Time: 134 Minutes
Sean Connery as James Bond
Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximillian Largo
Max von Sydow as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush
Kim Basinger as Domino Petachi
Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter
Alec McCowen as “Q” Algy (Algernon)
Edward Fox as “M”
Director: Irvin Kershner
When two Tomahawk cruise missiles get stolen by SPECTRE agent Ernst Blofeld and his fellow terrorists, special agent James Bond is called to retrieve them before it detonates.
After rewatching through all the official James Bond movies, there was another movie I wanted to get around to… that being Never Say Never Again. It was intriguing for many reasons, not only was it a Bond movie I hadn’t seen, not only was an unofficial James Bond movie, but it was also essentially a remake of Thunderball. Making it strange was that it also starred Sean Connery, who not only retired as Bond 12 years prior, but had already starred in Thunderball. This meant that in 1983, both Sean Connery and Roger Moore (for Octopussy) would both be playing James Bond. So I was curious about the movie despite its mixed reception. I wouldn’t call it a good movie but I still found a lot of enjoyment in it.
The plot is very similar to the original Thunderball story, nuclear warheads are stolen from US Navy by SPECTRE and use them to threaten the world with detonation. The story really isn’t the film’s strongest suit, it definitely overstays its welcome. Knowing the general plot of Thunderball beforehand does take away from NSNA’s viewing experience as it mostly goes through similar beats. The story is pretty forgettable, not that engaging and is rather uneven. I am one of the few people who didn’t like Thunderball all that much really, so the fact that Never Say Never Again is just a worse version of that film wasn’t a deal breaker for me. It is definitely more clunky and messy, but it’s not that much worse, and I had more fun with it at the very least. There are also some decent moments and aspects to the movie. The first thing that comes to mind in the movie is how old Sean Connery is and instead of trying to hide it, the movie works with it and makes Bond’s age to be a plot point. It actually acknowledges that 007 is old, which is interesting considering that Moore was three years older, yet Connery was the only actor to play an older Bond. Tonally, Never Say Never Again is a bit weird. It seems to be a merging between camp era Connery (You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever) with early Moore era (Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun). The tone is very off kilter at times, and this can contribute to the story losing focus as well as negating some of the more serious moments. However I was largely viewing the movie as a comedy, so this wasn’t too much of a problem for me. A lot of my increased enjoyment is due to the over-the-top silliness and humour (intentional or otherwise). Speaking of the humour, the movie can be quite fun. This really is the closest thing to a full on Bond comedy, and I thought it worked as that. It’s the self-awareness that made it work for me; as I mentioned earlier, it acknowledges Bond’s age. But there’s even some moments which go beyond camp and are fully self aware. Instead of a tense card game between Bond and main villain Largo, they’re competing in a dangerous Spacer Invaders computer game. Then there’s even a fight scene in the first act where Bond throws a glass of his own urine in someone’s face, you won’t see that in another Bond movie. For what it’s worth, I found Never Say Never Again to be more consistently entertaining.
Sean Connery returns to play James Bond, after a 12-year absence. I will say that a lot of the humorous tone of this version probably would’ve been better handled had it been someone like Roger Moore playing him. Nonetheless, he is surprisingly sharp and his charisma is back on display, he slips back into his role with ease. He looks more invested into this compared to his last appearance in Diamonds are Forever (which read like a paycheck performance), and Never Say Never Again is ultimately a better sendoff for him. There is a self-awareness to the whole movie and Connery has that same energy too; he embraces this much older Bond with ease. Overall, I enjoyed seeing him as Bond again one more time. Being already familiar with the characters in the first Thunderball, it was interesting to see the similarities and differences with the versions. I quite liked Bernie Casey as Felix, and Rowan Atkinson is in this too as a surprise comic relief character. Max von Sydow also appears in one scene as the best Ernst Stravo Blofeld we never got to see. The Bond girls aren’t really much to ride home about. Kim Basinger is a very good actress, but her character Domino is bland like she was in the original movie. Barbara Carrera plays Fatima Blush, a very different version of Fiona Volpe from Thunderball, who is in a similar position as the henchwoman for main villain Largo. Fatima is an incredibly over the top character with a very hammy performance. Very sadistic and maniacal, she seems more like Xenia Onatopp from Goldeneye than Fiona Volpe, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fatima was an inspiration for that character. However, the standout performance of the movie is that of the main villain. Klaus Maria Brandauer plays Maximilian Largo (who was called Emilio Largo in the Thunderball movie). Brandauer is distinctly different from Adolfo Celi from the original Thunderball. He’s not nearly as recognisable with his appearance, but he’s better in just about every way. Instead of a coldly menacing man with an eye patch, this Largo is a young, smiling and unhinged megalomaniac. He goes from being calm and charming in one scene to flying into rage in another. By the end of the movie, he goes into wacky 80s villain territory and is a delight to watch. At the same time, there is this human element to him, with him being insecure and jealous. He’s genuinely interesting to watch, and almost feels more like a Craig era Bond villain more than a Connery era one. One of the highlights of the movie for sure.
Interestingly, Never Say Never Again is directed by Irvin Kershner, his work here isn’t great but is decent enough. It definitely misses certain classic James Bond trademarks like the Gunbarrel sequence in the opening due to copyright, which is understandable. However even beyond that, on a technical level it isn’t on the same level as the previous Bond movies. The visuals really aren’t anything special, it certainly looks subpar compared to pretty much every movie in the official series. It sounds nothing like a Bond movie, from the soundtrack to the sound effects. The title theme song and the score from Michel Legrand just feel really out of place here. However, the action was quite entertaining and solid. It is a balance between the action of the 60s Bond movies and the action from the 80s. The underwater sequences aren’t that good but there are mercifully less of them compared to Thunderball. Not to mention, those scenes have actual speed and dynamism and so are fun to watch instead of feeling sluggish and dull.
I would not call this one of the best James Bond movies by any means, in fact it would probably place in the bottom third. I can understand why a lot of people don’t like it; its very messy from the writing to the direction. I do think a lot of my enjoyment was with the mindset and headspace I had going into it. I treated this as a Bond comedy, and it was enjoyable as that. I certainly wouldn’t recommend watching this before Thunderball, but NSNA was interesting to watch, especially when it came to seeing the differences between the versions. However, even outside of that, there are a lot of aspects I enjoyed. Some of the supporting cast are good, including a superior version of Largo. The action is entertaining, the offbeat tone made it entertaining, and Sean Connery was fun to watch as James Bond, with the film giving him a better sendoff compared to the official one 12 years earlier. Again, Never Say Never Again is not a good movie, but I enjoyed it for what it was.