Exactly why it’s taken me this long for me, an avowed fan of the series, to watch the rogue James Bond film Never Say Never Again is anyone’s guess. It’s just a fact. Let’s say it’s “because… reasons!” — and let it go at that.
What we have here is actually a creditable Bond movie, delivering on all the things that we’ve come to expect from the series — with some interesting caveats that ultimately drag it down.
One of the biggest of these is the whole reason for the movie’s existence. Ian Fleming foolishly collaborated with another writer, Kevin McClory, on the plot of his novel, Thunderball; and then failed to properly cover the legal issues inherent in that collaboration, with the result that after many years of litigation, McClory ended up with separate movie rights to the story. And that’s the thing about Never Say Never Again: try valiantly as the filmmakers did, you can not escape the fact that it’s a remake of Thunderball. There are simply too many characters, scenes and plot elements that they have in common. One wonders why, having secured the right to make the movie, they didn’t just dump the plot and come up with something new. Instead, Irwin Kirshner & Co simply scrape fresh frosting over the old cake. Perhaps those unfamiliar with the recipe are fooled; the rest of us know that we’re getting leftovers.
Beyond that — of course not being an “official” Bond picture, director Kirschner had no recourse to any of the usual Bond “schtick” — the gun-barrel openings, the visual trademarks, the striking musical montage credits sequences. What’s sad is that they didn’t even make an effort to come up with some kind of schtick of their own to take its place. It’s strange, but we miss this stuff… it gives the official films that extra little bit of sizzle.
Never Say Never Again just kind of sits there on the plate in that regard… and the music does not help. Michel Legrand is an admirable composer, but he would never make my short list to score a Bond movie; it’s just not his thing. To my ear, George Martin gave us one of the best Bond movie scores with Live and Let Die; here, Legrand gives us one of the worst… and don’t even get me started about the title song. Ick. Getting through that is the biggest obstacle to enjoying the picture.
There’s a loopy video game sequence that has not aged well at all, followed immediately by — egad — a dance number that stops the picture in its tracks, and not in a good way. This is where the pinking shears should have been put to good use. The picture is long enough without those two sequences, and would have been better off without them.
All of which makes it sound as if I hated it — I did not. There are many fine action setpieces, including a jaw-dropping sequence in which Bond is pursued through a shipwreck by a real (and very large) shark. And although Barbara Carrera never really wound my clock before, I found her to be really outstanding in this as Fatima Blush, the most interesting of several villains. She’s having a gas on this picture, and it shows. Klaus Maria Brandauer plays Largo against the conventions of Bond villains, to strong effect. The locations — always an important element in any Bond — are suitably exotic and visually striking. More than that, Kirschner is a strong technical director, and the picture holds together in ways that some of the official Bonds — I’m especially thinking Moonraker and A View to a Kill — do not.
But I suppose they still wouldn’t have had a movie if they hadn’t been able to secure Sean Connery to reprise as Bond. I don’t like Connery, not as an actor nor as a man, but there’s no denying that his presence here says “JAMES BOND” in bold face type and capital letters. He is the reason for the movie’s title after all; and in the way of his brutish Bond, Connery is here not just for the money, but for the opportunity to kick sand into Cubby Broccoli’s face.