The Bourne movies revisited

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After watching Tenet , Siggy and I wanted to watch an action-packed espionage movie that was more grounded in reality and told in a linear way. Siggy had been suggesting we revisit the Bourne series of films, so that’s just what we did. It was fun to watch all 5 films over the course of three days, and I’m pleased to say that they stand up to repeated viewing – even the one without Matt Damon. Matt Damon!! Shout it loud and shout it proud. As you might expect there’s a few spoilers below. Consider yourself warned.

The Bourne Identity (2002) is where it all began for Damon in the titular role. Was it really 19 years ago? Doug Liman rather than Paul Greengrass was sitting in the director’s chair. Greengrass directed the sequels and that other Damon action film Green Zone. There’s so much to like about The Bourne Identity in terms of it’s gritty realism, the action sequences and the car chase which, ignoring how nippy and indestructible that beat-up looking Mini is, is a classic. It out-Bonded the Bond movies and also showed up the Mission: Impossible films. This was how to make a spy movie and there’s been a lot of imitations since.

It’s worth noting that in Robert Ludlum’s books Jason Bourne is a surprisingly unlikeable character who pretty much kidnaps the woman involved. In the film version Marie (Franka Potente) is treated rather better but apart from that the film is quite similar to original novel – not something that can be said for the any of the other films in the trilogy.

At the time The Bourne Identity was released Matt Damon didn’t have a reputation as an action hero, and in much the same way that Bruce Willis didn’t seem to fit into his seminal role in Die Hard, it’s only in hindsight that we can recognise what great casting this was. Damon brings a humanity to the role of the amnesiac assassin and it is therefore all the more shocking when his muscle memory kicks in and he beats seven shades of crap out of the bad guys.

Clive Owen is also pretty good as the philosophical sniper ‘The Professor’ sent by CIA bosses Abbott (Brian Cox) and Conklin (Chris Cooper) to kill Bourne. When he meets his comeuppance at the hands of the relentless Bourne, as he is dying he says “Look at us. Look at what they make you give…” I’m not a big fan of Owen but it’s a great scene.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) sees Franka Potente sadly written out of proceedings – a serious case of ‘fridging’ – Karl Urban (The Boys) plays Kirill the Russian killer sent to Goa to take Bourne out, but he accidentally shoots Marie. Bourne has been framed by Kirill’s boss a naughty Russian Gretkov (Karel Roden) in a CIA operation gone bad in Berlin. The CIA guys involved in the original Treadstone cover-up try their best to limit the damage by once more going after Bourne. Joan Allen is great as the level-headed CIA boss Pamela Landy who suspects Brian Cox’s character Ward Abbott of being up to no good.

Bourne gets caught in Naples and takes down his interrogator. He copies the SIM card from his mobile phone and so identifies Landy and learns about the frame-job. Bourne visits an ex-Treadstone operative in Munich and ends up blowing up his house. He then calls Landy and demands a meet-up with former Treadstone support technician Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles).

He finds out from Nicky that Abbott not Conklin (who was bumped off in Identity) was head of Treadstone. Bourne visits the hotel where he killed a politician called Neski. He remembers Neski’s wife showing up unexpectedly and shooting her, making it look like a murder-suicide. Bourne tapes a conversation between Abbott and Gretkov about the theft of the $20 million implying that Abbott used Bourne to bump off Neski for him. Bourne confronts Abbot but doesn’t kill him. Instead Abbott commits suicide in front of Landy. In her hotel room she discovers an envelope containing an incriminating tape of Abbott’s conversations.

Bourne goes to Moscow and is wounded by hitman Kirill. Kirill chases Bourne in another great car chase. Bourne walks away from the resultant wreckage, leaving Kirill to bleed out. Gretkov is arrested. Bourne locates Neski’s daughter and apologizes to her for killing her parents. Later in New York City, Bourne calls Landy. She tells him his name was David Webb and his date of birth. Bourne says, “Get some rest, Pam. You look tired.” It’s a classic ending, and something we see reprised in the next film. Cue Moby.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) sees Nicky Parsons more involved in the story and trying to help Bourne. There is a hint at some kind of history between the pair of them but it’s not revealed exactly what that history is. The movie starts with Bourne still reeling from his encounter with Kirill in Moscow and evading the local police.

