Hey, it is James Bond Month here at the JOE-DOWN. Joe Brown and I picked four Bond films to dissect in our very nerdy fashion for December. For the second installment for Bond Month, we went with “Never Say Never Again.”
The Movie: “Never Say Never Again” (1983)
Starring: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Kim Basinger
Director: Irvin Kershner
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A SPECTRE agent has stolen two American nuclear warheads, and James Bond must find their targets before they are detonated.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 63 percent
Froemming: Last week, we saw a Bond film that history has, let’s say, been unkind to. This week, I picked a Bond film that is technically not an official Bond film. It is not part of the canon that started with Sean Connery and has gone up to Daniel Craig. Yet, it stars Sean Connery. And if you watch this and begin to feel you have seen this before, don’t worry: You probably have. “Never Say Never Again” is basically a remake of “Thunderball.” Born from a lawsuit over “Thunderball,” this film — directed by the guy who gave us “The Empire Strikes Back,” the best of the “Star Wars” films — feels like Connery’s big old middle finger to the franchise that made him a star. But before we nerd out on Old Man Bond (he is in his 50s in this film), what are your first thoughts on this unofficial Bond classic, Brown?
Brown: The best way I could describe this movie is that it feels like you’re watching Harrison Ford play Indiana Jones, but the movie is being run and directed by Steven Spielberg’s non-union Mexican equivalent Señor Spielbergo (to take a joke from “The Simpsons). It kind of feels like a Bond movie (namely because of Sean Connery) if a bunch of corners got cut. You get it right away with the odd credit sequence and it carries for the rest of the film. Never hearing the James Bond riff is all sorts of jarring.
And, you’re right about this movie being a big middle finger for Connery to the Eon-Bond folks. I had it in my head the whole time that this movie should have been called “Hate (REDACTED): The Motion Picture.”
With that said, take us through the start, Froemming.
Froemming: Like you said, the odd title sequence throws you off because we don’t get the cool gun barrel moment of Bond shooting at the camera. It goes right into the opening scene with the theme song playing. Bond is participating in an exercise for MI6. We don’t know this, of course, so when I saw him strangling a man to death and getting stabbed by a woman he is supposed to be saving, it looked like a legit combat scene. When we find out it was an exercise, I wondered about that guy Bond strangled, and if it is normal for 00s to actually murder people during training.
Anyway, Bond is getting up there in years, and failed the test. Because a common theme in this movie is that Bond is old. And I actually like the concept of visiting 007 in his older years. It is different for a Bond film.
Brown: It was an interesting concept but I hated the way it was executed. M (Bond’s superior) comes off like a nagging 80s parent, telling Bond that he needs to cut out white bread, red meat and alcohol. Yeah, Bond should be worried about his health at his age, but treat him like a professional who so happens to be your best agent (so far in these movies, 00s have proven to be kind of incompetent). And it’s not like Bond will listen anyhow. Later in the movie he packs a suitcase of nothing but caviar and vodka.
And while Bond goes to a health clinic to get back into shape, he sees a man in a separate room (after Bond was done having sex with a woman. Naturally.) being beaten up by a nurse, who turns out to be Fatima Blush, who works for the evil SPECTRE.
Froemming: I will say I really liked Blush as Bond’s adversary in this film. But we again start to see some weird differences between this and “Thunderball” — most notable was
Hank Scorpio Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Max von Sydow (hey, his second appearance at the JOE-DOWN!). I didn’t find this Blofeld all that menacing because we basically only see his cat for most of his screen time. This may have worked for Inspector Gadget, but it doesn’t work for this Bond film.
Now SPECTRE has a double agent in the Air Force, Jack Petachi, who has had one of his eyes manipulated to match the eye of the president of the United States.
But, as Bond is watching Blush and Petachi plot away in their room, he stumbles and blows his cover. Blush, with night vision technology, sees Bond in the shadows and knows who he is right away.
For a spy, Bond is a little too well known among SPECTRE agents he has never met.
Brown: I feel like half the children across the world are Bond’s, so I think there’s a lot of paternity suits for folks out there to know who he is.
Well, the reason Petachi has the eye of the president is to override an order on a weapons test to replace dummy warheads with the real thing. SPECTRE then disables the missiles in the ocean and steal the nuclear warheads in order to extort NATO. And, Petachi gets killed by Blush for his troubles.
Before I forget, at the clinic, we have Connery (in “007: The Retirement Home”) getting attacked by a henchman. All I thought in this fight was that Connery is throwing dumbbells at this guy and he’s unphased. I don’t care how tough you are, free weights getting thrown at you are going to (REDACTED) hurt.
Froemming: Don’t forget, he stops this unstoppable monster by throwing urine in his face and the guy stumbles and gets killed via broken glass in his back. Yeah, that happened. Urine to the face.
Now we cut to being introduced to Maximillian Largo and Domino Petachi (a young Kim Basinger). This is one of their weirdest and most abusive relationships I have seen on screen in a while. Largo spies on Domino when she is working out like a creepy guy in a trenchcoat in a public park. And while Domino says she loves him, she jokingly asks what he would do if she left him. He lovingly replies that he will cut her throat.
