3.5 of 5 stars
Never Say Never Again brings Sean Connery back to his career-defining role of Bond, James Bond, after he’d previously said he would “never again” do another 007 film, proving once and for all Connery is a big, fat liar!
Never Say Never Again is an unnecessary remake of Thunderball bankrolled by the same producer, Kevin McClory, as a knockoff to compete with the official Eon series.
The 1983 remake follows the same basic outline as the original of 18 years earlier—terrorist organization SPECTRE uses a pilot to hijack nuclear warheads, kills him, attempts to extort money from Western governments, Bond investigates, befriends the villain’s mistress, who is the coincidentally the pilot’s sister, and saves the day. Some names are changed along the way, and there are a few twists, but it is basically the same film, which is my main complaint. The filmmakers seemed to take for granted the audience was familiar with the story and took some shortcuts. To the uninitiated, this movie would probably feel disjointed. The first act is rushed in parts, drags in others, and seemingly forgets important exposition that was expertly handled in the original.
The film is updated for 1983 audiences in some odd ways, most notably the arcade scene. Rather than Bond besting the SPECTRE baddie in a game of baccarat as per usual, the early confrontation takes place over a video game in what appears to be an upscale arcade. Videogames were a novelty in the early ‘80s, but having 007 pop out between Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man to deliver his ‘Bond, James Bond’ line appears especially strange and dated today.
Bond is joined in his mission by Mr. Bean, playing a Foreign Office representative named Nigel Small-Fawcett (sigh) and Bernie Casey as the first black actor to play Felix Leiter (the sudden race change is explained away with Leiter telling Bond one of Q’s rocket pens blew up in his face—the ‘80s were simpler times).
While far from the best 007 film, Never Say Never Again is not Connery’s worst (Diamonds “Я” Forever), and it’s a little better than the contemporaneous Roger Moore film (Octopussy). Connery’s boyish charm is a welcome return in this one-off film, and the production is every bit as good as the official series. The motorcycle chase especially stands out, and the fist fight in the health clinic early in the film is also tense and exciting.
Elements from the official series are painfully missing, however, such as Desmond Llewelyn as Q and the 007 theme. Klaus Maria Brandauer could have been an excellent Bond villain, but he suffers in comparison to Adolfo Celi in the original. Again, I would have liked to see Connery in a new story rather than in a remake of one of his earlier films.
McClory would continue to be a thorn-in-the-side of the official series’s producers, occasionally tying up production with lawsuits. He even attempted to remake Thunderball a third time rebranded as Warhead 2000, this time with Timothy Dalton, but thankfully that plan was abandoned. Five decades would pass before the dispute over the rights to Thunderball would finally be resolved, clearing the way for SPECTRE to officially reappear in Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as 007.