Irvin Kershner, 1983
Starring: Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow, Rowan Atkinson
I am going to strongly resist the urge to make any bad puns about never watching this ever again throughout the course of this review. Because really, there are two solid reasons to watch this utterly pointless, non-Eon remake of Thunderball. The first is Sir Sean Connery. Though older and perhaps a bit slower moving, he’s still the Bond we know and love and his assured handling of the role almost saves the film. The title is actually a reference to the fact that he said he would never play Bond again. (The fact that they couldn’t come up with a better title should tell you something.) The second reason is Klaus Maria Brandauer, one of my favorite German actors, who co-stars as Largo. I have nothing against Adolfo Celi or his eyepatch, but Brandauer simply blows him out of the water. He is the most human villain in any Bond film and thus one of the most believable. He also hops on board the crazy train about midway through the film and refuses to get off.
Never Say Never Again has essentially the same plot as Thunderball with a few slight alterations and some allowances for Connery’s advanced age. M, who wants to drive all the 00s into retirement, sends Bond to a spa to recuperate from training and to get back in shape. He discovers a bandaged man being beaten by his nurse, Fatima Blush, and later witnesses the man using a retinal scan machine. The man is Jack Petachi, a U.S. Air Force pilot in the employ of Largo and SPECTRE. Petachi has gotten a retinal implant so that he can imitate the President of the United States in order to steal a few nuclear missiles for SPECTRE. The evil organization plans to either bribe NATO or begin destroying the world. Fatima disposes of Petachi, but Bond follows her to the Bahamas to try to make contact with Domino, Petachi’s sister and Largo’s beloved mistress. Under Largo’s orders, Fatima attempts to kill Bond on several occasions, but he escapes, mostly unscathed, and makes contact with Domino. He follows Domino and Largo to the south of France, where he Largo face off via a video game and Bond finally disposes of the insane Fatima. He tells Domino that Largo killed her brother and he has to convince her to help him find the missiles before it’s too late.
Kevin McClory is responsible for the creation of this bloated, mostly boring film. McClory, Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham began the Thunderball script together back in the '60s. When early plans of a film were cancelled, Fleming went ahead and converted it to a novel. McClory, in turn, sued, and was given some of the filming rights, allowing him partial credit on the Eon production and giving him the license to make this remake. Apparently he has been trying to make a third version in recent years, which is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.
Never Say Never Again is not actually a terrible film. It would be hard to argue, for example, that it is worse than A View to a Kill, but it is incredibly frustrating, mostly because its existence is utterly pointless. As I mentioned earlier, it's a much better swan song for Connery than Diamonds Are Forever and all of Brandauer’s scenes are quite good. Everything else is either outright bad, frustrating or boring. Max von Sydow, one of my favorite actors of all time, is wasted as a cartoonish Blofeld. Barbara Carrera has some good scenes as the insane Fatima, but she pales in comparison to Thunderball’s Fiona Vulpe. Kim Basinger’s has a sort of idiotic charm, but she is completely miscast as the main Bond girl and completely out of her league in terms of acting ability. Edward Fox is a terrible, snotty M and Rowan Atkinson is wasted as the bumbling comic relief.
Director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) makes the most of the material, providing some solid action scenes, but the running time is entirely too long, making the second half drag on into eternity. He can’t fix a lousy script, which starts off reasonably well, but gets worse as it moves toward the lackluster conclusion. I really need to stress that my problem with Never Say Never Again is mostly that I’m outraged it was made in the first place. I don’t have any problems with the much earlier, non-Eon Casino Royale, but the fact that McClory attempted to one up Eon this late in the game is both offensive and utterly foolish. I honestly don’t know what he was expecting. Only owning partial rights to Thunderball meant that he had no chance of restarting the series on his own, so what was the point? The ‘80s was a troubling decade for the Bond franchise and this is no exception. Like several other ‘80s Bond films, Never feels incredibly dated between the anticlimactic video game challenge, the jazzercise workouts and the horrifically bad score.
I only recommend this film to serious Bond fans. You will find at least a few things to enjoy, namely Connery and Brandauer’s strong, charismatic performances. The Blu-ray is the best option and includes some special features, such as a commentary with Kershner and a number of featurettes.