As Jason Bourne premiered this weekend, some of the media outlet coverage (or at least at the click-bait social media level) was of the tone “Do we need another Jason Bourne movie?”
We always need another Jason Bourne movie. Certainly as much, if not more, than the world needs yet another overbloated gaudy blingfest Bond movie. And arguably much more than a superhero or beloved sci-fi franchise reboot where devious minds fuck with what is left of our very childhood marrow.
Some of us will look for, with excitement, purpose and dedication, the next Jason Bourne movie until we are limping in to the theater on a walker taking that sweet first disabled row, to see an octogenarian Matt Damon as Jason Bourne easing on in to a narrow alleyway shuffling along in a Members Only jacket (with a hint of current day Christopher Walken or Jon Voight in his gait) wielding only his hearing aid for a weapon, with which he brains the latest Asset who tries to “bring him in” or “put him down”.
And we can affirm, for today at least, that unlike so many other franchises (what a word, a word for cruddy food, not art or even entertainment) the Jason Bourne series of films remains intact, as promised, without any meta-humour, hipster henchman or product-placement led script choices to be seen. The so-called great wits, the frat-boys running thing in Hollywood, the shlubs who write themselves into bed with anorexics and playmates alike, are as scarce as early Bourne’s memories. Unlike so much of popular (corporate) culture, film and entertainment, Bourne comes to audiences on a continuum from that first 2002 outing, trustworthy and reliable, and from a time when those words did not imply stale or dated as Millenials might have us believe today, but rather, meant worthy, quality.
Jason Bourne will still kill you if he has to with the nearest household object lying around. To be sure, nothing will ever top the self-defense, beatings and worse Bourne has delivered to his attackers with, alternately, a pen, a magazine, or a book in the earlier films, but whatever on this earth ever could? It speaks to the very heart of writers and readers. Spycraft is so elite, so 1%. It was always for the privileged, and lately, the hackers. But dirty, smart street fighting and wily ways, that’s the domain of the self-made, the rebel, the survivor. Our Jason Bourne is a hero of a different stripe who’s never lost his hardcore, who’s never sold out, who, we hope and almost even resort to prayer, never will.
And the Bourne series, like the character, stands in contrast to that too-rich, beautiful but increasingly empty thrill we look for in Bond. Bourne emerged from the classic espionage book series from an earlier era, always in counter to the 007 narrative. The films seemed custom designed to reboot the Bond franchise from the outside for audiences- appearing on screen a full three years before Bond’s people took a page from Bourne’s successful gritting up of the Spy Game themselves with Daniel Craig in the Bond seat. The empire was threatened by a young upstart from another rich and largely untapped literary canon, and it came via an upstart actor who looked almost too baby faced to pull it off, whose scarily innocent looks & unlined face, as far from thoughts of a chilled martini as one could possibly get, were the perfect delivery system for this new icon to become cinema’s resident badass. Bourne owes more to Charles Bronson & Clint Eastwood film era anti heroism than to Bond, he was always a throwback, stripped down, needing only one pair of jeans and a sturdy jacket, and his own ingenuity and natural/bred killing/killer instincts.
And Matt Damon would go on to surprise everyone as Jason Bourne. Dads who’d read all 19 Ludlum books and been through this game with film franchises of Clancy and others. Girls who thought he was Will Hunting. No doubt even Ben Affleck, his one-time writing & producing partner and friend who in the late 90s and early 2000s was enjoying a pretty sweet ride at the top of the leading man and action pile, who had a polished Superman visage very different than Damon’s own youthful look that you just know he was aching to age out of.
Bourne of 2016 picks up a whole decade later from The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon’s last time out with this story. Jason Bourne has lived a hardscrabble life off the grid that we see little of except to know that he is fitter and in fighting shape (as a bare knuckled boxer) than ever before, a man in full, and the viewer falls out of the story for a moment to marvel at how few of Damon’s contemporaries on the A-List would spend the grueling dawn hours and long nights in the gym and deprive their body of the well-earned very good life for a film part anymore. You know, those T-Shirted masses who hide in Underarmor that looks suspiciously like my nephews’ superhero play costumes with their built in muscles, and men of thirty who won’t run for their millions. Whether bystanders or gym rats, we all understand the cost of a body like this today, and concession stand sales may even suffer for a few days at the sight of Damon’s physique here.
With the erosion of boundaries between stars and audiences (and twitter-ers) today, authenticity and grit is at a premium and more rare than an honest commercial. It’s exciting to see Matt Damon go the distance just as the same hungry kid he was back in the 1990s when he emerged on the then very crowded action scene and to know he cares a lot about the thing he’s making. He’s an artist, not a figurehead. He cares about his work, his time, his name, and Damon anticipates just how tough audiences have gotten in their vocalization online, even as they flee the cinemas in droves and steal the product of filmmakers, only to watch it on a phone on the subway and then claim to deserve an opinion on a film’s worth. Cred is everything now, and cred cannot be bought or stolen. It is always earned and must keep being earned. It’s one of the few pure currencies left, untouched by bots or commercial interests. It cuts through our sick cultural landscape like a laser beam. It’s clear and bright.
So to respect the anti-Bond version of the film game is to know that Las Vegas may have to stand in for 14 exotic and dangerous global locations. That our expectations must also shift, that budgets have to change and become less insane to produce anything good that is not beholden to governments, advertisers and powerfully uncreative stakeholders. Damon as producer keeps the ship righted. We would have loved to see more pre-chase montage, to know where and Bourne has been living (and how) but hope for more and for a next time. There is room in this film universe for a lot more- not just more spinning crane shots of our hero escaping to a dot of a ship in the ocean of past Bourne films, and for a bit of car-jacking love again (still missing Marie, though, we are) but for Bourne and Aaron Cross to meet up and join forces and to match off-grid talents with the ever-increasingly privacyless world of the fictional and actual powers-that-be. We will be there for all of that and more.
What Jason Bourne, the film, does so well is to evolve into utterly modern (and ever fleeting) concerns and conceits that are new to the world since Damon-as-Bourne went dark in 2007. There’s the little Millenial bitch trying to run things at the CIA, played enjoyably by the riveting Alicia Vikander (for bonus points pretend she is actually her character from Ex Machina, Ava, fact gathering for a season). There are the tech billionaires (also Millenials) who just refuse to ever wear a pair of big boy shoes and play with the equivalent of a country’s GNP like match box cars. These characters are the new world order- slick, AI quick, morality shifting like sands and loyalty something they’ve heard of only in their parent’s old John Hughes films and 80s music which is just “ugh”. They can cleverly tell you why old-school values and word-as-bond is useless in their world, and they may just be right (for now). They are smart, and lost. Jason Bourne has been pulled back into a world of the same old CIA games (now headed up by Tommy Lee Jones who seemed destined for this universe someday) and the new reindeer games of the young guard, and he looks around and sees that whatever life he’s been scraping together and struggling in beats all this noise, as usual. The enduring question of all the Bourne films persists: why wouldn’t the agency want to make use of and celebrate (ultra secretly) the best Asset they’ve ever had or seen? In the short term, they don’t deserve him. In the longer term, who knows, maybe they will see the light and turn the game on its head.
Viva Jason Bourne. May he never come in, be brought in, or put down like a dog. And always end with Moby’s Extreme Ways.
See Jason Bourne in theatres now if you want to remember what a summer movie theatre experience is all about and why it’s worth going out and paying for a film every now and then.
Jason Bourne (2016) Directed by Paul Greengrass, Starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles
By Jacqueline Howell