Twelve years after departing the franchise, for the second time, Sean Connery returned to go head-to-head with the official Eon Production’s Bond film, Octopussy, in what was is considered a non-canon remake of Connery’s 1965 Bond outing Thunderball – due to a successful lawsuit by producer Kevin McClory which allowed him to maintain the movie rights to that one particular Ian Fleming novel – and with two ageing Bonds duking it out at the box office there was only one question in audiences at the time “Which Bond would come out on top?”
The 1965 adaptation of Thunderball was one of the more faithful translations of an Ian Fleming novel, that the story was originally written as a screenplay makes this a little less surprising, and as producer Kevin McClory was only allowed to use the novel as a basis for this remake, without any of the other Bond accoutrements, this one is also fairly faithful to source material as well but with some nice updating and a few changes to keep things a little fresh. We still have SPECTRE’s plot to hijack two atomic bombs to extort billions of dollars from NATO governments but no longer is an agent surgically altered to look like an air force pilot, instead, we get a United States Air Force pilot named Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy) who is a heroin addict and is seduced by SPECTRE agent number 12 Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) and has one of his eyes made to match that of the retinal pattern of the US President, which he then uses to circumvent the security measures and have dummying warheads replaced with the real thing. I guess that’s cheaper than hiring a dude to undergo plastic surgery but was a heroin addict the ideal choice?
The story still hinges on James Bond (Sean Connery) stumbling across the villainous plot while staying at a health clinic, now because of his age, not simply recuperating from a previous injury, as now it’s due to his failure of a routine training exercise and ‘M’s (Edward Fox) disdain for the entire ‘00’ branch of MI6. When the theft of the nukes happens it’s no longer a case of Bond recognizing a Petachi’s sister Domino (Kim Basinger) from a photo that sends him to the Bahamas but a matchbook cover that sported the logo of Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a billionaire businessman and SPECTRE agent number 1. This plot element is a little sad as I thought they’d stopped using the dropped matchbook cover clue during the Colombo era on television, and the reason Domino is dating Largo is never made clear, other than possibly providing more leverage in controlling her brother, but as she was his mistress in the novel we can’t fault the film too much for that, basically, in all versions of the character she serves the plot as more of a prize than an actual personality.
As a spy adventure Never Say Never Again is hampered by the ridiculousness of the plot but director Irvin Kershner tried to overcome such failings by filling the cast with some truly great actors. Klaus Maria Brandauer is simply fantastic as the charismatically evil Maximillian Largo and he deliciously devours every scene he is in, but not to be outdone we get Barbara Carrera as the over-enthusiastic Fatima Bush, in a performance that earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and though her ability to kill Bond can be called into question her zest for the part is certainly on par with Luciana Paluzzi performance as SPECTRE agent Fiona Volpe, who played the equivalent part in the original Thunderball. This particular Bond outing also has some nice comic touches and the inclusion of Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling Foreign Office representative provides some moments of comedy gold as he works brilliantly off Connery’s straight man bit.
• If SPECTRE was to use a health clinic to keep their agent sequestered while his eye is undergoing treatment you’d think they’d keep an eye on the registry to see if a certain MI6 agent was staying there as well. It’s not like Bond ever goes anywhere without announcing who he is first.
• One of the ways SPECTRE controls Jack Petachi is through his heroin addiction but wouldn’t that particular affliction be rather hard for an American Air Force officer to hide?
• The brutal running battle throughout the health clinic between Sean Connery and Pat Roach is one of the best fight sequences in the entire franchise.
• Many actors have played CIA agent Felix Leiter but it’s here, with actor Bernie Casey, that we get our first African American version.
• Fatima Blush tosses a boa constrictor into Jack Petachi’s car to make him crash but then she retrieves the snake and places an explosive inside the wreck to blow it up, the question is “Why use a snake at all, why not just toss the explosive into his car in the first place?”
• To kill James Bond we get this elaborate scheme with Fatima inviting Bond scuba diving and her placing a device on Bond’s scuba tank that attracts modified sharks. I guess shooting him in the face and dumping his body overboard wasn’t a SPECTRE-approved method of killing.
• Fatima bungles her second attempt at killing Bond by placing a bomb under his bed but then doesn’t verify that he’s actually in bed when she detonates it. At what point does SPECTRE demand an assassin to requalify their services?
Overall, Never Say Never Again was a nice return to form for James Bond and Sean Connery was actually in better shape here at the age of 52 than he was twelve years ago in Diamonds Are Forever. His being physically fit aside we also find a Sean Connery who is obviously having more fun with the role this time out, having grown tired of it during his last few years playing the part, and his charm and likability in the role are at their height here and he even manages to pull off the actions sequences with a good amount of aplomb. On the other hand, I wasn’t too keen on Edward Fox as the replacement for Bernard Lee as ‘M’ as the whole “bureaucratic shtick” seemed kind of lazy and the idea of MI6 shutting down the “00” section is a bit ludicrous, but what was a vast improvement here over Thunderball is where that film had a full quarter of its running time taking place underwater, which was the death the film’s pacing, while in Never Say Never Again even though we do get some underwater moments they are kept to a bare minimum. Why Domino shows up with the United States Navy for the big underwater finale, just so that she can be the one to speargun Largo, is the true mystery here.
Released at the same time as Eon Production’s thirteenth Bond film Octopussy, starring Roger Moore who is actually three years older than Connery, Never Say Never was able to gross the tidy sum of $160 million but Octopussy still managed to win out in the box office with $187.5 million take. That all said, I for one think Never Say Never Again was a nice return to form, a film that relied less on campy humour and outlandish set pieces and though not considered a canon Bond film it is still a worthy addition to the brand.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Movie Rank - 7/10
That the filmmakers openly addressed Bond’s advanced age was the smart way to go and Never Say Never Again is an improvement over Thunderball in pretty much every way and was only hampered by being forced to stick to that same rather ridiculous plot.