In January I learned there would be a fifth Bourne movie. As I’ve previously written, I nearly fell over. Now, with the release date only a week away and a whole rainy day all to myself, I’m doing what any serious Bourne-buff would be doing: watching the Director’s Cut of all four Bourne’s back-to-back. What makes me a fan is the plot continuity and ongoing character development between films, even the unfairly-maligned fourth instalment starring Jeremy Renner. What is absent, perhaps impossible, in all but the best one-off films is absorbingly and relevantly explicated. Character development of almost literary dimension is done here, because this franchise is going the distance, the full fifteen rounds, and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t think of a sustained feat of action film making that compares, and at the head of it all is the inimitable Jason Bourne.
A literary comparison — the relationship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, developed over the course of twenty novels, stands out in my mind as a sustained epiphany. You know you’re in the presence of genius within the first thirty pages of ‘Master and Commander’. When Bourne kisses Marie (Franka Potente) after she’s been shot in the head by the Russian assassin Kirill (Karl Urban), and lets her body float away into the deep green water, you feel a shiver. When he calls Pam Landy (Joan Allen), repeatedly, while simultaneously surveilling her, the surprise on her face makes my stomach knot. Director Doug Liman set a high bar in 2002 with ‘Bourne Identity‘, and Paul Greengrass not only cleared it in 2004 with ‘Bourne Supremacy‘, he’s been raising it ever since.
Really, the world would not be in the state it’s in if Jason Bourne were let loose. The evil masterminds behind a dozen dastardly organisations would be in line to suffer the same fate: death at the hands of a man armed with nothing but his bare hands, a wad of spearmint-flavoured chewing gum, and maybe a business-card folded into a sharp point. Bourne is a unique action hero in that he drops virtually every gun he finds. He doesn’t want to kill anyone, he acts purely in self-defence; but with so many people on the offensive, the bodies tend to pile up. It has always been a mistake to mess with Jason, but the bad-guys don’t seem to have learned their lesson, they’re always one step behind.
If only it were so in the real world. Here, all we can seem to do is wait for that guy to step on our train with that backpack; wait for that lady to wheel her suitcase into our queue at the airport; wait to see if that truck will slow down or suddenly speed up. Waiting and not knowing, having no control, are the tools of terrorism. Try as we might, we have to get lucky every day, they only have to get lucky once. That’s why Jason Bourne appeals so much: he maintains absolute agency over his own life, and he get’s business done. He’s not superhuman: he looks like shit half the time, get’s shot, beaten up, suffers intensely, just like any human being at the end of his tether. Only Bourne can’t be tethered and won’t accept the yoke; he re-writes his own destiny with every step, even if they involve some pretty extreme ways.