Meanwhile, Investigative journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) meets an informant in Turin to learn about the CIA’s black ops including Treadstone. Bourne reads Ross’s article in The Guardian newspaper and arranges a meeting with him in London at Waterloo station, which was back then the terminus for the Eurostar. Ross is killed by sniper Paz (Édgar Ramírez) on orders of Deputy Director of the CIA Noah Vosen (David Strathairn).

Bourne tries to track down Ross’s informant, Daniels, in Madrid. Nicky Parsons, who has conveniently relocated to Madrid, tells Bourne that Daniels has fled to Tangier. Vosen realises that Nicky is helping Bourne and orders a local asset to kill both of them after he’s blown up Daniels. However, after some dicking around on mopeds and across rooftops (including a brilliantly filmed leap from roof through window) Bourne kills the assassin.

Landy gets that phone call from Bourne – a brilliant call back to Supremacy. Landy gives him the D.O.B. 4/15/71. Vosen realises that this is code for a location of a hospital because Webb was actually born in November. He leaves his office with a tactical team (why he doesn’t stay put is curious) and warns Dr Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney) that Bourne is coming for him. Bourne detours to steal a bunch of classified Blackbriar documents from Vosen’s office.

Vosen sends Paz after Bourne and there’s another car chase which again ends like it did in Supremacy. However, Paz doesn’t bleed out. Bourne arrives at the hospital, meets Landy and gives her the Blackbriar files. Bourne meets Dr Hirsch and remembers volunteering for the programme and shooting a cowering hooded captive as a test of his commitment. He goes to escape via the roof, but is confronted by Paz.

“Why didn’t you take the shot?” Paz asks. Bourne asks him if he knows why he’s been ordered to kill him and repeats the dying words of The Professor from Identity. Paz lets him go, but Vosen shoots at Bourne as he jumps into the river. At the end of the film, Nicky watches the TV news about the criminal investigation into Blackbriar, and Bourne’s missing body. Nicky smiles. In a call-back scene to the opening scene of Identity A floating Bourne twitches into life and swims away. Cue Moby.

The Bourne Legacy (2012) features a genetically enhanced super-spy (Jeremy Renner) who runs out of performance enhancing drugs and wants a refill, with references to the previous trilogy along the way. To add peril, the powers that be are closing down the project in which he is the 5th operative of 9 because of the inquiry Jason Bourne triggered around Treadstone. A new character is added to the mix in the form of a culpable scientist who helps do the tests on the super-spies – played very well by Rachael Weiss.

I’ve warmed to the film since my first review of The Bourne Legacy here, but it is inescapably derivative of the original trio of films: close-up fisticuffs, running around rooftops, sniping, an innocent woman to protect, the CIA tracking our hero, and a rival agent sent in to clean up when the locals get their asses kicked up, down and all around.

When I first it, I left the cinema feeling a little disappointed at the lack of spectacle, the relatively low-key ending and a sense that the filmmakers had missed some glorious opportunities. This time around I was a little more forgiving and thought the filmmakers did a very good job of fitting it in to the wider story.

Jason Bourne (2016) brings back the A-Team of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass. The plot revolves around Richard Webb’s (the father of David Webb’s a.k.a. Jason Bourne) involvement in the Treadstone project and also a new CIA surveillance programme related to the launch of a new social media platform Deep Dream. You can read my longer review written after my first viewing here: Jason Bourne.

A very personal revenge story ups the ante beyond the supposed resolution provided in The Bourne Ultimatum and gives Bourne the motivation he needs to punch his way through another sequel. Unfortunately Nicky gets fridged early on by the asset (Vincent Cassel) sent to kill Bourne.

This is a very solid sequel and it was great to see Julia Stiles reprising her role as Nicky Parsons, but it’s not without its (minor) faults. For example, the dialogue between the CIA people and in particular one bit of dialogue between Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider) and Jones makes zero sense and a hacker says ‘use SQL to corrupt their databases’ it’s a legit technique but would one hacker really say that to another? The physics is also up the spout during the final car chase and I’m sure I saw one car flip before the SWAT van got anywhere near it. These are minor niggles at a film that was certainly better than Spectre imo. Shame about that Moby track.

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