To Bond or not to Bond.
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is the Bond film that confuses everyone and gives Cubby Broccoli heartburn.
Released just 4 months after OCTOPUSSY – the “authorized” Bond film from Broccoli’s EON Productions (starring Roger Moore) – NEVER was produced by Orion Pictures and, from what I can tell, was made out of spite by writer-producer Kevin McClory, who owned the rights to the Ernst Blofeld character and the story of THUNDERBALL (the 4th EON Bond film, starring Sean Connery).
After McClory and Broccoli disputed over using Blofeld in successive Bond films, Broccoli said Fuck You to McClory and “killed off” an ersatz Blofeld in 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, to prove to McClory he didn’t need Blofeld. It was like a rap artist dissing another – but in the film world. So McClory answered Broccoli’s diss with a middle finger called NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, which used Blofeld in a remake of THUNDERBALL! And since Connery left the franchise on bad terms with Broccoli, he totally signed on!
The numbering of the Bond films gets confusing with NEVER as well. It is the 14th film with James Bond in it, but technically, it is not official EON canon, and is usually left out of the numbering, with Moore’s VIEW TO A KILL (released 1985) instead listed as Bond #14.
old bond. just older
If you know THUNDERBALL, you know NEVER. Same story – just cheaper. Director Irvin Kershner (hot off THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, 1980) could not secure the budget for the big underwater action pieces that defined the original THUNDERBALL, so whereas in that movie a whole plane was sunk and its nukes stolen, here we have two chromakey missiles kidnapped by Blofeld. Bond’s mission: get them back.
There is NO gunbarrel sequence; NO “cold open” – the movie launches into the title song during an opening montage, Never Say Never Again, performed limply by Lani Hall (if Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only was elevator muzak, this is straight up take-a-razor-to-your-wrists comatose samba); there are NO Bond themes at all throughout, and we do miss the flavor they conjure; NO sexy title sequence with nude female silhouettes, instead, we see Bond (Connery) in action man mode, infiltrating a castle.
We discover this is a combat course – and Bond fails the live action simulation! The filmmakers are meeting the meta situation head-on, admitting that Connery is (like Moore) also getting long in the tooth and not as sharp as he used to be, therefore needing rejuvenation. We gotta admit though, Connery is aging gracefully; 3 years younger than Moore, he does look fit and lethal (at least, his stuntman does).
Edward Fox is M, played here like a Captain in American cop movies shouting at his sergeants, ordering Bond to a sanitarium in the first act, a time-wasting excuse to insert sex (with a blond nurse wearing hooker mascara) and violence (with a bruiser who could’ve shot but throws instead) that has no bearing on the rest of the plot. They talk of M’s “predecessor,” which means the filmmakers are giving us sly winks that they know that we know that they know they’re walking a legal tightrope. Kershner: “Cubby Broccoli and EON tried to stop the production every single day. Not a morning went by that we were not in the courts in London.”
Just about to axe Bond’s job, when the missiles are stolen, another British toff advises M to “reactivate the double-ohs.”
Moneypenny is an attractive MILF (Pamela Salem) and Q is a loquacious cockney (Alec McCowen), who gushes to Connery – as if to dig at Roger Moore – “Now you’re on this, I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence.” You just did.
Bond is sent to the Bahamas on the trail of the nukes, where we hear a pastiche of Monty Norman’s Bond Theme on Mediterranean guitars. These filmmakers are just asking for it… Bond makes contact with Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson, one of the most talented comedians in the world wasted in an insipid role with nothing to do, and much limp dialogue to do it in). He remarks, “…seeing as you’re one of these undercover Johnnys…” which would presage his own satirical take on the spy genre years later as JOHNNY ENGLISH (2003).
Blofeld is Max Von Sydow, more elegant than evil actually, the head of SPECTRE, taking great pains to spell out the acronym for British intelligence while demanding his ransom over the nukes. His Number Two, Largo, was Adolfo Celi in THUNDERBALL; here played by the unbalanced Klaus Maria Brandauer who seems far more sinister than Max Von Sydow.
