Oh boy. That’s right folks, we’re getting weird today. When I first decided to do this little project I wasn’t really sure if I was going to tackle Never Say Never Again, since it’s such a total and complete outlier. Because this movie is insane. It’s a remake of Thunderball, with Sean Connery, but isn’t part of the main franchise. It’s not an EON production, the Broccoli’s weren’t involved, and it isn’t an “official” James Bond film. But you know what really threw me for a curve when I watched this movie? I realized I’d never actually seen it. Which was surprising. I could have sworn that I had seen it once, when I was first developing my love for Bond movies and started randomly working my way through the series. I knew all about the movie, had read about the plot and the drama behind the scenes, I knew the theme song, and there were certain scenes that I had certainly seen. But about 80% of this movie was completely new to me, which blew my mind. Imagine being a huge Bond fan, and finding out that, despite what you thought, there actually was another Bond movie out there that you hadn’t experienced. Well, if you’re not counting the fact that this is just Thunderball. However, that feeling might have been one of joy if this was a good movie. Unfortunately, it was Never Say Never Again.
Now, before we dig into the bizarre movie we’ll be discussing today, let’s talk about what was going on with it. Because it’s certainly strange. I discussed this a bit in my Thunderball article, but I’ll try to lay it out a bit here. Basically, back before the EON films were being produced Ian Fleming decided to try and get an original Bond movie made. He worked with a screenwriter named Kevin McClory, and the screenplay that resulted was Thunderball. It had James Bond stopping a new terrorist organization called SPECTRE from detonating two atomic bombs. That screenplay never went anywhere, and Fleming and McClory went their separate ways. Which lead Fleming to just making it a novel, and then selling the film writes to the novel to EON. Without McClory being involved. Which really pissed him off. So McClory began a seemingly never-ending series of lawsuits, which eventually ended with EON losing the rights to use SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, any anything else from Thunderball. Which was why we had that scene in For Your Eyes Only when they killed that “bald villain.” But it wasn’t just that EON couldn’t use these things, it was that McClory could. Also, bafflingly, he could use anything from Thunderball, including all of the James Bond stuff. Yep, McClory could make his own Bond movie. So, after finally winning the case that kept EON from using SPECTRE, McClory decided to make his own. He teamed up with Warner Bros, and ended up tweaking his original idea to create the movie that we got. And the real key to the movie’s success, at least in their eyes, was the casting. Because they managed to convince Sean Connery to return at 007. Which apparently wasn’t too hard, since Connery famously had some serious beef with EON, and was willing to make this film as a giant middle-finger toward his former series, and Cubby Broccoli in particular. And with Connery on board they got ready to challenge Octopussy in a battle of the Bonds. And, surprisingly, Octopussy came out ahead on that one.
Now, this is going to feel a little repetitive, because once again, this movie is basically just Thunderball. There are some changes, but for the most part this is the exact same story. This film starts off with James Bond, looking more than a little haggard, storming into some tropical hideout, machine-gunning some villains and saving a captured woman. However, as he saves her she just stabs him in the side. But this isn’t a big deal, because it’s all a simulation, ordered by the new M in order to assess James Bond’s field viability. And he’s not doing well. This new M is convinced that Bond isn’t in shape enough to still be an active agent, and doesn’t even really like the idea of having the 00’s anyway. But he’s going to give Bond a chance to get back into fighting shape, and sends him to a nearby health clinic to fix himself. So Bond heads over to the clinic and starts getting poked, prodded, and forced into a startling amount of enemas, all in the hopes of making him healthier. And while he’s hanging out at the clinic he stumbles upon something odd. There’s a man there named Jack Petachi, a pilot for the United States Airforce, and who seems to be being abused by his nurse. However, things aren’t as they seem. Petachi is actually a pawn of SPECTRE, who have gotten him hooked on heroin and given him a corneal implant that will replicate that of the President of the United States. And his nurse is a woman named Fatima Blush, who is a higher-up in SPECTRE. Bond start sneaking around, investigating Petachi, and ends up being caught by Blush. Bond then has to fight off a SPECTRE goon who comes to silence him, which of course ends with Bond throwing his own urine at the man.
After that Bond leaves the spa, and SPECTRE’s plot get going. Petachi goes to work at an airforce base, which is preparing to launch two cruise missiles in a test. However, before they’re launched he uses his new eye to activate a machine that places active nuclear warheads into the missiles. They’re then launched, and SPECTRE uses some radio devices to cause the missiles to go out of control, and land in SPECTRE’s hands. The bombs are given to a high-ranking SPECTRE member, millionaire, and total weirdo named Maximilian Largo, aboard his massive yacht/base. Blofeld then delivers a message to NATO, telling them he’ll detonate the two bombs unless they give him an absurd amount of money. Which of course means the British are going to send Bond in to investigate, hoping that he’ll find a way to solve the mystery without having to pay. And he has a clue. Because at the spa he found a matchbook with a logo associated with Largo, and finds that Largo’s girlfriend is Domino Petachi, sister to Jack. So Bond heads out to the Bahamas, where Largo and Domino are currently stationed, and begins investigating. Which of course takes the form of creeping on Domino at every turn. He also comes across Fatima Blush, who seduces him and then tries to kill him with some sort of radio-controlled shark. This fails, obviously, as does a bomb hidden in Bond’s room. But frequent death threats really show that he’s on the right track, so he keeps harassing Domino and Largo. But, Bond succeeds in getting him nervous enough about the the atomic bombs that Largo and Domino flee to France. Bond of course follows him, picking up Felix Leiter along the way. Which reaches it’s zenith when he shows up at a fancy fundraiser that Largo is throwing which has both gambling and arcades, and ends with Bond challenging Largo to a very extreme video game that punishes them with electric shocks. Bond eventually succeeds though, and gets to embarrass Largo further by dancing with Domino, and informing her that Largo was behind the death of her brother.
