As other reviews have noted, the story behind Never Say Never Again is far more interesting than the movie itself. What started off as a collaboration of ideas soon became a legal battle between friends, letting a judge decide who was the rightful owner of their 007 project: series creator Ian Fleming, or relative nobody Kevin McClory. Somehow, Fleming lost, and all story elements from their project went to McClory, including the name S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the rights of which MGM would not re-acquire until 2013.
Never Say Never Again is often thought of as a remake of Thunderball, but that’s not exactly true. Had Thunderball never been made, this still would have. It was a vanity project for McClory, who wanted what he felt was his property up on the screen. But had it not been for an aging Sean Connery yearning to recapture his youth, it may never have happened at all. (If only…) Still, if you’ve seen Thunderball, this movie’s story is the same: worldwide criminal organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E. steals two nuclear weapons and holds the world ransom, and British agent James Bond is hired to find them.
This is not a canonical Bond movie, and it is not made by EON Productions, so there’s no opening gun-barrel, no title sequence, none of the classic music, and no returning cast or crew aside from Connery. And all this is perfect example that movies are a result of all involved and not just the director and actors, because what this cast and crew have created is something uncomfortably Bond-like, but still not Bond. The tone and music are unintentionally cartoonish, and the acting ranges from phoned-in to over-the-top. Despite having a larger budget than its 1983 “Battle of the Bonds” opponent Octopussy, the whole thing feels like an 80’s TV show, always feeling small even when it’s big. But at least there’s one decent motorcycle chase about halfway through, so it’s not a total loss.
But what of Sean Connery, you ask? (You didn’t.) Sean Connery was 52 at the time of filming, and it shows. Some men age well, but Connery is not “some men”. Here he’s grey-haired, wrinkly, less fit, and not nearly as graceful. His charming smile is a lot more goofy, as are his flirtation tactics with girls half his age. Which is another problem: seeing him try to pick up young girls is very uncomfortable this time around. Maybe because he looks like a grandpa. When he enters a room, all the girls’ eyes follow him, trying to trick us into thinking that he’s still the 60’s Bond. (But we have eyes too.) But what of his fight scenes? What few there are, he’s mostly a punching bag, escaping his beatings through luck and poorly-written contrivances. He’s not the badass 60’s Bond fans remember. This Bond is just a little too relaxed for a man who’s supposed to be saving the world.
Vanity projects rarely end well, especially when you’re up against one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history. Kevin McClory got what he wanted, but mark my words, he did not win. And all Sean Connery accomplished was being the only actor to star in both the remake as well as the original, even though this isn’t really a remake. It’s a standalone Bond adventure featuring a familiar, but noticeably older face. Never Say Never Again is for hardcore Bond fans only, and should be viewed as few times as possible. But the story behind the story is part of Bond history now. So despite all its failings, it’s still something worth talking about.
2 out of 5