Actors and Allies
The best among many things that I love about Never Say Never Again is that it's the swan song from Connery that we deserve. His performances in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever were miserable, but in NSNA he's right at home. He may not be as spry, but he's as relaxed, engaged, and funny as he was in Thunderball.
M's relationship with Bond is curious. Bernard Lee's M was often cranky, but NSNA turns that way up. We see right away that Edward Fox's M has little use for the whole Double-O division, but he's also not too keen on Q-Branch. When Bond meets Q, that whole department has been largely de-funded and shoved into a sub-basement. M gives away his disdain for gadgets when Bond suggests that SPECTRE may have used a fake eye to put real nukes on the missing missiles. M practically rolls his own eyes right out of his head.
He's also frustrated with Bond personally. His response to news of the attack on Bond at Shrublands is, "Caught you seducing his wife, did he?" He also says that he's tempted to suspend Bond for his attitude, which seems unreasonable in the context of the scene, but really drives home that this is not the M we're used to.
That's really the major arc for the movie though. Bond doesn't change significantly as a result of his mission. He makes some noise at the end about retiring, but with a literal wink. The character who changes is M, who finally sees the value of Bond and the Double-Os once they save the world. By the end of the film, M's ready to send Bond out on more missions, hinting at future movies from Kevin McClory and Connery.
Those never happened of course, though McClory said in interviews at the time that he intended to do more. But as successful as NSNA was, no one was clamoring for a whole series of Thunderball remakes; the only Bond story McClory had the right to produce.
In keeping with the downsizing of his department, Q's attitude towards Bond is way different in NSNA than it is in the Eon movies. He's no longer a member of the establishment, so he doesn't have the same irritation at Bond's irreverence. In fact, he says that he's looking forward to the return of some "gratuitous sex and violence." The movie makes it clear though that this Q is not Major Boothroyd from the Eon films, but someone named Algernon.
Sadly, NSNA doesn't do well by Moneypenny. She comes across as dim-witted and never in on the joke. When Bond tells her that his mission is to "eliminate all free radicals," her response is an overly earnest, "Oh! Do be careful!" And when Bond chastises her for working late, saying that she should be in bed, she has no clue she's making a double-entendre when she replies, "We both should!"
I love Bernie Casey as Felix. He's my favorite of the actors to play that character up to this point. The part isn't written any more strongly than it is in the Eon productions, but Casey makes it memorable. Not just because he's a different race from the traditional Felix, but because he gives the character some personality besides just tagging along and watching Bond work. The only other actor I can think of that was able to do that was Jack Lord, but the personality he brought was kind of cranky. Casey's Felix has an easy, believable camaraderie with Bond. It's easy to imagine these guys as old friends.
As in Thunderball, Bond has a local agent assisting him. This time, it's Nicole (Agent 326). She's okay, but she's intentionally written as being green, unlike Thunderball's agent Paula who was experienced, tough, and brave. Instead of committing suicide to protect secrets, Nicole is simply murdered by Fatima.
The MVP of Bond's NSNA allies though is Nigel Small-Fawcett played by Rowan Atkinson. It's Atkinson's first feature film, but he'd already had success doing sketch comedy on British TV and had just started Black Adder when NSNA came out. By which I mean that he knew what he was doing and he's freaking hilarious. My favorite bit is when he's telling Bond about all of Largo's charity work and Bond adds, "I'm sure he's very nice to his mother." Nigel looks very pensive as he helpfully replies, "Don't know his mother..."
"To be perfectly honest, there was this girl in Philadelphia," to Fatima's insistence that making love to her was the greatest pleasure of his life.
But there are several good ones, so a couple of honorable mentions:
"Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir," after M's explanation that free radicals are toxins caused by consuming too much red meat, white bread, and dry martinis.
"I shouldn't have the fish," to party goers as Bond takes away a groaning bouncer whom he's just punched in the stomach.
"You could write a very binding contract with this," concerning Q's rocket pen.
The rocket pen comes in handy and so does the laser watch. Those are the two, personal-sized pieces of equipment that Bond uses.
Q also sends him a motorcycle, but it's disappointing compared to vehicles in the Eon series. It has a cool turbo boost that shoots flame out the back, but other than some questionable bumpers, it's really just a cool-looking bike. I kept expecting to see some rockets, but I must have been confusing it with Fiona's ride in Thunderball.
I hesitate to mention the XT-7B missile-fired hover platforms that Bond and Felix use, because they're US Navy property and not MI6 (like M would ever spring for those), but they're pretty cool and worth at least a shout-out.
Top Ten Gadgets
1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
5. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
6. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
7. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
8. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)
9. Ski pole rocket (The Spy Who Loved Me)
10. Magnetic buzzsaw watch (Live and Let Die)
Bond's Best Outfit
And I'm not just saying that to butter up Kelly. It's even better since that's what Bond's companion was wearing in the scene before.
Bond's Worst Outfit
I know he was just working out, but he has better exercise wear in this movie than this plain, frumpy sweatsuit.