First of all, I never said that spy month was going to be a CONSECUTIVE 31 days. Right? *checks with lawyer, who nods solemnly* Right. Cool. Okay, if you want to read the other blog posts you can do so here.
Yes, It’s JUST a Trilogy
In this weird shadow universe where tyrannical television hosts now run nations, I refuse to let one more injustice tip the scales. So, we’re not going to acknowledge any of the Bourne films beyond Ultimatum. You know that a series has really given up when they give up their title schemes (Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum/Legacy) and just go “ah, well I guess we could just call it JASON Bourne.” Seriously? You couldn’t even do “Bourne: Jason” as a clever call out to Bond?
Anyways, I know I tell you guys to fight me a lot when you’re holding opinions that are different than mine, but you can fight me if you think Legacy and Jason Bourne were actually good movies.*
*By the end of spy month, I’m just going to be fending off strangers with my jiu jitsu skills 24/7 as I get tackled in the streets by the populous of Los Angeles with terrible taste.
Why Bourne Beats Bond
Look at this poster. I would stand in line for this poster.**
**Get it? It’s a Moby joke. If you don’t get this great joke, stop everything and go re-listen to Extreme Ways, aka the greatest theme song in spy movie history, and its 27 remixes come back an enlightened human being with good music taste. I’ll wait.
So, I was going to go through each movie and do a film-school-style analysis about why these action sequences are some of the best in spy movie history, I decided that was boring and just want to talk about the ways in which this movie is better than Bond.
And I say this AS A JAMES BOND FAN. I love the silliness and the fun of Bond, even as I cringe at how disposable the sex objects are. (I refuse to call them female characters, because ‘Pussy Galore’ ain’t a character, fam.)
So here are my reasons:
Bourne’s got much more to overcome. I don’t know about you, but life is hard when I forget an actor’s name and resort to a series of statements like “the one with the hair” to try and narrow down who I’m talking about. Bourne starts the trilogy with no idea who he is, which is most of us after a night of drinking. Can you take out assassins sent to kill you after a night of pounding shots? No. You’d get shot. In this TED Talk,
Bourne’s underdog status makes the wins so much more satisfying. Bond’s got a whole organization (usually) backing him up. I think Bourne taps into a little bit more of our “watch the whole thing burn” impulse whenever intelligence community conspiracies surface. The trend of “EVERYONE IS CORRUPT” themes in our spy films isn’t a coincidence, and it’s kind of nice seeing this rogue crusader evading the government and making them look like idiots. There’s some escapism here, and we’re rooting for this guy in a way that I think hits deeper than Bond. Outlandish villains are so much of a mainstay in today’s politics that it almost hits too close to home.
Lessons Writers Can Learn from the Bourne Trilogy
If you’re writing within the spy genre, you have to give your hero some creative wins that put us squarely in their corner. Everything else — ethical conflicts of those who operate in the shadows, conspiracy of organizations gone off the rails, action scenes — is irrelevant if your hero kinda sucks at their job. In a spy thriller, you need to capitalize on the escapism of the highly competent lone wolf beating the odds.
One of my favorite scenes from Bourne encapsulates this. It’s not a huge action scene, and Bourne is just breaking into a safe. But the way it’s shot, the cleverness of our protagonist — it’s the certifiable “trailer moment” that takes a simple task (breaking into a safe) and turning it into a win that undermines the enemy and highlights Bourne’s special skills in a different way while making us cheer for him.
Here it is, from the Bourne Ultimatum: