Directed by Irvin Kershner
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
United Kingdom, 1983
Never Say Never Again is, in many ways, the red-headed stepchild of the Bond family. Made by a different set of producers than the other 23 Bond films that had been made previously, the movie cannot be found on any Bond boxset, and really shares nothing with its fellow Bond films outside of the names of certain characters, as by 1983, Connery himself had long since hung up the tuxedo in favour of Roger Moore (whose Octopussy, which did come from Albert Broccoli and Co. , had been released earlier that very year, giving audiences a good chance to compare the two actors playing the same character). The primary question of this movie, then, becomes whether or not the Bond franchise benefits from being molded by a different pair of hands at its very core, and the answer the film presents to that query is a resounding Maybe.
One of the highlights of the movie are the villains. Klaus Maria Brandauer brings a certain over the top yet dangerous aspect to the character of Maximilian Largo that fits right in with the legacy of Bond villains. Brandauer infuses the character with just the right amount of charm, repressed anger, and megalomania to make the character work. But as good as Largo is, he is not as much fun to watch as Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush. Bond movies have traditionally kept away from evil Bond girls (with A View to a Kill’s May Day and Goldeneye’s Xenia Onatopp spring to mind as being in the same vein) choosing instead to mostly make the women who begin the movie aligned with the villain as misunderstood, or ignorant of his true nature, and usually enlightened or coaxed by Bond to come over to the good side. Fatima, however, is a gleefully psychopathic character, who is great fun to watch, and who spars with Bond as an equal, without a redemptive arc at the end.
The meta nature of the script is also very entertaining. The title itself can be construed as a commentary on Connery himself, who at that point had walked away from the iconic spy role 12 years ago. M declares Bond a relic from a bygone era, and insists he undergo a regimen that will change him into someone healthier, which can be seen as someone more with the times. Q declares that things have gotten too dull and straight edge since “Bond’s” departure, and hopes he’ll bring back some fun and violence, something that can be seen as a statement on the way many felt in the transition from Connery to Moore. The end of the movie comes back to this as well, with a character pleading for “Bond” to come back, and Connery replying “Never again”.
That being said, however, the movie does have its issues, chief among them the under-utilisation of its cast. While Largo is a solid villain, and the combination of him and Fatima makes for an interesting set of antagonists, the movie decides to tie them in with SPECTRE, the organization that is Bond’s primary nemesis through several films. This leads to the inclusion of the leader of SPECTRE, Ernst Blofeld, who is played by Max Von Sydow as someone who walks around and has a full beard and head of hair. Even if the shift away from Blofeld’s traditional physical appearance is put aside, the movie proceeds to totally waste an actor of Von Sydow’s considerable talent, giving him no more than three scenes at most, and keeping him far away from the action at all times, essentially making Blofeld, and Von Sydow, a spectator to the movie’s events. Rowan Atkinson also suffers similarly, getting only three scenes, neither of which provide an opportunity for the actor to do anything other than be the bumbling foil to Connery’s suave Bond. Fans of Mr. Bean and Blackadder are well aware of the actor’s comic capabilities, and he could have been a hilarious addition to the cast; he is, however, regrettably never given a chance to do so.
Another problem with the movie is that the story skews a little too close to Thunderball, the fourth film in the franchise, and a famous Connery effort. There’s the girlfriend of the villain, whose brother is tangled up with them and helps them steal bombs, paying for his help to them with his life. To take the similarities further, in both instances, the heroine in question was named Domino. There is also a stay at the resort cluing Bond in to the conspiracy, a female fellow agent who acts as Bond’s liaison meeting her demise before sleeping with him, underwater fight sequences, and the downright evil female right hand of the villain, a role filled by Fiona in Thunderball and Fatima in this feature. Perhaps the most telling feature, however, may be the villain, named Largo in both movies. While these features can be ostensibly written off as homages, they do overwhelmingly point to one Bond movie rather than the franchise, and are nearly transferred in their exact state to this movie, effectively crossing over from homage to copy.
Further research indicates the similarities were quite intentional, as both were adapted from the same source material. This movie, however, is not better than Thunderball as a whole, and does nothing radically different from its competitor.
Overall, however, this was an entertaining movie. Irvin Kershner and co. manage to get the feel of a Bond film, and after a few initial hiccups, Connery seems to slip right back into the role, despite his age beginning to show (understandably, as this was over 20 years after Dr. No). Kim Basinger also makes for a wonderful Bond girl, and looks gorgeous throughout. The movie, however, while it successfully hits all the beats of a typical Bond film, doesn’t add anything new to the proceedings, making it indistinguishable from numerous other Bond films. While the purpose of the movie’s existence can be questioned, it is still a fun film, and one worth catching for fans of 007.
– Deepayan Sengupta
This article is part of our 007 marathon. You can find all the entries by clicking here.