McClory back in the days when the notion of Bond on the big screen was still a pipe dream, and unfortunately Fleming’s use of bits from the failed script the two had worked on in the plotting of the Thunderball novel had more of an impact on the franchise over the decades than anyone could have foreseen.
Never Say Never Again is the cinematic equivalent of a cover band if they somehow managed to drag the original singer up on stage for a final performance at the county fair. It’s nice to see them do their thing, and they know how to shake their hips during all the hits to get the fans worked up, but there’s just something missing. Something off.
I know this one isn’t technically canon, and usually there’s a debate over whether to include it or not, but regardless of who owns the rights, if it has Sean Connery as James Bond, I’m counting it.
The Cold Open/Credit Sequence:
If the ORION title card at the beginning wasn’t proof enough that this a different brand of Bond movie, the onscreen credits during the opening certainly should. Like any other movie, there is no Cold Open. There is no elaborate Credit Sequence. The title song just plays in the background in a casual way, and the movie just starts up.
There’s more to a Bond movie than just James Bond, and unfortunately for Never Say Never Again, they couldn’t have them.
Back by legal decree, SPECTRE, led by the Max von Sydow version of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has schemed to hijack a pair of NUKES which they are going to use to extort a $2 Billion ransom from the governments of NATO, and Old Man Bond is commissioned to find the missing missiles and save the world.
This is Thunderball set in the 80’s, which is what it legally had to be because that’s the only plot McClory had the rights to use. The franchise is no stranger to repeated story elements, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker had interchangeable parts, and both owe more than a little bit of credit to You Only Live Twice for it, so I won’t knock it for that, but there are some decisions, mostly revolving around villain behaviors and wardrobe, that are really bizarre. Not that I fault them for going for total camp, but there’s a lack of sophistication that even the cheesiest of Bond film have historically preserved.
There were six Bond films released in the 80’s, and this one falls hardest for all the trappings of the decade.
The Fountain Pen Exploding Dart Gun with the Union Jack decal on the side is actually one of the more practical gadgets to come out of Q branch over the last 50 years, and it surprisingly doesn’t require a reverse engineering of the plot to explain why it would have been given to Bond in the first place. Even if the scene in which it’s used is completely insane, giving Bond a mini-missile launcher makes sense.
If you’re talking Never Say Never Again, you’re talking Domination, the sadistic full size version of Battleship with electroshock joysticks and a holographic laser display. It’s not a Q brach contribution, but it’s pretty amazing.
The Rolex Laser Watch is a staple of the Bond franchise and one that seems to always come in handy.
I think if I had to choose one of the gadgets from the series to actually own, the Laser Watch would certainly be a finalist, if not my ultimate pick.
Thunderball blew everyone’s mind with a Jet Pack scene, so you know they weren’t going to let that little nugget slip by, hence the Jet Platforms landing on a beach.
Anyone who was on set that day must have lost their hearing, cause those things were loud as hell.
The Fourth Blofeld, von Sydow, was ahead of the curve on ‘cat videos’ way before Keyboard Cat hit the scene. He doesn’t have much to do here, just send out a threatening video and oversee a meeting, but if you can get von Sydow to show up, you use him.
He looks cool, which earns him a spot above Charles Gray in the hierarchy of Blofelds, but overall he didn’t really do much with the part.
Blofeld might be at the top of the totem pole for SPECTRE, but he is no Joe Maddon. When your plan involves stealing nuclear missiles, I don’t know if you want to pair two nuclear personalities like Maximillian Largo and Fatima Blush together to pull it.
Largo is a jealous man. He’s the main villain in Never Say Never Again, but he has more problems than Bond to worry about. You can’t supervillain when you’re always worried about who your too-hot girlfriend is talking to. It just doesn’t work. He spends entirely too much time spying on her behind mirrors when he should be working on hiding those bombs.
If Largo is buckwild, his partner, Fatima Blush, is completely insane. She’s like a hyper-sexualized version of Cruella de Vil if CdV landed a part in a Van Halen video and was splitting her days between the two sets.
Everything is maxed out in this movie, and these two might be the most glaring examples of the overindulgences that are on display throughout. They literally take every opportunity that presents itself to cackle or give a crazy gaze. No restraint. No surrender.
The Bond Girl:
Domino is a dancing machine, which provided plenty of opportunities to put Kim Bassinger in a sheer jumpsuit and have her jump about on screen. It’s a good strategy if you’re goal is to sell tickets, and Bassinger has always been good, but her character isn’t really given much to do except fall for Bond.
Overall Score: 2/5
Tune in next month for #22 on the list as we countdown the James Bond films leading up to the release of EON Productions JAMES BOND 25.