Never Say Never Again (1983) – Directed by Irvin Kirschner – A Non-EON James Bond Film – Starring Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow, Bernie Casey, and Rowan Atkinson.
Even though it was made outside of EON Productions, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN has more in common with the Bond films post-Roger Moore than OCTOPUSSY, which was released the same year. Like CASINO ROYALE, NEVER is a serious, personal film, and like GOLDENEYE, Bond is faced with an M that thinks he’s a relic of the past.
I give NEVER credit for fully taking on the idea that James Bond is getting old. They don’t pretend that Connery can still do everything now that he could do two decades earlier and the film is built on this idea that Bond has outlived his youth. He’s called on the carpet for his lifestyle, he’s forced to start taking better care of himself, he’s spent the majority of his time teaching instead of being in the field, and the world is ready to move on without him. The problem is that whatever they thought in 1983, in 2011 we kinda see the point of the bookish M’s complaint. There is value in working out and eating right and if Bond really hasn’t do any of that over the years, then he should darn well start sooner rather than later.
Until he saves it. Again.
But then something surprising happens – this Bond is perfectly fine with the idea of retiring. He’s had his one last go-round and is content to settle down with Domino (Kim Bassigner) for the remainder of his days. It’s really nice to see such a definitive character arc, but unfortunately NEVER is such a dull, dreary, washed-out film that when Bond tells Rowan Atkinson that he’s really going to stay retired, my reaction was, “Thank God.”
Connery is very good in NEVER as an old letch struggling to stay cool and relevant, and there’s something charmingly pathetic about his attempts to bed every woman he comes across. He’s like your creepy uncle hitting on your high school girlfriend.
NEVER goes on forever. It feels impossibly long and is cut together at a snail’s pace. Fight sequences generally take too long; when Bond fights an assassin at the Old Folk’s Home (okay, technically it’s a health clinic), the fight keeps going and going and going and going … and it’s a BAD FIGHT. It’s one of those Bond vs. Jaws fights where the bad guy is so much stronger than Bond that you’ve got to sit through Bond throwing ineffective punches for five minutes.
There’s a nice little triangle between Bond, Domino, and bad guy Largo, but Domino is so dumb and so uninvolved in what’s happening to her that I don’t care about her fate.
Largo is an interesting villain – he’s nerdy but he’s also got some charisma and real malevolence to him. He’s part of SPECTRE, so we also get our 4th different on-screen Blofeld and because it’s played by Max von Sydow I was thinking we’d get another bad-ass, maybe even someone to stand alongside Telly Savalas in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. But we don’t. Instead, von Sydow plays him as something closer to a pencil pusher than heavy and as a result, he’s all kinds of useless.
What really damns NEVER is that it’s one of the most poorly paced action or espionage films that I’ve watched. Nothing memorable happens in the entire film. Nothing. Well, sure, Bond plays a video game but nothing else. Let’s get to the video game. Taking the place of a card game, Bond and Largo play a video game that Largo devised that involves, um, shooting and stuff. It’s so stupid that it almost trumps the ridiculously dumb bike chase scene that once again sees Bond in a safety helmet. He’s James Bond! He doesn’t need a helmet!
I give NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN credit for trying to be a serious spy film, but it just doesn’t execute effectively. When Q shows up, he tells Bond, “I hope we’re gonna see some gratuitous sex and violence,” but I was more interested in the film showing it had a pulse.