I am a huge James Bond fan, through and through. From the greats to the mediocre entries, 007 movies represent a two hour time slot that is guaranteed to be enjoyable for me. At least to a certain extent anyway. I guess Sean Connery is my favourite Bond but honestly all of them have their reasons to be likeable. I'm not one of those pro-Connery or pro-Moore types either. I love them all.
When I first heard about Never Say Never Again, I guess I was scandalized. It's not part of the original EON productions and was born out of Kevin McClory's long legal battle for the film rights of Thunderball. He was one of the original writers of the Thunderball script and once Ian Fleming wrote the book for Thunderball which borrowed heavily from the film script, well that opened the door for McClory to get his foot in.
The whole idea of having gotten away with getting the rights to Thunderball which includes the SPECTRE organization strikes me as opportunistic even if I can understand the reasons behind McClory's beef with Fleming. But really, remaking Thunderball (which is a personal favourite of mine) eighteen years later with Mr. Connery himself coming back?!? It's two parts crazy and one part money-grabbing. The film even made a very impressive profit from its investment and became the highest grossing Bond film which I'm sure really riled up the folks at EON.
An aged James Bond (Sean Connery) has been held back by his superiors since he's not only just a risk, he seems to be unable to perform at adequate levels anymore as evidenced by failing a test exercise. Meanwhile, SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is able to steal two nuclear warheads from the United States and threatens terror and destruction unless they are paid tribute. M (Edward Fox) is ordered by the Prime Minsiter to reinstate the double O's and get James Bond on the case to find the missing bombs before it's too late.
The beginnings of Never Say Never Again is the best portion of the film, basically the first one third. It brings some really nice hand to hand melees that have a great mix of objects-as-weapons mania as well as some tasteful humour. Really, I was impressed by this. There are some changes to the original Thunderball script but nothing bad yet at this point. It's more or less just changing how things happen with the same results in the end.
Sean Connery is a little old-looking here and that can't be denied. He was 52 at the time but he's still a prime piece of man though. He's in great shape and he still looks the part. His age is addressed which is better than trying to put the blinders on and ignore the issue. It's realistic in that sense and I like it. Not only is James Bond older here, but he's working in a different world with advances in medicine, nutrition and he can't be the sexist secret agent he once was. At least not as outwardly anyway. He gets lightly grilled by Domino (Kim Basinger) when he makes one of his usual comments which he quickly tries to correct. Sean Connery still has his comedic timing and he's given some pretty nice quips throughout the movie.
In terms of what doesn't work with NSNA, well the problems start showing up especially in the last two thirds of the movie. The whole production just kind of loses steam and is honestly quite boring. Klaus Maria Brandauer who plays Maximilian Largo is not a good actor and he comes off as big spoiled baby more than once. Kim Basinger is nothing more than eye candy and all of NSNA could've been fine without her. Replacing the card playing scene with a ridiculous video game thing between Largo and Bond? Maybe at the time it was seen as cool and modern but it's not something that's aged very well and it's beyond ridiculous anyway. Interesting to note that the great video game crash began the same year Never Say Never Again was released.
M who is played by Edward Fox is lacking the cool presence from Bernard Lee and they might as well have not cast a Miss Moneypenny at all for how little time Pamela Salem is given. Max von Sydow is clearly a great choice to play Blofeld though.
I loved the final aquatic scuba battle in Thunderball but for this remake it was removed. Instead there's a cave battle with a small segment of underwater fighting that ends in such a comically anticlimactic way. The cave set looks low budget and for a movie that came out in 1983, it feels strangely 60's during this segment. I think that the lack of a proper funding was what caused this. Also of huge importance here, without John Barry's usual music, Never Say Never Again doesn't feel right and the title song is quite mediocre to say the least. Music during chases and stealthy scenes aren't very nice to the ear either.
Is Never Say Never Again a complete failure? I don't think so. I remember refusing to give it any sort of credit for what it does right and was ready to only focus on the negative aspects. There are quite a few negatives though which is too bad because it started off surprisingly well. It's in no way close to capturing the utter coolness of Thunderball, but it brings back Sean Connery to a role he said he'd never do again. He got a truckload of money, plus percentage of profits as well as casting, script and director approval to come back. Wouldn't you? Jack Schwartzman was a terrible producer though apparently which caused Sean Connery to even take on some producing duties. Anyhow, it was nice seeing Sean come back with the same kind of energy he had in the first Bond films. NSNA is disappointing but it's not a complete disaster either.