2016.16: Never Say Never Again (Network Airing, HD)
It never feels like a ‘proper’ Bond film. For one thing, there’s no pre-credit gun barrel shot, and there’s no elaborate credit sequence with a Bond song… well, there’s a song, but it’s hardly a Bond song -although to be fair, that could also be said of many Bond songs since (whilst on the subject of the music, the score by Michel Legrand is an awful misjudgement throughout the film). But anyway, from the start it all just ‘feels’ wrong, that insipid song playing over the uninspired credits whilst we see Bond at work on what turns out to be a training exercise (although I pity the poor guys ‘dispatched’ by Bond, as I think the old codger forgets its playtime and goes at them for real). From that faltering start (remember those great pre-title action sequences Bond films have? Well, this one doesn’t) the film stumbles on.
Anyway, here we are folks, I’ve finally gotten around to this, the one Bond film I hadn’t yet seen. I almost wish I hadn’t bothered really as it pretty much equalled my (very low) expectations.
About the only thing interesting about Never Say Never Again is Connery returning to the character (having previously quit, twice) for his seventh and final Bond film. Beyond that, well, there’s little at all. I guess it is commendable that the subject of Connery’s age, and by inference that of Bond (Connery was 52 at time of filming), is at least alluded to, with Bond failing the training exercise (impaled by a woman, how ironic) and being put into a health spa at the start of the film. The idea of Bond being too old and possibly being put out to pasture would be expanded to better effect in Skyfall many years later, but I guess this film got there first.
Recently there has been something of a critical backlash against Spectre, the latest Bond entry. Clearly Spectre has its problems, but comments suggesting its one of the worst Bond entries are rather wide of the mark, and anyone making such comments should really take a look at Never Say Never Again. Any Bond film that has a major ‘dramatic conflict’ sequence in which Bond and the villain play a videogame (oh, so ‘eighties!) has to be seen to be believed (on the subject of seeing is believing, I was amazed when I saw on the credits that the film was directed by Irvin Kershner , who had directed The Empire Strikes Back a few years earlier. Part of me still can’t believe it).
To be fair, it was a bad time for Bond films in general. That same year Roger Moore’s Bond was depicted disarming a nuclear bomb whilst dressed as a clown in Octopussy, a definitive series lowpoint if ever there was one. I have a suspicion that Never Say Never Again may be more sophisticated than I am giving it credit for, and that some of the in-jokes/humor is quite deliberate. I have the impression that there is a distinct element of camp in the film- having seen Lorenzo Semple’s name on the credits I wasn’t surprised to see more than just a whiff of the 60s Batman and the 1980 Flash Gordon in there, as if Semple was deliberately poking fun at it all. I suspect that if watched as a parody the film probably works better. Certainly some of the casting works this way, even unintentionally, like the casting of Mr Bean as Bond’s contact in the Bahamas. Humour in Bond films always treads close to the line but in this it really slips over it, as if it is deconstructing the Bond films and their tropes. The villains murderous right-hand woman, the sadomasochistic Fatima Blush, is first seen in nurses uniform beating a patient in the health spa. Later, when she has eventually cornered Bond, rather than kill him she demands that he sign a note in writing to affirm that she was his “number one” sexual partner- Bond uses his Q-Branch fountain pen to shoot her with an explosive dart and she literally explodes. How I laughed. Bond then goes for a bike ride in his string vest and underpants (no, really).
Incredibly, at the time Never Say Never Again was held in some regard, with some reviews stating it was one of the best Bond films up to that time, and financially it was something of a hit and made a tidy profit. I guess this is the trouble with me watching it so many years later- out of the context of the time it was made/released it just looks terrible to me now, but maybe back then… I don’t know. I just can’t see it. It’s either a terrible Bond movie or a fantastic parody, I’m just not sure which.