Thursday, May 22, 2014

Aging Into (Almost) Parody: Never Say Never Again!

The Good: Decent concept, Good cast
The Bad: No stellar performances, Very predictable plot
The Basics: Sean Connery’s return to the James Bond franchise was Never Say Never Again, which is an erratic, not terribly exciting spy film.

One of two James Bond films released in 1983, Never Say Never Again takes a lot of hits for presenting an older James Bond. As Sean Connery was lured back into the role of James Bond for a film that used elements from the original script for Thunderball, Never Say Never Again went against Octopussy at the box office (they were released a few months apart) and it is derided by fans of the James Bond franchise because it was not produced by the same production company as the rest of the franchise. While there are problems with Never Say Never Again, the general concept of the film is actually one of the better ones.

Like similar films, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (reviewed here!) and The Dark Knight Rises (reviewed here!), Never Say Never Again focuses on an aging protagonist who has become disillusioned with his purpose and place in an organization that he once believed in. James Bond in Never Say Never Again is essentially working in retirement (he has been retasked from the field to teaching the next generation of spies for MI-6). The themes of aging are executed with tongue-in-cheek humor (as Bond is assigned to destroy free radicals in his body and go on a diet), so Bond is not portrayed with a brooding quality (in contrast to Admiral Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan or Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises). This diminishes the chance to bring some real character development to 007, James Bond, by truly shaking up the character. Instead after several jokes about his change in status from active agent to teacher, Bond returns to form.

After a training exercise in which Bond finds himself stabbed by the woman he was tasked to rescue, an aging James Bond is called before M for evaluation. The new M is not a fan of the “00” spies and after spending most of his time teaching, James Bond is told to start living a healthier life. Meanwhile SPECTRE has regained much of its former power and it has a new plot brewing. Having made an Air Force officer into a heroin addict and replaced his eye so it has the same retinal pattern as the American President, SPECTRE infiltrates the same hospital/spa that James Bond is staying at. When Bond is attacked by a SPECTRE thug, SPECTRE Agent 12 gets away with the Air Force Agent. After Jack infiltrates an Air Force facility, he successfully steals two warheads before he is killed by Fatima (12).

Extorted by Blofeld and billionaire industrialist Maximilian Largo, the Brits decide to reactivate the “00” program and bring James Bond back into the field. In an attempt to find where Blofeld has moved the bombs, Bond hunts Maximilian Largo. He gets close to Domino Petachi (Jack’s sister), who is dominated (essentially held hostage with emotional manipulation and weapons) by Largo. Largo sets a psychopathic Fatima against Bond and after dispatching her, Bond infiltrates Largo’s boat. Aided by Domino (who no knows about how her brother was used and killed by Largo), Bond works to recover the nuclear bombs and stop Largo.

Never Say Never Again includes all of the familiar elements of the James Bond film and, unfortunately, it does so without any genuine flair or originality. There are the obligatory chase scenes and the soundtrack that telegraphs the scene’s emotion. Bond is suitably heroic and is aided with gadgets from Q (in this case a pen gun and a rocket-enhanced motorbike). He beds a number of women based on his alleged charisma (Connery does not use his twinkling eyes or energetic smile to get laid in the film, so his multiple encounters feel more forced than organic) and is up against an adversary who has virtually limitless power and a tragic flaw. While he is obsessed with Domino, Largo’s real flaw is that he is batshit crazy and executes a ridiculous plan for SPECTRE that, because they go along with it, only seems to undermine SPECTRE’s fearsome quality. They are not the anti-MI-6; they are just an international cartel of thugs who have attracted psychopaths and crazed billionaires to their ranks.

In true James Bond form, Never Say Never Again includes a villain who is stupid enough to divulge his plans to the hero before he leaves James Bond to die. Why Largo does not kill Bond after telling him the location of the bombs is something of a mystery. But what Never Say Never Again truly lacks is a ticking clock, a sense of tension. Sure, Bond is hunting for stolen nuclear weapons, but Largo is in no hurry to use them and the film lacks a dramatic edge that makes the viewer actually care about the ordeals Bond is going through. Until the very end of the film, Bond is not on a particularly tight timetable to accomplish his goals.

Also unremarkable in Never Say Never Again is the acting. Sean Connery wanders his way through the role of James Bond and Kim Basinger is stiff more often than not as Domino. Bernie Casey and Rowan Atkinson steal their scenes as Felix Leiter and Small-Fawcett, respectively, though their parts are essentially sidekick and comic relief. Klaus Maria Brandauer plays Largo without any flair and between his performance and the lines for the character, Largo never truly comes to life. The failure for the film to address the key question of why Largo (who is rich enough to have virtually anything in the world) would get mixed up in the convoluted SPECTRE plot at the same time he is expanding his business enterprises to dominate the oil industry severely undermines the character. Largo becomes just a generic billionaire industrialist villain in Never Say Never Again.

While there are moments that Never Say Never Again shows potential, much of the film is slow-moving and uninspired, making the viewer wonder why Connery bothered to return to the franchise at all . . . instead of being thrilled that he showed up for the film.

For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever
Live And Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View To A Kill
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace


See how this film stacks up against every other movie I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a relativistic listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment