Never Say Never Again exists to settle scores. Alternate Bond svengali Kevin McClory was originally involved in an early, unsuccessful attempt to steer the character towards the big screen in the late 1950s. The bones of this pitch, a script entitled Longitude 78 West, was later rewritten by Ian Fleming into his eighth 007 novel Thunderball.
McClory's contribution was not credited, prompting him to take Fleming to court, scoring a heart attack for the ailing author and a slew of future filmmaking rights for McClory. Armed with The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner and $36 million, McClory and his partners at Warner Bros wrangled a 1983 release date to go head-to-head with Eon's Octopussy.
Sean Connery's involvement skews into spite. The star wanted to stick it to his ex-producer Cubby Broccoli by proving that he was more than just a muscle-bound prop. The actor agreed to return for this unofficial, Brand X Bond in exchange for greater creative input, a boon Broccoli was reluctant to grant him. Connery's notes ran from the ridiculous to the pretty decent. A mooted stinger involving Connery and his rival Roger Moore bumping into each other was mercifully junked but Connery's insistence that the project shell out for established acting talent does help smooth the re-telling.
Max von Sydow is a pleasingly pompous Blofeld. Although barely seen, he makes an impression issuing orders to a room full of psychotic monsters disguised as boring, middle-managers. Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo is markedly different from Adolfo Celi's burly science pirate too. Brandauer and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr's take is both fey and sexually dysfunctional, a peeping tom who treats Kim Basinger's Domino like a particularly well-bred dog.
Even when she's receptive to his advances he doesn't know what to do with her, nipping and tasting her hair rather than going in for a kiss. He's recognisably the kind of man who would risk putting his billion dollar plot in jeopardy just to score a few points over Connery's mucho macho Bond. Largo is desperate to prove he's the better man. It doesn't hurt that Brandauer resembles a genetic mix of Benny Urquidez and Christopher Nolan either, he's the personification of bored, moneyed Eurotrash.
Barbara Carrera is even better as Fatima Blush, a flamboyant SPECTRE assassin who dresses like a head-on collision between a harlequin and a Replicant. Blush acts like Wile E Coyote in heat, a jittery murderer who doesn't know if she wants to fuck or bury her enemies. She's wild and unpredictable, a much more exciting take on a featured female antagonist than Maud Adams' deathly dull Octopussy.
Connery was also adamant that Bond's age should be addressed. This 007 is initially positioned as anachronistic, failing a grandiose Central American war game thanks to his latent chivalry / sexism. Despite having a decade and change on his Diamonds Are Forever turn, Connery looks far sharper. He's tanned and trim, shorn of the boozy affectation that crept into his later secret agent performances.
Sean Connery instantly confers quality to the production. He's still cool as fuck, still able to effortlessly convey an almost bottomless sense of belligerence. So even though Never Say Never Again is both overlong and, one shark sequence aside, lacking the mad bastard stunts that power John Glen's James Bond films, Connery's mere presence reminds us of a time when these films were legitimate, credible thrillers rather than just drip-fed cartoons. Irvin Kershner's handsome take never really comes close to eclipsing the strange, alien cruelty of Terence Young's, but it is, at least, an interesting remix.