The Bourne Identity was a surprise hit when it came out in 2002. It stuck as one of the most memorable action movies of the decade. Its sequels, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, gained critical praise, especially for Paul Greengrass’ style of directing.
But last year's Jason Bourne wasn't the action sequel comeback that producers or audiences expected, perhaps because the genre has a new style and a new hero: John Wick.
Is Bourne's Shaky Style A Relic Of The '00s?
Greengrass' documentary-style vision set quite the standard throughout the aughts, convincing other filmmakers that it’s easy to redo. Soon we got countless action movies that were unnecessarily shaky, with several cuts to justify the lack of choreography and planning.
The Bourne sequels were well-planned, and the action maintained continuity — that’s why shaky-cam and quick-cuts worked for them. But this style didn't make sense for every single action movie. Whether you loved it or hated it, the use of shaky-cam and quick-cut editing became a ubiquitous fad. Maybe that's why so many of them were forgettable.
By the time Jason Bourne came around, what once felt revolutionary now felt stale. It didn’t fare well compared to its predecessors; financially, it made more money than Identity, yet it failed to surpass the Greengrass sequels and it bombed with critics. Jason Bourne became a victim of the franchise's own success. The fight sequences, by redefining the genre, went from groundbreaking to generic.
While Matt Damon still shines as Jason Bourne, the movie made him feel like a supporting character. And maybe that's why John Wick felt like a breath of fresh air.
The Rise Of John Wick
Two movies in, the John Wick series has already redefined the action genre in various ways. The first movie was like a Bruce Lee film for the modern era with minimal dialogue. John Wick: Chapter 2 continued the trend, yet added so much more to the mythology of the character.
The action in the two films is what people loved most. David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are major players in bringing back the action genre. #JohnWick and especially #JohnWickChapter2 are action movies inspired by Asian cinema and based on the methods used in Asian filmmaking. They are a product of hardcore prep time.
The John Wick movies are examples of how choreography and story are equally important. Like Jackie Chan has his stunt crew, Leitch and Stahelski have #87elevenAction, and they make sure action is as organic as storytelling.
The best thing about the John Wick movies is that the action is all displayed on the screen, rather than using gimmicks. No camera was shaken to intensify fight sequences, and no quick-cuts were used to avoid lack of preparation.
What John Wick Can Teach Future Action Movies
Not all action needs to have queasy gimmicks. If it's done right, then the action can speak its own language. It can convey dramatic character shifts and even make you laugh.
It all comes from how well the directors know their character, and how his or her actions speak louder than words. That's why we see John Wick hold a man down with an empty shotgun, while at the same time reloading it to shoot him. That's why it was funny to see John Wick have a silent shootout in the middle of a New York train station.
That's why hearing the name "John Wick" makes other characters gulp in fear.
John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 had simple writing — the story follows the titular character everywhere he goes, and has everything revolve (and evolve) around him. It never forgets what the movie is about, whereas Jason Bourne got lost in its subplot and had Bourne leave the scene. John Wick never leaves our sight.
As director Chad Stahelski told Screen Junkies:
"Stay with the guy. If the guy is interesting, your plot in the movie is going to be cool, because you're going to be engaged. ... Why do we have to cut away [from the character]? Who do we love? John Wick. Who do you want to be with through the whole movie? John Wick."
We want to be emotionally involve ourselves through a hero. Most action movies forget that the characters matter, and just focus on the decade's crazy fad. Future action movies can be memorable if they focus on this lesson and keep things simple.
No matter the plot, #Skyfall kept its focus on James Bond throughout. So did Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indiana Jones. The original Bourne movies did the same. That’s why they are memorable action movies. John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2 never steer away from the character doing his thing, and it's exciting.
If #JohnWickChapter3 happens, we are pretty damn sure that David Leitch and Chad Stahelski will make us happy. It’s not like they are going to completely forget what made their films so lovable.
If another Bourne movie happens, the producers need understand what the audience loved most about the franchise — not just the quick cuts, but the deep characterization. What’s so hard about that?