Well, that escalated quickly.
But we find out Largo is a SPECTRE agent. An agent that looks like a keyboardist in a 1970s prog rock band, to be honest. Like, I swear he was in King Crimson or something. He is not menacing or charming, he just comes off as a weirdo.
Brown: Yeah, he goes into his private station and sees Domino stretching and it looks a lot like the strip club scene from “Boondock Saints.” I’d elaborate further, but I like having gainful employment.
And like you, I kind of saw Largo as more of a twerp than an authentic Bond villain. Look, I enjoy a bad guy who uses video games as a means of hurting his rival, but like so much of this movie — it seems off.
Around this time, we also get a visit from Q to see what kind of gadgets Bond gets to play with in this movie. And he delivers the line of the movie: “Now that you’re in on this, I hope we’re in for gratuitous sex and violence.” It’s a fun line knowing all the tropes of the Bond movies. It’s not as much fun when you remember we’re dealing with Grandpa Bond here.
With that said, even if this movie is a giant middle finger, Connery is still A-1 as Bond. Still as charming as ever.
Froemming: Of all of my complaints about this film, Connery is not one of them. I enjoyed watching him reprise the role — even if it was out of spite — because he is still great as Bond. I will argue of all the post-Connery Bonds in the 1980s, in this, Connery is the best of them all (suck it, Roger Moore). And he actually seems to be enjoying the role, something I didn’t sense in his later Eon-Bond films.
But one great performance can’t save a stinky film. Which baffled me because you had all the right pieces: You have Sean Connery back and you have Irvin Kershner right off the success of “Empire Strike Back.” The script is basically “Thunderball.” And yet, it just doesn’t work.
Brown: And Kershner was riding high at this point. This was his first movie after “The Empire Strikes Back.” I wouldn’t say it’s objectively bad. Like I said before, everything feels off. Oh well, he got to direct “Robocop 2” after this.
Bond is back in action and he heads to the Bahamas to find Largo and Domino (after more casual sex). The way Bond meets Domino: He poses as a masseuse and gives Domino a rub-down. Because of course he does, because Bond doesn’t understand boundaries. I know Bond movies and novels always have a good deal of misogyny, but it doesn’t make it any less jarring to watch.
Also, we can’t gloss over this: Mr. Bean is in this movie.
Froemming: I hate Mr. Bean, and seeing him in this didn’t change my mind at all. But we should scoot back here, because we have Blush trying to kill Bond while scuba diving!
Yes, Bond and Blush meet in the Bahamas and they pretty much bump uglies within an hour. Now we come to what is the biggest blunder of all Bond villains: Trying to kill Bond in an elaborate way! Instead of shooting him dead on the boat they are on, Blush plants a device on him while they are scuba diving that attracts sharks. As she swims away, just confident that Bond will meet his fate with Jaws, he figures it out and is fished to safety by a beautiful woman — who he immediately sleeps with.
I think Bond villains need Homer Simpson around to help them out in such scenarios.
Brown: Not only were there sharks, there were sharks with radios attached to their head. Robot sharks! Somewhere, Dr. Evil is nodding in approval.
Something I want to address quick is how annoyed I was with all the underwater scenes in this movie. Apparently “Thunderball” was full of them (full disclosure: I haven’t seen “Thunderball”). The whole time, I kept thinking “No way that’s Bond underwater. His toupee wouldn’t handle it.” And yeah, it’s clearly not Connery in the water scenes.
Finally, after the fishing escapade, Blush tries to hedge her bets and places a bomb in Bond’s room. Only, he’s not in there. He’s bedding the fisherman (fisherwoman?) in her room. OK, that’s a funny joke. But, Nigel (Rowan Atkinson, AKA Mr. Bean) calls Bond in her room and provides information. How the hell would Nigel know Bond was in there? Perhaps he’s some perv voyeur or it was an oversight. I’m willing to accept either.
Froemming: It has been years since I’ve seen “Thunderball,” but what I do recall was the amount of scuba scenes in it. I might revisit it again just for comparision.
And yup, Blush blows up the wrong room. And after his sexual predator moment while massaging Domino (I was very, very disturbed by that scene), he knows that Largo is throwing an exclusive party. A party he naturally wants to crash.
How does he get in? This is actually another moment I enjoyed. He grabs the bouncer at the party and throws him in a closet and sticks a cigar case in his mouth, telling him it is a bomb. Because it beeps and boops when he touches a button on it.
Now, the party is basically a giant casino, everyone it betting and gambling. And when Bond goes toe-to-toe with Largo for the first time, it is not over a poker game or blackjack — they play a video game that looks like the lamest rendition of RISK I have ever seen.
But there is a twist to this game of thermonuclear war: The loser gets electronically shocked each time they lose. Which is unfair because 1. Bond is 53 years old and has no time for video games like nerdy Largo does and 2. Shocking him when he loses will obviously trigger a heart attack, right? We know he is not in the best of health from earlier in the film.
Brown: A suitcase of caviar and vodka (also, no condoms) is terrible for Bond’s health, but that has never stopped 007.