After which Large starts moving ahead with his plan, while also getting Fatima Blush to help him take care of Bond. This results in Bond going on a crazy motorcycle chase through the streets of Nice. The two end up in a warehouse, where Fatima demands Bond write a confession saying she was the best sex he ever had (yep) until he kills her with an exploding pen. After which Bond begins snooping around Largo’s yacht, before being captured. Largo tries to play it all off as a charming mistake, and invites Bond to stay aboard for lunch. So Bond obviously heads straight to Domino, and starts making out with her just to drive Largo crazy. This succeeds, but too well. Largo captures Bond, and sets out for the next stage of his plan, in Northern Africa. They get to a secret base where Largo tells Bond that one of the bombs will destroy Washington DC. He then prepares to have Bond and Domino killed before heading out to get the second bomb in position. Bond and Domino obviously escape, and get word to Felix so that he can help get rid of the bomb in Washington. That leaves Bond and Domino to find the second bomb. Which they do after finding that Domino had been given a necklace from Largo that contains a clue. It has a map in it for a secret oasis in the Ethiopian Coast called the Tears of Allah. Bond and Domino head there and find that Largo and his crew are preparing to detonate the bomb in order to irradiate and destroy most of the Middle East’s oil supply. But Bond, Domino, and an army of government soldiers that fight with Largo’s men. And in the end the good guys come out on top, Domino kills Largo, and the pair return to the Bahamas to sleep together while teasing a sequel that never came.
This movie is not good. It’s kind of a total and complete mess. I’m not a fan of Thunderball, which I explained at length during that article, but it’s not really the plot that drags that movie down for me. The plot of SPECTRE stealing nuclear bombs and threatening the world with their detonation is a solid one. So, really, it’s not the plot of this movie that offer issues. It’s just about everything else. There are some good parts about it, namely how utterly and delightfully insane Klaus Maria Brandauer’s performance is as Max Largo. In Thunderball Largo isn’t a particularly interesting character, he just has a great look. In this film, Largo is a goddamn treat. He hams up ever scene he’s in, be in promising nuclear destruction or playing his crazy video game. But most everything else is a little rough. Fatima Blush as portrayed by Barbara Carerra is nowhere near as enjoyable as Fiona Volpe, although she is just as campy as Largo. But in a rather off-putting way. Kim Basinger really didn’t bring much to the table as Domino, even though they gave the character even more to do than in Thunderball. But I think the real weak link for the film has to be Connery. Which is a real shame. Because Connery was basically always enjoyable in the real Bond movies. Even when the movies he was in weren’t that good, or when he didn’t give a crap about being in the movies, he was fun to watch. But he seemed so utterly bored in this film. He sleepwalks through the film, even though it was a role he had already played, and just does nothing with the film. He walks around the film, somehow being less engaged than Roger Moore is in Octopussy.
This movie does have to been seen to be believed though. I had heard about it for years, and usually not in very high regards. But I had kind of always assumed that that was just because the film had this weird status among the franchise. It turns out that there are plenty of other issues with the film, but that status in the franchise is probably what it’ll be most known about. Because it really is a strange thing. Because think about what it would have been like if this movie had been a success, and there had been two concentric and competing series of Bond movies. Because that’s what they hoped. And when this movie failed McClory thought about making a third version of Thunderball with Sony several years later in the hopes of launching yet another Bond franchise. And I’m sure that would have been a failure as well, because this film shows that there’s something beyond plot elements that make a Bond movie. This film feels like a cheap knock-off, which is kind of what it is. We have Bond, a villain, nuclear bombs, Felix Leiter, a Bond Girl, and most of the other trapping of a Bond movie. But it feels wrong. The classic theme isn’t there, there’s no title sequence, there’s not even a gun-barrel sequence. But, most importantly, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of adventure and fun that the Bond movies are saturated in. This movie seems like a typical 80s action flick with some Bond thrown into it. McClory didn’t seem able to replicate the Bond magic, and thus made a film that completely and utterly feels wrong. This movie doesn’t fit into the series just for complicated legal and contractual reasons, it doesn’t fit because it isn’t a Bond movie. Because it takes more than having Sean Connery play a man named James Bond to make a James Bond movie.
Categories: Reel Talk