Largo’s girlfriend is Domino (Kim Basinger, at the height of her sex), who will grow fearful of Largo’s dominance over her and gravitate toward Bond, showing some noyce side-boob in the process, when Bond pretends to be her masseur. The inexpert way Bond just flaps his hands over that flawless skin without any system, makes me think Connery-not-Bond is getting his jollies here. Later, Domino’s pink leotard outfit will leave no areola to the imagination. Super-fit super-tit.
Also noyce side-boob on the young fisher-lady Valerie Leon, wearing nothing but overalls, a brown-haired beauty on a boat whom Bond bangs.
bad at being bad
Bang number four is Fatima Bush (Barbara Carrera, also unbalanced), an agent of SPECTRE. Bond may be bad at his job, but consider how terrible Fatima is at HER job – which is to kill Bond. When she first identifies Bond at the health spa, she doesn’t shoot him from afar, or even get anyone else to shoot him from afar – no, she sends a big bruiser in to punch Bond while he’s working out. Bruiser had all the time in the world to shoot Bond from behind while Bond lifted weights, but no, he had to engage in gym battle like a male porno. After their bang on a boat, Fatima goes diving with Bond, and when you’re alone on a dive with just one other person, the possibilities for murder are endless, but Fatima simply plants a device on Bond’s airtank to attract sharks. Then swims away. What if he swam after her? (The shark sequence is the only bit in NEVER that trounces THUNDERBALL: the sharks are REAL and the shark wranglers (Stuart and Michelle Cove) provide bigger and more lively sharks than THUNDERBALL, with claustrophobic, terrifying scenes of sharks trying to nibble Bond through the innards of a sunken ship, with a big tiger shark being clamped by a doorway as it tries to attack. Uh, sharks WERE harmed in the making of this film!)
Useless at her job. Like THUNDERBALL, there is a cutie who drives Bond around, without any romantic ties. When Largo gives Fatima “one more chance” to kill Bond, what does this dummy do? She kills the cutie assistant, then flees in her little red sports car, laughing as if she’s just killed Bond. Bond arrives seconds later, but this bitch is gone – I mean, she had ONE job! Just wait a few seconds and snipe Bond. No, driving with hair flying and orgasmic laughter ringing in our ears. Why are you laughing?
That’s when Bond breaks out the motorbike for the film’s premier chase scene. But it’s only to prove Connery is cooler than Moore; that his age is not showing – even though we’re all pretty much 100% aware that’s a stunt rider on the motorbike (this is loooong before Tom Cruise). So what are they proving? That Sean’s stunt riders are better than Roger’s stunt riders?
In a pretty hectic chase scene, Fatima instructs all her henchies “He’s mine!” Now even if we presume that Fatima killed Cutie to tempt Bond to chase her right into a waiting van – why go through all this setup and execution when you could have just shot him, like you shot Cutie? Then to prohibit your own henchies from killing him – it’s like, How many times are you going to NOT kill Bond here? … Eventually she ends up alone in a garage with Bond, pointing a gun at him, making him spread his legs sitting on the floor. Not shooting. Where are all her henchies as backup, who were just part of the chase? Threatening to shoot Bond in the groin, a leer spreads across her face as she forces him to confess that she was his greatest bang ever. Still not shooting. (Some critics cite Carrera’s murder-gasmic performance as a precursor to May Day in VIEW TO A KILL or Xenia Onatopp in GOLDENEYE.) Then, while still talking-not-shooting and giving villains AND women a bad name, Bond gets off a good shot to her sternum with his pen-flare.
