Sunday, April 12, 2020

Never Say Never Again (1983)

The year 1983 is remembered as the "battle of the Bonds" since two films were released by different production companies. Octopussy starred an aging Roger Moore, while Never Say Never Again would feature Sean Connery's return to the role he had made iconic. A remake of Thunderball, NSNA stemmed from a lawsuit dating back to the 1960s. Writer Kevin McClory had written a screenplay with Ian Fleming which never got made, but Fleming used the script as a source for his novel Thunderball. McClory sued and won the rights to make his own version.

While it's great to see Connery back in the role after a 12 year hiatus, everything in the film feels gimmicky. In his early 50s, Connery plays the character as older, but still pretty much the same. There's no sense of time passing, except with a few references to being out of shape. He's still cracking jokes, flirting with the ladies, and outwitting his adversaries with ease. The later Moore films were not all that different in terms of lack of character development - thus pointing to the way to the more complex interpretations of Timothy Dalton, Daniel Craig, and to a lesser extent Pierce Brosnan.

So what's left in NSNA is a dusty story line from the 1960s they tried to update for the 1980s. Different actors playing the regular characters gives the film a bizarro feel. Max Von Sydow appears all too briefly as Blofeld, while Klaus Maria Brandauer is a more fey version of Largo, first name Maximillian this time. Kim Basinger isn't given much to do as Domino (she did not get along with the director Irvin Kershner). The one inspired casting choice was Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter. 

Neither does the production value match the Broccoli/Saltzman films. Attempts to update the story included a ludicrous video game sequence. The generic climax of the film was obviously shot on a soundstage, standing in contrast to the memorable underwater battle in Thunderball. The film's also flabbier with unnecessary additional scenes slowing the movie down. The Lorenzo Semple script leans more towards camp at times, but the final result is a dull experience, a lackadaisical reunion you might say.

Criticisms aside, NSNA works best as a curio. Connery appears to be having fun. His career was stalling in the early 80s and a return to playing Bond was probably a smart choice. He would go on to a number of memorable roles and earn an Oscar for The Untouchables. One last thing, this was not Connery's final appearance as Bond, he would voice the character in a 2005 video game based on From Russia With Love.

**1/2

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