James Bond movies in recent years have fallen short of the standards set by their predecessors. Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and, of course, Sir Sean Connery, raised the bar in spy/action movies to an unprecedented level; one too high for the efforts of newcomers Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig (the ‘blonde Bond’).
They are not to blame. A heavily-accented, stiff upper-lipped Brit, beating up bad guys while donning a three-piece suit, might have impressed audiences in the 70s and 80s; but in the globalized age of high technology, and sky-high tolerance to onscreen violence, it just looks silly. Thankfully, there is something to offset the disappointment of Bond’s recent instalments: Bourne. Jason Bourne.
Audiences were introduced to Bourne in the first film of the trilogy – based on the spy novels by Robert Ludlum – “The Bourne Identity. After he is found at sea by a band of French sailors, Bourne regains consciousness with no memory of who he is, or why he is there. It soon becomes clear – via some outstanding fight and chase sequences – that he possesses seemingly superhuman abilities to beat up bad guys and escape the various intelligence agencies attempting to track him down.
Two movies later, in a role Matt Damon has come to own, Bourne is still searching for his identity, and for explanations as to why people keep trying to kill him. Viewers were taken on a wild ride in parts one and two – which included the finest car chase scene in cinematic history – and part three is every bit as gripping.
After evading the grasp of Russian security, Bourne finds himself in London, after he discovers a Guardian journalist has contacted a CIA operative with knowledge of Bourne’s background. A tantalizing meet-up takes place at the crowded Waterloo train station, all under the watch of the CIA, culminating in a supremely choreographed fight scene between Bourne and three agents.
“Jesus Christ! This is Jason Bourne! blurts a stunned CIA chief, as he looks on in horror as Bourne chops down his agents with sophisticated martial techniques. What ensues is a breathless chase around Europe, North Africa, and America, as Bourne hunts down the other, allusive CIA director with the answers he craves.
At the same time – and as in the first two movies – he has to keep off the radar, forcing him to employ all his spy savvy, and producing some delightfully intelligent espionage techniques. The audience knows what the CIA knows, but they also know Bourne doesn’t, making his success all the more satisfying.
Director Paul Greengrass pieces the movie together with considerable craft, realizing both the audience’s demand for action, as well as their need for closure. The chase scenes – down highways, through narrow backstreets, over rooftops – are spectacular and are executed with precision; while in intervals throughout the action, Bourne’s character is explored.
His limited dialogue means each rare utterance about himself carries the weight of an epiphany. “I remember every face, I just don’t know their names, he confides in CIA agent-turned friend, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), speaking of the people he kills in order to stay alive.
As the film progresses, the internal struggle between Bourne’s humanity and what he is programmed to do (kill), becomes more apparent. “Look what they ask of us – look at what they make us give up, cries Bourne, entreating an opposing agent. For a brief, poignant moment, all the neck-breaking techniques and spectacular car crashes seem less stylish than tragic.
Bourne’s inner turmoil ties in to the film’s political overtones. The depiction of the CIA is of one that has become an organization unto itself. It has passed beyond the sphere of law – targeting civilians and even its own agents for assassination – into the shadowy realm of paranoia and corruption, losing sight of its aims to serve and protect. The American army gets a rap on the knuckles too, with allusions to Abu Ghraib in scenes of torture.
But that is secondary to the movie’s meat and bones – frenetic action, espionage, and the development of a compelling storyline.
Needless to say action-junkies and those nostalgic for the glory days of Bond will be more than satisfied. But “The Bourne Ultimatum’s intelligent direction and stylish production will help it smack, bang and wallop its way into the hearts of a far wider audience.
Another feat Bond could not manage.