good at being bad
I must say, Kershner and McClory have captured the Bond ethos well: fist fights for no reason, non-sequitur action scenes, the spy agency personnel appearances (I’m not sure if they call it MI6 here, being the impostor Bond), the arbitrary bonings, the insipid murder attempts, the captures that lead to escapes because none of the henchmen think to divest Bond of his GADGETS when they tie him up, in other words, the filmmakers are really good at being bad filmmakers… Lorenzo Semple Jr. screenplayed. Ten years earlier, he did the magnificent PAPILLON; how far the fall…
Bond and Felix Leiter (played by Bernie Casey, the first black man in the role) try to infiltrate Largo’s ship by – god knows how? – swimming under it? What exactly was the plan? To grab the propellers? When Bond is sucked into a hatch unexpectedly, it seems like the objective was obtained, but WHAT WAS THE PLAN OTHERWISE? Bond exits a blowtube onto the deck of the ship, where a steward nonchalantly meets him, “Mr. Largo is waiting for you.” So… no one’s gonna talk about how he was just trying to “infiltrate” the ship then, or how Largo must have sucked him into the hatch, or why he climbed out of the blowport? The dialogue between Largo and Bond is painfully uncomfortable, and not just because Largo just ordered Fatima to kill Bond only to have him turn up here, but because it seems like the writers spilled coffee over the script and the actors couldn’t read between the stains. So Largo gives Bond a tour of the ship—Jesus Christ! Do these Bond writers know NOTHING ELSE than to make the villain give a tour of his facility and explain his plans?
Aboard Largo’s ship, Bond is invited to play a lethal video game with Largo, which boasts Cylon voice commands, and a jolt of electricity for the loser of the round, supposedly cutting edge for its time in this age of arcade games – although I remember seeing this IN ITS TIME and wondering what the FUCK kinda stupid game this was. Faux-Battleship meets Risk, on a 3D hologram screen, that made as much sense as Harry Potter’s Quidditch idiocy. All we had to worry about was the readout telling us the percentage of pain the contestant was suffering. Bond could take much more pain than Largo because, let’s face it, he’s had more girlfriends.
Largo eventually gets pissed off that somewhere in the recent past Bond bonked his blonde bombshell and chains Bond to a dungeon with a high lookout over a courtyard, where they are tying Domino to a post and auctioning her like the sex object she is, to a clutch of oily Arabs. Bond uses his laser watch to escape the chains in the high dungeon and Bond’s stuntman rescues Domino’s stuntwoman in a daring horseback escape.
never at being thunderball
The climax of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN makes us wonder why producer McClory bothered to risk his financial and reputational arse making this Bond film if he knew it was going to be so underfunded that it could never match the quality or excitement of the original THUNDERBALL. He must have put all his bank on Connery alone to fool people into thinking it was up to par. But Connery himself seems like stunt-casting – against the Bond franchise itself! So there don’t seem to be any stakes, because we’re not taking his presence all that seriously.
The film cannot hope to recreate the evocative, creative climax of the original with an underwater battle, so is set in a subterranean cave, Bond’s men trying to wrest the missiles from Largo’s men, devolving to guys just bishown-bishown-bishown shooting at each other, taking cover behind rocks. Yawn. Wake me when the wild west is over. It becomes apparent this movie is more a petulant nyah-nyah gesture to Broccoli than a sincere attempt to restore creative control to a man who would bring a better vision to the screen than the original.
Bond defuses a bomb underwater (ah, they learned to include this skill in Bond, from watching how impotent it made him look being unable to defuse the bomb in GOLDFINGER), while Largo, pinned by his own mini-sub, aims a speargun at Bond — Domino appears from LITERALLY NOWHERE and spearguns Largo instead.
The film’s title is taken from Connery’s avowal “never” to play Bond again, so the stinger scene is played for laughs when Bond, supposedly retired with Domino, is approached by Nigel Small-Fawcett to plead for his return to the agency on M’s request. Bond/Connery turns to the camera and winks, saying, “Never again!” as if to say, “Oh, TOTALLY again!”…
Sorry, Sean, but it would be your last.
The irony is: when Lazenby replaced Connery for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, in between two Connery movies, the worldwide gross of MAJESTY was lower than the two Connery movies on either side of it – he became the bitch in a Connery sandwich – and here, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN ($160mil) was sandwiched between two Roger Moore movies (OCTOPUSSY, $187mil; and VIEW TO A KILL, $152mil) making Connery the slightly less-salty bitch in a Moore sandwich!