"Never Say Never Again" (1983)
You don't review James Bond movies, you evaluate them, rate them according to how well they meet expectations. There are certain things one has come to expect, even demand of a Bond film and each individual effort either delivers or it doesn't. So, here are ten elements that make a Bond film a Bond film. And even though NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is not technically part of the official Bond filmography, the mere presence of Sean Connery returning as 007 makes it something more than merely an honorary member of the series. Anyway, here's how it rates on a scale of 1 to 10:
Title: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN: The clever title has no apparent link to the actual storyline, but is instead an in-joke reference to Sean Connery's vow to never play OO7 again after having been lured back once before for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. Whatever the case, it is a catchy title. 8 points.
Pre-Credit Teaser: Perhaps trying to avoid any obvious parallels to the official EON series of Bond films, there is no Teaser; the opening scenes are just shown behind the credits. And even that is disappointing: yet another "oh-no, Bond has been killed" fakeout. 4 points.
Opening Credits: Other than a screen full of tiny 007's, they didn't even bother trying to jazz up the credits with graphics or split screens or interesting camera angles. 1 points.
Theme Song: As written by Michel LeGrand and sung by Lani Hall "Never Say Never Again" would make for a perfectly pleasant part of a particularly long elevator ride. As a Bond theme, it's merely okay. 6 points.
"Bond, James Bond": Appropriately, since this film sees Connery being lured back into service as Bond after a decade's hiatus, the story begins with 007 facing the question as to whether Bond/Connery is still up to the job. Happily, Connery more than proves himself ready for Bondage again. Though he is a bit grayer, sporting a bit more girth and wearing a slightly more obvious toupee, he seems to have no trouble slipping back into action. All in all, it is one of Connery's best, and most relaxed, turns as the character. 9 points.
Bond Babes: Even in the best of the Bond films, the female characters aren't given much dimension; they exist largely as necessary props for Bond's use. Future Oscar-winner Kim Basinger is granted a great deal of leeway in creating her character of Domino Petachi and the film benefits from this. She does a nice job -- and she's not bad to look at either. 8 points.
Bond Villain: The reports of his death being obviously exaggerated, Blofeld is back -- at least, for the moment -- showing he has more lives than his prized pussycat. One-time Jesus portrayer-turned-stereotypical villain, Max von Sydow isn't given a lot to do in the role, but is a silky presence nonetheless. But he is overshadowed by a wonderful performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximilian Largo. After a string of banal Bond villains, it is so refreshing for Brandauer to gave a performance that is both subtle, yet colorfully evil. Funny without being campy, ruthless without seeming cartoonish; his Largo ranks right up there with Auric Goldfinger as one of Bond's best villains. 10 points.
Bond Baddies: Fatima Blush! What can I say? As played with all the bold style of a particularly flamboyant drag queen, Barbara Carrera breezes through the film, displaying a mix of self-amused evil and more than a tad of pure psychotic insanity. Bond has crossed paths with a variety of femmes fatales, most of whom have been so easily disposed of that they existed more as amusing eye candy than as characters. But few dared to exhibit such a flare for the dramatic or such fierce determination. Even her untimely demise is spectacular, even by Bondian standards. 10 points.
Sinister Plot: As a remake of sorts of THUNDERBALL, the film does seem a bit been-there-done-that: nuclear missiles are stolen and major real estate will go kaboom if all the countries of the world don't pay a multi-kazillion dollar ransom. But at least producer Kevin McClory was lucky enough to find himself forced to remake one of the weakest Bond adventures. By comparisons, this effort blows THUNDERBALL out of the water. And despite the absence of many Bondian trademarks, the film succeeds on its own. 9 points.
Production values: The film starts out with an uneasy style, like a TV movie trying to be more than it can. But as the story progress, the film gains momentum and a sense of purpose, making it a superior adventure. 8 points.
Bonus Points: There are several odd changes that sets this Bond film apart from the official series. Miss Moneypenny is hardly acknowledged; as played by Edward Fox, "M" is a cranky old grouch with no respect for the "Double Os," a foreshadowing of how Judi Dench would later play the part; and "Q" suddenly has a cockney accent and is all buddy-buddy with Bond. And there is a curious sense of nostalgia throughout the film, such as replacing Bond's Astin-Martin with a vintage Packard and a tango dance number that is cleverly inserted into the story. And a big rescue near the end is on horseback, an homage to THE RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which was itself a tribute to the Bond films. 5 points.
Summary: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is a mixed bag. In the really important areas, it more than holds it own thanks to hero Connery, villain Brandauer, assassin Carrera and damsel-in-distress Basinger. But the devil is in the details; as seemingly unimportant as the opening credits, theme song and such seem, the film is lacking because of their absence. It all comes off as a faux Bond film; a very good substitute, but a substitute nonetheless.