There must have been a lot of hubbub made in 1983 over the dual release of Octopussy and Never Say Never Again. At that time Roger Moore was still playing James Bond for Eon Productions, the company responsible for carrying the franchise. And yet, Sean Connery, who after proclaiming he would never play James Bond on two occasions (once in 1967 after filming You Only Live Twice, and again in 1971 after Diamonds Are Forever) decided to make his return to the character that same year—hence the title, Never Say Never Again.
Never Say Never Again is a remake of Thunderball, from 1965, which also stars Sean Connery. I’m not sure why exactly they decided to revisit Thunderball; it was always my least favorite of the Connery Bond films. Perhaps they wanted another crack at it. In any event, I don’t think they improved upon it much with this film. I’ve seen all of the Eon produced Bond films numerous times, but really never felt compelled to take a serious look at this one. I have faint memories of seeing it on video as a young child. There’s a particular scene in which a man removes a contact lens, exposing a false eye to breach a security system operated by a retina scan. Shortly after he is killed by having a snake flung into his car, resulting in a ghastly accident. Certain scenes like that had a way of sticking with me as a child and it was something surreal to revisit it after about a quarter of century.
Taking a quick glance at the names of the people involved in the production of this picture, things sure looked promising. It was directed by Irvin Kershner, who also directed The Empire Strikes Back, and the screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote many of the episodes of the 1960s Batman live-action TV series. Kershner was a great action movie director, with an excellent sense of pacing, and Semple Jr. had a marvelous comic flair. There certainly are some great one-liners in Never Say Never Again—I chuckled several times.
Where the film fails is in its reluctance to take itself seriously. It’s a bit too light hearted in tone, and Bond is far too cavalier for us to feel any real tension behind the criminal plot at hand. In the plot, SPECTRE, the international crime syndicate, has managed to steal two nuclear warheads in order to extort billions of dollars from NATO nations. Pretty heavy stuff, and yet Bond continues to carouse and womanize throughout the picture, all the while being trailed by Michael Legrand’s cheesy jazz pop soundtrack. Connery, as much as I hate to admit, simply looks too old to play the part anymore in this picture. He was pushing the envelop twelve years earlier in Diamonds Are Forever, and here one cannot help from cringe a little when looking at him lock lips with his younger female co-stars.
Any shortcomings aside, the casting for this film was excellent. Klaus Maria Brandauer in particular is a very effective villain. He’s everything a Bond villain should be: refined, coldly sophisticated, and brimming with confidence—so much in fact that he flatly refuses to take Bond seriously as a threat. He offers him free range of his yacht, which is the command center for his operation. And he never opts to kill him outright when he has an opportunity. Instead for instance, he prefers to leave Bond chained in a jail cell with a pack of vultures. It's classic Bond villainy, in the sense that the arrogance and assuredness of Bond villains is legendary. That somehow the act of simply killing Bond in a crude fashion when the opportunity presents itself is beneath them.
Also effective is Barbara Carrera, as the femme fatale, Fatima Blush. She’s lethal, gorgeous, and like Brandauer, overly confident. Her own sense of self assuredness drives her to attempt to extort a written confession from Bond stating that she is the greatest lover he has ever had, eliciting some of the best one-liners in the film. There are some other great talents showcased, including Max von Sydow as Blofeld, Kim Basinger as Domino, Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, and a very young Rowan Atkinson.
Never Say Never Again is not a serious Bond film. It is however a pleasant way to spend two hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon. And if you happen upon it on television, I would recommend putting the remote down.