Rewatched Aug 18, 2012
Tony Black’s review:
A very long and very complicated history surrounds the production of Never Say Never Again, a 'remake' essentially of Thunderball that took the better part of two decades to get made thanks to fascinating legal proceedures and bitter personal battles. If I'm honest... it doesn't really end up being all that much worth the effort. As an alternative James Bond movie to the 'official' franchise, it offers little in the way of competition and solely remains worthy for Sean Connery returning to his most famed role in middle-age and doing so with style and panache. Around him, however, is an uneven, at times plodding and increasingly dated 007 adventure.
I was never a huge fan of Thunderball, the original tale, and NSNA suffers from all too similar problems: yes, filming underwater can look gorgeous and is technically impressive, but there's a reason not many people do and that's because it's slowwww and quite boring. Trust me, director Irvin Kershner wouldn't have had a choice in making the climax, again, a long underwater battle, and he does as well as he can with it, but it makes for an incredibly underwhelming ending to a movie that does have its bright spots, fun characters, good lines and interesting moments. Connery, as mentioned, is great - visibly older yet still in good shape, a bit slower and a bit softer, but he handles one-liners with the grace of Roger Moore in his prime and oozes charisma; it's almost a shame he didn't get to do another after this as, despite being in his 50's, he could have pulled it off better than Moore or Pierce Brosnan did at that age. Equally I would venture that Barbara Carrera's Fatima Blush is one of the best Bond villainesses, a Cruella de Vil-bad girl, gloriously exotic and barking mad - wonderful. And though his Largo looks a bit daft at times, Klaus Maria Brandauer brings an underplayed psychosis to the villain that with better material could have made him a great bad guy (despite a very dodgy, old-fashioned computer battle his main confrontation with Bond, he's better in the role than Adolfo Celi was). Their moaning cockney-take on Q with Alec McCowen is a delight too - see this is the sad thing, NSNA does a good few things right; the first third at Shrublands is fun and frothy (thanks to the great Clement/La Frenais touching up the script, even throwing Porridge's best gag at Connery to re-use well), there's a really fun motorbike chase through the French Riviera that feels the most like a 007 set piece, and Connery chews the scenery with some great gags. Yet it also does so much wrong - patches that drag (the aforementioned climax), Rowan Atkinson's awful Small-Fawcett, Kim Basinger's insipid Bond girl Domino, not enough action beats (most of those there are don't fully work), direction by Kershner that feels off frequently and a horrible horrible soundtrack that sounds more like a jazzy porno than a Bond movie, a casualty of how blissfully naff the 80's could be.
Yet for all this, I always tend to enjoy Never Say Never Again. It's mostly because having Connery back is such a joy (you can tell he's enjoying it too), but there's a strange kind of charm to how much of a Bond oddity it is, visually and aesthetically separate from the 'official' 007 movies yet aping that style at every opportunity without quite getting it right. At times fun, very funny and well staged, it also suffers equally from languid direction, poor characterisation, a dated sense of style and for a murderously dull climax that threatens to destroy the whole picture. Watch it for Shir Shean only.