When Sean Connery hung up the tux in 1967 after playing secret agent 007 for the fifth time in You Only Live Twice, he was replaced by George Lazenby for 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The retirement was brief, however, as Connery reprised the iconic role in 1971 for one of the franchise's worst entries to date, Diamonds Are Forever. It was at this point in history when the legendary actor stated that he would never again play the part of James Bond. Near the end of the Roger Moore era, as fate would have it, this broken promise would lead to the title of the 1983 film Never Say Never Again.
The thing to keep in mind with Never Say Never Again is that it wasn't developed by Eon Productions and therefore isn't considered to be part of the main James Bond series. Consequently, viewers won't find this entry in any of the series DVD or Blu-Ray box sets. Twenty-three James Bond movies were made by Eon between 1962 and 2012, and Never Say Never Again is one of just two non-Eon movies from this time period to feature the 007 character. The other, a comedic spoof, Casino Royale (1967), would sully the title of Ian Fleming's original novel until Daniel Craig's debut in 2006. Never Say Never Again is actually a loose remake of 1965's Thunderball which features 007 as an older agent getting closer to his retirement. Roger Moore's sixth Bond movie, Octopussy (1983), was the Eon film released in the same year as Never Say Never Again and proves an interesting comparison in regards to the age of the two most prominent actors who played Bond. Roger Moore is three years older than Sean Connery and played the role of Bond in the fourteen years that followed Connery's last Eon picture, so a script that treated an aging actor as an aging Bond was an appropriate change of pace because the complaints of Moore's seniority are certainly valid (just wait for Roger Moore's 58 year-old sex scene in A View to a Kill, 1985). As for the actual films, Octopussy takes the cake for 1983; it's my favorite of the Roger Moore era, if only surpassing Live and Let Die (1973) due to its major flaws.
That being said Never Say Never Again isn't bad and is better than at least a handful of the Eon films. Despite being a remake, it feels surprisingly different from Thunderball, and this tonal difference validates its existence. There's no reason to make an exact replica of a film like they did with Psycho in 1998, and thankfully this is not what they did here. When it comes down to it, I think, if any, Thunderball was the one to remake because, although it's good, it's a bit weaker than Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), and Goldfinger (1964, my personal favorite Bond film) and was the first time the series felt repetitive to me. You Only Live Twice (1967) still stands as incredibly unique and striking among the series, and Diamonds Are Forever (1971) was just a flop. As for the others, I don't think you can fairly put Connery in movies that weren't written for him. Lazenby may not have worked in any single other Bond movie, but he works in On Her Majesty's Secret Service because he's just that vulnerable shade of Bond one doesn't see very often which that particular story requires.
But I digress. Never Say Never Again is a different take on the story of Thunderball that legitimately feels different. Similar characters and plots feel fresh. Reimagined versions of villain Emilio Largo and girly Domino Vitali provide a more modern vision of an abusive relationship, and the people cast look and act differently than their 1965 counterparts. There's a lot of boat and water scenes, but nothing looks remotely copied from Thunderball, which in retrospect serves to the benefit of both. Felix Leiter is black for the first time. Connery is good, and the older character of Bond was well-played. Maybe it's just me, but his Scottish accent sounds more pronounced here, and his charisma still exceeds an equally or even lesser aged Moore. The film's title track, "Never Say Never Again" performed by Lani Hall, is a light and melodic soft rock song that I personally like quite a lot. I have all of the Bond themes in my iTunes library, and this is one of the 24 that gets played more frequently.
As for the Bond girls, they're nice. Claudine Auger, who original played Domino in 1965, was one of the finest Bond girls of all time, but Kim Basinger looks alright here, better than in Batman (1989), and those see-through ballet leotards push the envelope for nudity in a James Bond movie and help her make the grade. Basinger is nowhere near the fairest or the sultriest when it comes to the many actresses and models who've starred alongside 007, but she's flaunted to her potential here and character-wise does a decent job with this new version of Domino. As the secondary female character, Nicaraguan-American Barbara Carrera plays Fatima Blush, the easy vixen whose exotic charm seduces Bond and viewers alike.
All in all, Never Say Never Again is definitely worth checking out at some point if you're a fan of James Bond, particularly Connery's Bond. With continuity as loose as it gets in these movies, a remake with the same actor eighteen years later both in actuality and character doesn't really feel out of place. In my opinion, this movie ranks somewhere in the middle-back when compared to the 23 Eon films but has its unique merits that make it stand out.