With the release of the latest James Bond yarn, Skyfall, imminent, the Shattered Lens has been looking back at every single James Bond film ever created – the entire history of the franchise. Today’s selection for review is 1983’s Never Say Never Again. Unlike the overwhelming majority of the franchise, this film was not produced by EON productions, but rather by an independent studio. It is an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, much like the 1965 film that shares the novel’s name. It also marks the return of Sean Connery to portray the film’s lead, 00-agent James Bond, 12 years after appearing in Diamonds Are Forever.
I have to say, when I entered into reviewing this film I was certain that I had seen it before, but it took only ten minutes or so of film action before I realized that this film, somehow, had completely flown under my radar.
I have to say, it does not make a strong first impression. We don’t get a cold open with Bond, but rather launch directly into the credit sequence with what I have to admit may be the worst opening theme song of the entire franchise. I haven’t even posted it here, I’m so embarrassed by it, but I’m sure a quick youtube search will yield some results. It’s lengthy, slow, and weirdly incongruous with what proves to be a fairly action-packed Bond adventure.
The story here is sort of needlessly complicated. Addressing the long lapse between Connery appearances as bond, M (Edward Fox) notes that he has recalled James Bond to service against his will, and that after failing a routine training exercise, that Bond is in unacceptable physical condition. His first assignment? To proceed to a health spa to be placed on an exercise and dietary regimen to bleed all of the toxins out of his system, with a strong implication that Bond’s behaviour and mind-set are as much of a problem as his physical condition. While at the spa, of course, Bond becomes privy to a strange interaction between the beautiful nurse Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) and an accomplice with a bandaged face, one Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy). The duo spot Bond, and attempt to have him assassinated, but 007 is able to overcome the assassin and lives to fight another day.
We learn that both Blush and Petachi are agents of the infamous terrorist organization, SPECTER, headed by Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Max Von Sydow). In a convoluted plot, Jack Petachi will use a surgically implanted false eye to replicate the retinal scan of the President of the United States. Using this eye, he is able to arrange for two nuclear warheads to be placed aboard cruise missiles. Using strategically positioned transmitters, SPECTER’s agents then guide the launched missiles remotely, driving them into the sea where their agents can retrieve the nuclear weapons. With the warheads, Blofeld plans to hold the world hostage, forcing world governments into paying an annual tribute to SPECTER, or risk the annihilation of world cities in nuclear fire. Soon after, Jack Petachi is murdered by Fatima Blush, who throws a snake into his speeding vehicle, causing him to lose control and crash through a wall. She then plants a bomb in the vehicle and blows him sky high.
Responding to the crisis presented by SPECTER, M reluctantly reinstates the 00-agents, including James Bond. Bond is immediately assigned to track down the missing warheads.
From there, we’ll travel from the Bahamas, home of SPECTER agent Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer)’s massive yacht, Flying Saucer. Bond meets Domino Petachi, Jack Petachi’s sister, and Largo’s lover (Kim Basinger) and comes into conflict with both Fatima Blush and Largo himself. Bond will chase Largo from the Bahamas to France, into the Mediterranean, and out to the Middle East, with help from noted CIA agent Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey). The action sequences, once they get rolling in the second half of the movie, don’t really let up, and take us to an underwater finale where Domino finally kills Largo in revenge for the needless death of her brother.
For all that this film does right, I have to confess that this was definitely not my favourite James Bond film. The pacing seemed brutally uneven for much of the film, with the action sequences spaced too far apart. The film does spend a little effort winking and nodding at the earlier Connery Bond films, probably in part because Never Say Never Again was not developed by the franchise’s principle producers, EON. Although this film is a far cry from the extremely gadget and superscience-y Bond films that dot the landscape after Connery’s original departure, there is a definitively 80s quality to this film – especially in the film’s score, which at times is loud and invasive, and other times oddly subdued – which prevents it from ever fitting right in with the other Connery films.
The performances are pretty good all around. Sean Connery himself might never have taken a 12 year vacation from playing 007, the women around him are beautiful, and Brandauer is a flamboyant villain in the classic Bond style. Max Von Sydow is excellent in presenting yet another take on supervillain Ernst Blofled, though I thought he was more or less wasted in a very limited role.
If you are waxing nostalgic and just can’t live without one more trip with Connery as James Bond, you probably won’t find this film disappointing. Something about it never really struck a chord with me, however, and I came away thinking of it as a bit of a slog.
Join us tomorrow as we continue our odyssey through the history of James Bond with the slightly-silly but always-fun Octopussy. Until then, against my better judgment, I’ll leave you with the theme song to Never Say Never Again … remember what I said about the music score before you chance it though!