As someone who grew up with video games and beat Mike Tyson in Punch-Out, I’ll calling BS on 50s Bond learning how to master the video game in three tries. I’ve been playing Ninja Gaiden for NES for 20-plus years and I still can’t beat it. Also, this game is supposed to help raise money for Largo’s charity. What is his charity? Orphans. Just, orphans.
Froemming: The Human Fund. Money. For people.
Brown: Well, whatever. To the victor goes the spoils. Bond gets to have a dance with Domino. Combined with the shocks he took from the video game, doing a tango immediately afterwards has to be putting Bond’s heart under enormous stress. With that said, it’s always cute (and a little weird) when you go to formal events and see a grandpa dancing with a much younger, prettier girl.
During this time, Domino gets some stress of her own as she finds out from Bond that her brother, our old pal Jack, was killed by Largo.
Bond leaves the party, but not without his cigar case. And I’ll admit, I got a hearty laugh out of that. It’s been done in other movies, but at least in “Never Say Never Again,” a scene like that would at least be new. Connery should have always been Bond.
Froemming: But Bond’s night isn’t over. He goes back to his hotel to find Nicole (someone who was helping him with this assignment) dead. Who did it? Why, Blush did! Dressed like a pirate and sporting heels in this room that has more confusing stairs than M.C. Escher’s Relativity.
So, we go on a giant chase scene where Bond rides his motorcycle in areas these bikes probably couldn’t be riding through, chasing down Blush. What is also amazing is how it turned from midnight to early afternoon within minutes of this wild scene.
Brown: What troubles me is that Blush was driving what looked like an economy car, Bond can’t keep up in a motorcycle. Age doesn’t slow down Solid Snake one bit, but it sure as hell slows down James Bond.
Froemming: Because this is a Bond film, the chase ends with Blush with the upper hand. She wants him to write down that she was the best woman he has ever been intimate with. Instead of amusing her, Bond simply kills her with his trusty pen bomb! Because Bond would never admit such a thing.
Brown: I was waiting for Bond to pull the “Liar Liar” line and blurt out, “I’ve had better.”
Now, we got some nukes to get back, so Bond and Leitner (his United States counterpart) sneak onto Largo’s ship, the Flying Saucer. I prefer the Flying WASP from “Caddyshack.”
Getting this uneasy tour of the ship, because Bond and Largo have to be friendly to each other for some reason although they know who each other are, Bond manages to enrage Largo by making out with Domino in the dance studio he was lustfully watching earlier in the movie. Bond is eventually caught by Largo, who goes to lock him up in his fortress in North Africa. And because of her betrayal, Largo tries to sell Domino to some locals. Well, this just got real heavy.
Froemming: Don’t worry, this heaviness is set aside for their amazing escape, in which Bond and Domino ride a horse off a building and into the ocean (the horse survives). I was not impressed with this. It was something out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Bond and others figure out the location of the Tears of Allah, an underground oasis where Largo has stashed the warheads (well, one of them at least). I don’t know, I was getting pretty bored with the film at this point, and more scuba scenes certainly wasn’t helping at all. But a firefight breaks out between Largo’s henchmen and what I assumed was U.S. and British military in this subterranean cavern where THERE IS A NUCLEAR BOMB!
Brown: There’s also a part where Bond and Domino share a shower together because NOTHING is more important than old Bond hooking up with a woman. Not even all-out nuclear destruction. Not like there’s a war criminal out there, guys.
It’s at this point in the movie where I was bored as well. Folks, there’s a reason why water levels in video games are typically universally hated. This movie (and “Thunderball”) were probably the genesis of this idea. This is why “Waterworld” didn’t work as a movie.
From here, I honest to goodness don’t remember how this movie ends. Like, I know Largo dies thanks to a speargun from Domino. But that’s it. Then I know that Bond and Domino end up together and we get a cheesy ending where the screen closes around a winking Bond. He may as well be Porky Pig saying “That’s all, folks!”
Froemming: To be 100 percent honest here folks, we had to binge these movies quickly because we didn’t know how long they would be streaming on Hulu (Amazon pulled them right after we watched “The Living Daylights”), and we are watching “Fuller House” as well, so there are going to be some gaps.
The ending does have a play on the the whole Connery angle. He famously said, when asked, he would never again play Bond. Then he did this movie and when Nigel asks him to return to MI6, he says something like never again. He also throws Nigel in the pool. And with that, we come to the end of Connery’s run as 007. Brown, let’s ride our horses off a cliff and dive into the ocean of recommendations.
Would you recommend?
Froemming: While not a very good Bond movie, I’d say check it out for Connery’s performance and seeing the weird moment when there were two competing Bond films (this was up against “Octopussy” and neither are very good. We deserved better, I think). It was also his last rodeo in the role. If you are just starting the franchise and want to dip your toes in, stay away from this one.
Brown: I think it’s a fine movie but I wouldn’t recommend it. Yeah, I know the history with the lawsuit and Connery, but it just feels like a bootleg movie to me. You’ll get enjoyment out of watching it as long as you haven’t really watched a lot of Bond movies previously. Otherwise, it’s just kind of awkward.