“Jesus Christ, thats..”
Hello 4381 Productions,
Gadgets, girls, gin, and gut-wrenching stunts are just a few things that come to mind when I think about what makes spy movies. Every good spy movie has them or its own version of these ideas, even the bad ones. Before the early 2000s, audiences lived in a world where the biggest spy thrills were coming out of the James Bond franchise led by Pierce Brosnan in the 90s. While Brosnan’s first entry into the franchise, Goldeneye (1995) was a critical and commercial success that many claimed was a fresh new style for Bond, the subsequent sequels drained interest in the genre from audiences. When Jason Bourne came on the scene in 2002 with his debut film The Bourne Identity, people felt as if the spy genre had been reinvigorated with new life once again. And while I agree the Bourne films were necessary in advancing the genre forward, I find Bourne himself to be the least compelling lead character in any spy flick.
Two major spy films were released in 2002, the 4th Brosnan Bond film Die Another Day and The Bourne Identity. If Goldeneye was a fresh new start Bond, then Die Another Day was a return to form. After two fine sequels to Goldeneye and the Bond franchise slowly dying (as usual), the producers of Bond films were willing to try anything with this 4th entry. This Bond film features all of the ridiculous concepts you would see featured more in a Roger Moore Bond film. Things like mechanical suits that give electrical powers, an ice fortress, surfing giant waves with a hand glider, a bodyguard with diamonds ingrained in his face, and plenty of other outlandish ideas. Needless to say audiences didn’t respond well to this, the followup sequel was turned into a video game and the Brosnan Bond era was over.
As it turns out, audiences were looking for something new, something real, and along came Jason Bourne. The Bourne Identity was released the same year as Die Another Day, but managed to be more successful because of it’s gritty realistic take on the genre and intricate plot. Bourne and the original 2 sequels are all stylized in the same way with lots of handheld camera, practical stunts, real locations, and non-stop action all featuring Matt Damon. Both Bond and Bourne films did relatively well at the box office, but critically Bourne was better received. And don’t get me wrong, I think these movies are good in their own right, but the character of Jason Bourne is lacking and boring, which in turn drags down the compelling nature of the series.
Bourne never has any real problems. Sure he can’t remember who he is and he’s always running from someone who’s trying to kill him, but he is so highly trained and skilled that it is impossible for him to lose. He never loses a fight, ever. He’s incredibly intelligent, resourceful, and has no exploitable weaknesses (besides just shooting him, but no one can seem to do that). Even when Bourne uncovers another revelation about himself, it is hard to find it compelling when it doesn’t really change anything. And while all of this makes for some great action scenes, Bourne is the same character from the beginning of each film to their conclusions only with more knowledge of his sketchy past. In response to this style of spy movie, the next era of Bond led by Daniel Craig took a lot of pages out of Bourne’s book. Featuring gruesome scenes of Bond getting tortured and showing vulnerability in the character is what continues to make Bond relevant today.
Characters in fictions aren’t supposed to be perfect, they’re supposed to be flawed, they’re supposed to go through a problem, and make a change, but Jason Bourne has no flaws and doesn’t change. Even Superman is weak against kryptonite and despite being the strongest super hero in fiction, he is still flawed and he can lose. This is what makes god-like characters compelling, giving reasons for their stories to be shared on the big screen, because they aren’t perfect and like us, they can make changes too.