Sigh. My short series of of alternative James Bond films which have just been dumped on Prime ends with this oddball effort to create a rival franchise to the EON films; there’s copious detail elsewhere about how Sean Connery and Kevin McClory defied the Broccoli family to release their version of Ian Fleming’s Warhead in competition with Roger Moore’s Octopussy circa 1983. I was 14 when I saw the retitled Never Say Never Again at the cinema, and I was not impressed; it’s a remake of Thunderball from 1965, somehow with the same lead actor, and there’s a very tired sense of deja-vu all over again….
So while it doesn’t chime with the regularly skewwhiff chronology of Bond, and doesn’t appear in the various EON collections or boxed sets, Never Say Never Again does have some points of interest, and is certainly no worse that some of the later Moore efforts. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE, led by cat-fondling chief Blofeld (Max von Sydow); Blofeld barely features here, but you can’t blame the makers for shoe-horning in as many of the characters they had the rights to as possible. Bond infiltrates a private club on the pretext of seeking a fresh health regime, and discovers a plot involving pilot Jack Patachi (Gavin O’Herlihy) to steal two nuclear warheads, a scheme masterminded by the sinister billionaire Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Bond finds romance with the pilot’s sister Domino (Kim Basinger), vampish villainess Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) and several other passers by who don’t get out of his way in time.
Despite employing many of the crew from Raiders of the Lost Ark, which successfully upped the ante for action several years previously, Irvin Kershner’s follow-up to The Empire Strikes Back is sorely lacking in the extended action sequences expected; the exception is a impressive chase-sequence involving a rocket-firing motorbike, a key toy for movies at the time. Otherwise, the story is bogged down in tacky blue-screen special effects, extended punch-ups, underwater murk and casino stand-offs, modishly updated to include video games. There’s also long sequences showing exactly how Largo’s complex plan operates, which are entirely lacking in the requisite thrills. And the music choices in this film are just terrible, jolly game-show themes that do not fit the action.
But what’s not dull here, apart from a top-drawer cast, is the script, with sections re-written by Connery’s go-to team of script doctors Ian la Frenais and Dick Clement to good effect. There’s a stream of irreverent interjections about how poorly resourced the British Secret service are under Thatcher, some pratfalls with Rowan Atkinson as a Foreign Office twit, and a smattering of post-modern gags about Bond’s virility; it’s also modern and cynical that SPECTRE take the side of both the government AND the rebels in the spree of global conflicts that they’re creating.
‘Shall we play one for game for the rest of the world?’ asks Largo, and Bond agrees; Bond should be confident of his own abilities, given that he somehow takes less than a couple of minutes to master the Domination game Largo himself invented. Never Say Never Again proved to be Connery’s last stab at Bond, and while it’s not the corrective to the bland excess of the Moore years that many anticipated, it’s an amusingly ersatz variation, worth seeking out for Bond completists.