In the latest look back at a long-running series, I’ve decided to look at everyone’s favourite amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne. Robert Ludlum’s antidote to Bond has been knocking around for a while, and has not let his author’s passing and Matt Damon’s temporary departure slow the pace.
THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) The first, leanest, and in my opinion the best Bourne movie, IDENTITY stood out from fellow spy actioners in the early 2000s. Doug Liman might not be as dynamic a director as Paul Greengrass, but he coaxes two great performances from Damon and Franka Potente and his action is beautifully unfussy. The mythology is kept vague but implications are intriguing, assassins (notably a bookish-looking Clive Owen with a hunting rifle) could be brushed past on the street and you really believe Bourne could just melt away.
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) Greengrass arrived in the Bourne franchise like a freight train. SUPREMACY’s plot is a little messier, but the momentum never ceases and the trend was set for immediate hand-held action that has only just started to fall out of favour twelve years later. Yes, you can blame this movie for sloppy, rating-chasing action movie editing (it looked good in 2004…) Some of the cast might be annoyed their characters were knocked off early, but their space is filled admirably by a more active Nikki (Julia Stiles) and the caring face of espionage Pam Landy (Joan Allen).
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007) The most linear Bourne film, plot-wise, but ULTIMATUM boasts immediate, frenetic action and puts you right in the heart of everything that is going on. The camerawork can be more jarring than immersive at times, and while I quite like the conversations shot not just over-the-shoulder but from behind whole bodies with elusive glimpses of the tense participants, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. They still don’t address how Bourne can get round the world without changing his face (I don’t care how many passports you have – it still looks like you!) but if you go with it it’s a thrilling conclusion to the story.
THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) Then they made LEGACY. Or at least writer Tony Gilroy did. few writers can direct, and vise versa. This was more of a glorified placeholder for when Damon and Greengrass decided to come back. Jeremy Renner usually makes for a compelling lead or at the very least characterful support, but his Bourne-replacement Aaron Cross (I’m actually amazed I remembered his name without Wikipedia) is just vanilla up until a seriously stupid late plot revelation where he becomes a bit of an insult to a large portion of society. Add to this run-of-the-mill villains and constant reminders of a better film you could be watching (it takes place concurrently with Ultimatum) and you end up with a waste of your time.
JASON BOURNE (2016) It seems like Greengrass wanted to do a film about the Greek austerity riots and/or CIA/NSA surveillance, but then he remembered Bourne and decided to fold these real-world events back into the spy’s ongoing exploits to make sure audiences went to watch it. This soft reboot is certainly relevant and it moves along excitingly enough, but it’s consciously ticking boxes and it artificially creates a new mystery for Bourne to solve and asks you to suspend your disbelief a little too much.While it’s good to see him return, Damon clearly had to put in very little effort beyond getting back into lean, mean shape.
Would I watch more Bourne if they made them? Probably. Would I rush to see it now they’re clearly cattle-prodding it to keep the story going? Probably not. SSP