After a twelve year absence Sean Connery returned to the role of 007 in Never Say Never Again, the unofficial remake of Thunderball. The result of the Kevin McClory “rights” debacle is appropriately and understandably messy. Gone is the gunbarrel opening, the iconic James Bond theme, and that essential EON polish. Connery, at age 53, is in fantastic shape and gives the role his all, but even the return of the man himself can’t overcome the lackluster affair around him.
Released in the summer of 1983, Never Say Never Again went up against the official Octopussy in the “Battle of the Bonds.” Although supported by a budget of a hefty 36-million dollars (8 million more than its rival), it is here that the lack of the EON polish becomes apparent. Director Irvin Kershner adds nothing but drabness to the film. It’s an unpleasant surprise, as Kershner follows up the legendary Empire Strikes Back by committing the cardinal sin for a Bond film: crafting a picture that looks and feels cheap. Michel Legrand’s abysmal music doesn’t help matters, sounding like a score straight out of a bad made-for-TV movie, with Douglas Slocombe’s lifeless cinematography following suit. The well-documented production problems, including Kershner’s own frustrations, certainly carry some of the blame, but Never Say Never Again’s blandness ultimately falls on Kershner’s shoulders.
The drab affair is partially spiced up by the efforts of 007 himself and Barbara Carrera, charismatically and maliciously filling the role of femme fatale Fatima Blush. Amidst an ill-cast and ill-acted film, with unimposing villain and bland leading lady to boot, Carrera adds much needed panache. Her walk is full of power and presence, and Kershner’s camera agrees, focused often only on her feet. Of all the forgettable aspects of Never Say Never Again, Carrera is wonderfully unforgettable, delivering an over-the-top villainess performance able to stand toe to toe with the series’ other memorable characters. Also, despite much of the script falling into mediocrity, this film is the first in the series to call attention to Bond’s age, examining him as a burnt out veteran called back into action, standing as one of Again’s few interesting and compelling aspects.
Other breaks in the monotony include a thrilling motorcycle chase and a hilariously bad video game battle between Bond and Largo, the antagonist. The video game’s ill-judged ridiculousness is almost a welcome divergence from the cheap, bland, and unpolished film around it; almost. Even Connery’s committed performance pales in comparison to his turns in the 1960s, which is emblematic of the film as a whole: wishful thinking without proper execution.