Which is what I would have called the second film based on Robert Ludlum’s bestselling novels, and the third would have been Bourne Three, but for the purposes of this blog post I’ll stick with the original titles, while muttering under my breath about how it would have all been so much better if they’d gone with my ideas.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Matt Damon is found floating in the sea by the crew of a fishing trawler. He has no memory of who he is or how he got there, and his back is riddled with bullets, as well as a capsule that gives him an address he can head to for the next plot coupon, a cache of money and a passport in the name of Jason Bourne. Long story short, Bourne is a super assassin who developed moral qualms on his last mission, and now his former employers – a CIA black ops programme called Operation Treadstone – are intent on terminating his employment with extreme prejudice. Cue the usual assemblage of bone crunching fights, deafening shootouts, mad car chases and the occasional explosion, with Franka Potente in the role of getaway driver come love interest. Most of this is stuff I’ve seen done before, but here pulled of with an exhilarating pace and verve, while Damon is perfectly cast as Bourne, his mostly expressionless face conveying the truth of a man without identity, and in the action scenes he is more than credible. There’s a subtext questioning the mantra that the end justifies the means, and the usual perfidy in high places. The one element that puts clear water between this and a whole host of James Bond wannabes (initials JB – should we read something into that?) is the character’s amnesia, which gives Bourne a certain vulnerability and human dimension which viewers can identify with, so that we cheer him on in his quest to learn the truth, though at the end much is still unresolved.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Like a certain green skinned behemoth, Jason Bourne just wants to be left alone, but that isn’t possible. He’s off the map in Goa with his girlfriend and supposed to be living the happy ever after when an assassin crashes into their lives. She’s killed, but unfortunately for the bad guys he isn’t. Meanwhile in Berlin a CIA operation is going south and Bourne is framed as the fall guy. And so the stage is set for grand mayhem, with Bourne always one step ahead of the CIA until the true villain of the piece is exposed. At this point, I could pretty much copy and paste my comments regarding the previous film. Bourne’s success hinges on his accessing forgotten memories, the grey clouds of amnesia dispersed. Overall it’s a fun film, with its heart in the right place, while its fists and feet are very much in your face.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Operation Blackbriar is the successor to Treadstone, with an out of control and kill happy director who doesn’t have a problem with his agents taking out American citizens, or anyone else perceived as a problem. The latest problem is a Guardian journalist with insider information about the programme, but before he can be dealt with the man makes contact with Jason Bourne, who is now intent on tracking down the whole truth about his past, how he came to be the highly trained assassin that he is. Cue all out war between Bourne and Blackbriar, and a journey back into the character’s past. where we learn about the techniques used to make a man into a ruthless killer. Again, this is very similar to the first film, offering variations on a theme rather than genuinely new material, at least as regards the action sequences. All three films are beautifully constructed and plotted, with an intelligence behind them that’s seen especially here, as the closing moments of Supremacy are recast in a different light. Throughout the assassins are referred to simply as ‘assets’, whereas for Bourne it is his humanity that triumphs over the part of him that has been turned into a machine of flesh and blood programmed to kill on orders and without question, his compassion beating the system, and the real monsters shown as those who put the system in place. The film ends as the first in the trilogy began, with Bourne’s body floating in water, seemingly lifeless, and then he rolls over and swims away.
The films also have an awesome theme tune, courtesy of Moby:-