The moment Sean Connery steps back into the shoes of James Bond, you realise how different (and much worse) Roger Moore’s version of the character actually is. Connery is confident without being arrogant, suave without being creepy and comical without being silly. He feels like the polar opposite to Moore. Add to that one of the better “Bond” films for the character and you get a welcome return for the ageing actor.
That is the first thing that is noticeable and thankfully acknowledged. While Roger Moore, three years older than Connery but playing it as if he is half the age, is still pretending to ski, kick-ass and jump from trains, Connery’s Bond recognises his characters obvious limitations. From the very beginning “M” tells Bond he is too old to be in the field and needs to cut out the red meat, drink and bread! (“I’ll cut out the bread” comes Bond’s obvious reply). Showcasing the ongoing adventures of a 00-spy returning to the fold makes for a more refreshing version of the now long-worn character and nobody is better suited to portray this side of Bond than Connery.
That doesn’t mean the character is using a zimmer-frame and struggling to climb stairs. Connery is giving as good as he gets and getting just as involved as he always used to. From the very beginning he is throwing himself through windows and man-handling henchmen (or at least a stuntman playing Bond is). The first act even has an impressive fight sequence involving Bond versus rent-a-hulk Pat Roach.
In fact, Never Say Never Again has plenty of good action sequences which keep an ageing Bond busy. This feels like the first time we see Bond on a motorbike and the results are decent, if not breathtaking. Gun fights, a temple showdown and (thankfully) some quick and not too protracted underwater sequences flesh out the movie.
I have made no secret of my dislike for Thunderball, of which Never Say Never Again is a “remake.” This version does away with the worst aspects of that, namely the long-winded underwater battles which are dull to watch. Instead we get a more 80s feel to the action, including the new addition of a deadly videogame, something you can’t help feeling isn’t very “Bond.”
It does make for some good face-offs between Bond and the main villain, Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Largo. He is a creepy, ruthless and although generic, a pretty effective Bond villain. He does well to match Connery in the required scenes and just about convinces as lover for Kim Basinger’s Domino.
To say Basinger is a Bond Girl is a strange accolade (and some would argue she doesn’t technically count, which I’ll get to later) but she fits the bill well. She is obviously very attractive, matches Bond in conversation (and dancing) and makes for a classic Bond Girl, mixing damsel-in-distress with welcome distraction. You never really focus on the clear age-gap between the two which helps as well.
Basinger doesn’t count as a Bond Girl though, and Never Say Never Again doesn’t count as a Bond film. Technically, because it isn’t an EON production, it doesn’t fit with the wider continuity and franchise. For the Bond fanatics this will matter but on a more casual basis, it is also glaringly obvious. There are parts of the Bond franchise that feel essential for a Bond film to work.
There is no walk-on gunshot, no title song and accompanying, visual titles, no Q or recognisable M or regular Moneypenny (but very strange “versions” of the two), a strange Blofeld stand-in, who although played by Max Von Sydow, pales in comparison to Donald Pleasance. Worst of all though, and a very notable absentee, is the Bond theme. It isn’t a Bond film without that music and Never Say Never Again, although it has the original Bond, suffers because it doesn’t feel like a proper Bond film.
Overall, although I enjoyed Never Say Never Again more than any of Roger Moore’s attempts to be Bond, it seems you need more than just Connery to deliver a Bond film. A solid villain, great action and a sexy Bond Girl don’t work if you don’t have the regular actors, the usual set-up and of course that iconic theme.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)