A little over a year ago, I went on a journey through the entirety of the James Bond franchise, reviewing each film in my James Bond Retrospective.
The one film I neglected to review was the unofficial, non-Eon Productions James Bond film from 1983: Never Say Never Again.
There are a few reasons why I never reviewed this film. First off, I was recruited through my reviews to edit and contribute to a James Bond website via Fansided. With this and reviewing over 20 Bond films in the course of two months, I succumbed to a good deal of James Bond fatigue. Secondly, after watching and reviewing the 1967 Casino Royale spoof film, I figured focusing on the canon Bond films made the most sense.
Recently, I viewed Never Say Never Again for the first time, and I find it fitting to return to the James Bond Retrospective once more to review said film.
The origin of Never Say Never Again is perhaps more intriguing than the film or the “official” Bond film that shares its story, Thunderball. The short story is that Kevin McClory, who produced Never Say Never Again, initiated a legal dispute over the rights to the Thunderball story, which he helped Ian Fleming develop.
McClory’s idea for a screenplay eventually became Fleming’s novel Thunderball, and then was adapted as the third Eon Bond production. McClory’s suit was a success, and he was given the rights to produce a film based on the novel as well as a producers credit on the Eon Thunderball.
What resulted from all of this hoopla is a film directed by Irvin Kershner (perhaps most well known for taking up the director’s chair for The Empire Strikes Back) and starring the original cinema incarnation of Bond: Sean Connery.
Connery famously hated his interactions with Cubby Broccoli and Eon when it came to Bond, to the point where he left the series, vowing to never play the role again. Perhaps this is the tongue-in-cheek explanation for the title Never Say Never Again marking Connery’s return to the suit and martini routine.
This is a good place to start with the film. Never Say Never Again is not afraid to be the tongue-in-cheek Bond film. It pokes fun whenever it gets the chance. Connery’s age and Bond’s antiquated lifestyle takes center stage, to the point where Bond is sent to a health clinic for a good portion of the film.
The humor in the film is quite good, and it only rarely becomes too self-reflexive for its own good. The film remains entrenched in the Bond tropes while also not taking them too seriously. And, in a sense, it tackles similar themes as the more recent Daniel Craig Bond films, Skyfall in particular.
Never Say Never Again takes place in a secret agent world where the 00-agent program is a thing of the past. When a man brainwashed by international terrorist organization SPECTRE is given a retinal implant that mimics the United States President’s and uses that implant to steal two cruise missile warheads, MI6 has no choice but to put Bond back in the field.
12 years after Connery last portrayed Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, he returns to the role and, for once, comes across as if he cares about what he is doing. Watching the later Connery Bond films, one can see quite clearly his distaste for the role. He lacks energy and charisma, phoning in his performances. Here, Connery appears reinvigorated by his return to the role outside of the grips of Broccoli.
This performance all but makes the film. Anyone who fell in love with Connery’s first few attempts at Bond will likely feel a nostalgic twinge at seeing him put forth an effort here. Aged though he is by comparison, he nevertheless carries the torch through this film with a certain vigor. The one-liners may get cheesy, but he delivers them as if he is 20 years younger than he is. Although, an aged womanizer may be reason to cringe, casting shades of Roger Moore in A View to a Kill.
The major issue with Never Say Never Again is its pacing. The film has many of the standard Bond set pieces: a car chase, hand to hand combat scenes, a gambling scene (if you consider the weird half-Risk half-Battleship video game a gambling scene). But these extended set pieces that Bond is known for do more to bog down the film than they do to prop it up. The video game sequence, in particular, is incredibly lengthy without the adequate tension needed to make it move at a compelling clip.
The middle of Never Say Never Again is a slog. A few character interactions are fun. The holdup scene involving Fatima (Barbara Carrera, whose performance here earned her a surprising Golden Globe nomination) and Bond is particularly memorable, even with its comical conclusion. But mainly the second and third acts of this film are more tedious than they are effective.
Despite the enjoyable return of Connery in the leading role and the self-aware comedy that stems from it, Never Say Never Again lacks the action-packed intensity that the James Bond franchise is known for.
Never Say Never Again: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)