Never Say Never Again (1983)

The next Bond movie will be Spectre, which will mark the fourth outing for Daniel Craig’s modernized James Blonde and the second for director Sam Mendes following 2012’s Skyfall. Mendes won’t be the first to return for another helping of 007, and in fact the trend since Dr. No has hewed closer to “we’ll ask you back if your movie doesn’t suck” than anything else. The math, for those of you struggling here: Skyfall doesn’t suck = Mendes returns.

But Spectre will also mark the return of…well, SPECTRE. The evil organization (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) has been absent from the Bond franchise for the past eleven films, at least according to Bond purists. According to everyone else, the last time SPECTRE plotted against MI6 was in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the only Bond film not produced (or sanctioned) by Eon Productions, a film that saw the valiant (ahem) return of Sean Connery to the James Bond role. Never Say Never Again pits this 53-year-old version of the spy against SPECTRE as the organization counter-intelligences, terrorizes, revenges and extorts all over everybody’s ass. Math: SPECTRE = evil.

It’s a bit of a cheap move, dragging Connery back to Bond without the express permission of the guys who run the franchise, and it’s made a whole lot cheaper in deploying the exact plot of Thunderball instead of creating a fresh adventure. This is largely the work of Kevin McClory, producer of Thunderball and possible co-creator of SPECTRE with his friend Ian Fleming, who regained the rights to SPECTRE after a legal dispute. McClory gleefully went off to remake Thunderball as Never Say Never Again and very nearly remade the thing again in the late ’90s as Warhead 2000 A.D., apparently because the guy only had one original idea in his head (unless, you know, it was Fleming’s original idea). McClory has since passed, and thus the rights to SPECTRE are back where most would agree they belong.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less who produced Never Say Never Again — it’s cheap, yes, but it’s a movie that stars Sean Connery as James Bond, and the credits have silhouetted women gyrating to an absurd ’80s Bond song (“Never! Never! Never say never-a-gain!”), and the henchmen are gigantic yet easily foiled, and the swimsuits on the Bond girls are barely even there. Never Say Never Again isn’t to be disliked just because McClory and Eon had a behind-the-scenes spat — it’s to be disliked because it’s just a really crappy movie.

There are points in the plus column, of course, most of which have to do with the inevitable comparison to Roger Moore’s Bond (Octopussy also came out in 1983). Moore never mustered the same suave manliness as Connery, instead relying on more gadgetry and more memorable villains, and so it’s an automatic point in Never‘s favor to have the original wheelman back in the car. And the glaring criticism in the negative column isn’t necessarily the fact that the original wheelman is probably too old to be driving anymore, although it does make some of the “sexy” stuff in the movie just a little bit creepier.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Never Say Never Again (1983)

The true problem is that the writing is laughably, absurdly, stupendously bad. SPECTRE’s master plan is your typical steal-bomb-hold-planet-hostage routine, but there’s never so much as a whisper of why they would have to jump through such insane hoops to accomplish this. They capture a government official and alter his retina to match that of the President of the United States, thus forcing him to steal the bombs for them; after that high-octane, we’re-finally-pulling-the-trigger-on-this-thing heist, SPECTRE elects to just store the bombs for a rainy day or something. Meanwhile, SPECTRE agent Largo marries the sister of that government official (“Domino”, played by Kim Basinger) and basically watches her jazzercise for a solid chunk of the film. Soon (and I quote from the Wikipedia synopsis here), “Largo punishes Domino for betraying him by auctioning her off to some passing Arabs.” Yep.

Bond, meanwhile, is lounging around a resort/spa enjoying some herbal enemas when he happens upon this dastardly SPECTRE plot. He figures what the hell, I have nothing better to do, and he ends up giving Domino a massage (see above). As Never Say Never Again progresses, the things that may have made it seem passable in the first place — a snappy theme song, bristling henchmen, sultry Bond girls, and most of all Connery himself in the role that made him famous — matter less and less in the face of everything the film lacks. There’s a theme song, but it’s not the theme song because — you guessed it — the rights to the 007 Theme were back at Eon. Ditto for the gun barrel opening, and apparently ditto as well for the ability to make a real Bond movie fit a particular formula while still being a somewhat original story.

An admittedly minor personal qualm that’s nonetheless a major annoyance in Never Say Never Again is the fact that the legendary Max Von Sydow plays the legendary Ernst Stavro Blofeld, mastermind of SPECTRE, and he’s given absolutely nothing to do here. If you have an actor like that taking over such a deliciously evil role, let the guy do something besides stroke his cat for a single scene. His is the overall performance of Never Say Never Again in a nutshell: the legend is here, but no one seems to give a damn about respecting it.

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