Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Never Say Never Again’
by Ben Martin
Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 20th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s top secret, unofficial mission: Never Say Never Again (1983)!
It’s been rumored that two huge franchises would embrace a concept popularized by comic books — multiverses. It’s been all but confirmed that Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films are adapting the Flashpoint storyline via the eventual solo movie, The Flash (scheduled for 2022). Hence, Michael Keaton‘s rumored return as Batman. Meanwhile, over at Disney/LucasFilm, there have been whispers that a potential Star Wars multiverse is in the works to eliminate the recent highly-divisive sequel trilogy (2015-2019). Before every franchise in the film industry was creating cinematic universes or multiverses, only one attempted to execute multiple realities, if just by accident. By their unofficial nature alone, the spy spoof Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again took place in alternate timelines as they are not produced, nor sanctioned as in-continuity, by EON Productions.
The origins of Never Say Never Again can be traced back to 1959 when Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were still courting Ian Fleming for Bond’s film rights. It was around this time writer Kevin McClory convinced EON Productions to let him co-script an underwater adventure with Fleming. Of course, no one knows how much or what aspects each of these gentlemen contributed to the story. However, Fleming then used this same story as the basis for his ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball (1961). Following the book’s publication, McClory sued the 007 creator for plagiarism. In the end, the 1967 verdict gave McClory original story and producer credits for the film adaptation of Thunderball. More importantly, though, McClory was also given the right to remake Thunderball after a decade.
There were some other caveats attached to McClory’s remake rights, however. Firstly, his film could only be based on the screenplay for Thunderball, due to his co-scripting it. Additionally, McClory and company could not use any material from Fleming’s novel, with the apparent exception of a handful of characters. Finally, the production was not legally allowed to utilize the iconic opening gun barrel sequence or any Bond musical themes.
By the time these legalities were set in stone, McClory had spent a considerable chunk of change on the court proceedings against EON Productions. Thus, the writer-turned executive producer and rights holder sought to recoup some of his cash as soon as possible. Alas, McClory would spend almost the next fifteen years trying to get his remake off the ground. But, no matter the year, McClory was going to be contending with the official Bond film franchise. As such, he needed an edge to attract a distributor and finally put his film into pre-production.
This edge came in the form of none other than the original James Bond himself, Sean Connery (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Despite perpetually swearing-off his iconic role after Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Connery needed to go back to Bond almost as severely as McClory did. Frankly, by the early 80s, the actor’s career was on a steep downslide. Therefore, the leading man did what he needed to do to get his career back on solid ground; he returned to what made him a star. On the one hand, this choice was entirely practical. But, on the other hand, Connery seemingly committed to being Bond again as a means of sticking it to his old producer, “Cubby” Broccoli, with whom his relationship had soured.
As part of his deal, Connery would earn a $3 million salary, plus 15% of the gross profits. Perhaps more importantly, though, Connery was allotted significant creative control on this film, including script oversight and approval of the director and his major co-stars. Beyond all that, it turns out Connery would, according to legend, unwittingly be responsible for this picture’s title as well. Twelve years earlier, the actor had said that he would never play 007 again. Of course, upon recanting and reprising the role, albeit unofficially, Connery’s wife jokingly said, “Never say never again.” This origin seems a little too convenient and cutesy for my money, but oh well.
With Connery attached, McClory made a deal with Warner Bros. and Telefilm to finance and distribute the film. At this point, it seemed Never Say Never Again, a bit of gimmick film in its own right, was going to become even more gimmicky. I’m referring to the fact that this unofficial 007 adventure went up against the 13th official EON Productions entry, Octopussy (1983), starring Roger Moore. Both movies opened four months apart. But, before that face-off happened, Never Say Never Again still needed to be made.
Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (Flash Gordon) was brought on to pen a script from McClory’s outline — alas, Connery did not love the result. The star attempted to recruit veteran 007 screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to rewrite the script, but he declined due to Never Say Never Again‘s unofficial nature. In the end, Dick Clement (The Prisoner of Zenda) and Ian Le Frenais wrote the final screenplay. However, it is worth noting that neither writer took credit for their work.
Now that the story for Never Say Never Again was on paper, someone needed to put it on film. Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie) was offered the reins as director, but he declined. Ultimately, Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) ended up at the helm. Thereby becoming the only American to date to direct any Bond picture and, inadvertently, making movie history,
Never Say Never Again finds an older James Bond 007 (Connery) forced into retirement by ‘M’ (Edward Fox), who has disbanded the 00 agents thanks to his general dislike of them. But he reverses the dramatic decision after S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operative Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) absconds with a couple of nuclear warheads and relocates them to a secret location. The theft then escalates to a threat of detonating the warheads to hold the globe ransom. Due to the severity of this situation, the best in the business, Bond, is tasked with infiltrating Largo’s chapter of the organization and tracking down the stolen nukes. As is his style, Bond takes the heart of Largo’s gal pal, Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger), to execute his mission. But, can the legendary 007 beat the clock?
Of course, you would not know our hero is on the clock, thanks to the languid nature of Never Say Never Again. Folks, this movie drags along just as badly as the other unofficial 007 installment, Casino Royale ’67. As a result, this in-all-but-name remake of Thunderball is devoid of any excitement and suspense (unlike that movie). Instead, the film paces painfully slowly through its bare-boned narrative. As a result, the majority of the cast gets dragged down as the story lulls onward. Heck, none of them are given much to do and they are all over-the-top in the cheesiest way possible. Notably, Max Von Sydow is all but wasted in this movie. Then again, that’s not surprising as most of the revered thespian’s scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
Connery is the only actor in the cast who brings anything to the proceedings. But again, Bond is the single character who does anything in this film. For the most part, Connery’s fun to watch here — although he, and the movie itself, are far too self-aware. Even if Connery arguably took this film for the wrong reasons, the actor still seems to be enjoying himself. Frankly, he is the only reason to watch this.
Otherwise, Never Say Never Again is a terribly crafted picture, despite Kershner’s resume and usual chops. It looks so cheap and is so cheeky in tone, that if I didn’t know any better, I would say this movie is a Cannon Films’ take on 007. As I’m sure you discerned, Never Say Never Again is a Franchise Implosion if ever I’ve seen one. In the end, it’s shockingly evident, in my humble estimation, that this dull, dull film was made for a sole reason: money.
In closing, let’s get back to the Bonds’ battle at the box-office for a moment. Never Say Never Again was budgeted at $36 million and grossed 55.4 million worldwide. However, it was outgrossed by Octopussy, which made 67.8 million worldwide. Many years later, in December of 1997, MGM acquired the rights to Never Say Never Again from Warner Bros. and Telefilm. Even still, that didn’t mean that McClory couldn’t have done another unofficial follow-up to this film. To the contrary, as late as the early aughts, he was trying to get another flick based on his portion of Thunderball into development. Had that project come to fruition, it would’ve had Timothy Dalton renew his license to kill … unofficially, of course. I, for one, I’m thankful that re-made remake never happened!
Never Say Never Again is Available on Home Video
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Goldeneye (1995)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 20th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
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:
The Living Daylights:
Licence to Kill:
Casino Royale (1967):