ByMax Farrow, writer at
Fanatical film-watcher, Hill-walker, Writer and Biscuit Connoisseur. Follow me on Twitter: @Farrow91 or on Facebook: @maxfarrowwriter
Max Farrow

UPDATE: The first full length trailer dropped for 'Jason Bourne' dropped today, so in it's honor, let's revisit the prime ways Bourne has been moulded by the early years of the 21st century.

Last Sunday, Super Bowl 50 aired with a host of new and exciting peeks at upcoming movies, from Alice Through The Looking Glass, the sequel to the 2010 film, to Jason Bourne – the fifth film in the Bourne franchise, which will be released in July 2016.

Apart from a slightly scornful reaction to its uninspired title choice, and coupled with the usual jokey memes, the comment section of YouTube is filled with exclamations that highlight that there is a generally happy anticipation for the film; some even exult that it will be a fresh addition to the “the best action movie franchise ever!!”

And in many respects, this sentiment cannot be faulted, because the Jason Bourne saga (starring Matt Damon) is a fitting narrative for the twenty-first century.

Sorry, couldn't resist.
Sorry, couldn't resist.

Bourne and 9/11

Adapted from Robert Ludlum’s novels, director Doug Liman of the first installment The Bourne Identity (2002) opted to shift the action from the original Cold War setting to the early 21st century. The Bourne Identity was in production leading up to and throughout the time that 9/11 occurred in 2001. As everyone knows, the attack on the World Trade Centre created huge international, political, social and cultural ramifications that are still being felt to this day.

Jason Bourne being hunted.
Jason Bourne being hunted.

The surprise and effect of the attacks is reflected within Bourne’s journey as a character; waking up injured, with no memories of his past, he is pervaded throughout the series by disconcerting flashbacks to traumatic memories.

He is on the back foot, fighting against enemies who have more resources and insight than he does about what is going on.

The Bourne Identity, Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum (2007) all present the world of Bourne with a downbeat and somewhat nihilistic feel, again echoing the sorrow and depression felt following the attacks.

David Strathairn in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
David Strathairn in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass employ a cold and muted colour scheme, and in Supremacy and Ultimatum, Greengrass uses a handheld camera to give an unpolished and pedestrian feel.

The continuous shifting of the shot also ensures that the films feel edgy and unsettling (much to the displeasure of some viewers), which is at odds with the thrilling yet glossy and familiar depiction of other spies, such as James Bond.

The fact that Greengrass is returning to the series for the new Bourne movie ensures that we can expect more of his pessimistic, yet thrilling entertainment.

The Realism of Bourne

Additionally, Bourne’s minimalist approach to technology and his use of everyday objects looks likely to reappear, as he swiftly and decisively subdues his opponents in the trailer.

The first trilogy was part of a trend of movies that rejected fanciful and outlandish elements, such as Batman Begins (2005), leading to a wave of “dark and gritty” movies and reboots, of which fellow spy James Bond was part of, to somewhat middling results in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Although popular films such as The Avengers (2012), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and (to some extents) Spectre (2015) have reverted to previous modes of extravagance, Jason Bourne appears to have appropriately continued in the same way that it has always done.

Tommy Lee Jones in Jason Bourne.
Tommy Lee Jones in Jason Bourne.

Damn Government...

Jason Bourne also hints at the series’ lack of trust in the establishment, with shots of a CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones) watching him with a concerned expression. As viewers of the original Bourne trilogy know, Jason Bourne and the American intelligence services have frequently clashed, but this conflict is significant in itself.

As previously mentioned, Bourne inhabits a world still caught up in the Cold War between America and Russia in the novels.

This meant that many American books and films portrayed Russians, Europeans and communists as enemies to the American heroes (such as Die Hard in 1988). In fact, a major adversary of Bourne is the real-life assassin, Carlos the Jackal.

But after the end of the war, there was an underlying suspicion that some enemies could be at home as well as in foreign countries.

9/11 only fueled and perpetuated these ideas; many people believe to this day that the US government was either involved or complicit in the atrocities, and there is a wealth of articles and websites online that detail various theories, both ludicrous and plausible.

We can see this trend again throughout the Bourne movies. Instead of the cold but reliable agents that assist James Bond in the Daniel Craig era, the CIA is populated with mysterious figures that are motivated by self-interest and wish to suppress the troublesome Bourne by any means necessary.

Though C (Andrew Scott) works contrary to Bond in Spectre (2015) he is outweighed by Bond’s allies Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw), M (Ralph Fiennes) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear).

Whilst Bourne occasionally finds allies such as Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente) he mainly works alone.

Bourne's Inner Darkness

Additionally, despite the fact that Ward Abbot (Brian Cox), Noah Vossen (David Strathairn) and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney) serve as aggressive antagonistic figures, the series never shies from the uncomfortable truth that Bourne has committed terrible acts to help or aid immoral or unethical practices.

He is the main point of entry into the story, as well as for the audience’s empathy and allegiance. However, his darker actions from his previous life as an assassin are relayed in flashbacks, causing him a great deal of distress, fueling his traumas and remorse.

Bourne reveals in the new trailer that his amnesia has gone, so what effect that will have on his actions and his relationship with the CIA remains to be seen.

Action Men

It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with the assertion that Jason Bourne is currently the best spy-action hero; some would still claim that it was James Bond who retains that position, and others would suggest yet another candidate, such as Ethan Hunt of the Mission Impossible franchise.

However, few spy series have accepted and explored the cultural reconfiguration of 21st century America in such an overt and direct way that the Bourne series has.

Daniel Craig in Spectre (2015)
Daniel Craig in Spectre (2015)

Bond has reflected the recent discourses of technology and surveillance in Skyfall (2012) and Spectre, but they still cling to wish-fulfillment and escapist tropes of past generations.

As many have already stated some of these, such as Bond's treatment of women, are unwelcome in modern culture, but other, less offensive notions remain acceptable and sustain the franchises’s relevance and popularity.


With his ambivalence to structures of power, his confusion with current affairs and minimalist use of gadgetry, Jason Bourne represents the necessary flip-side to Bond by inhabiting a brutal and bewildering environment; judging by the fact that he will now tackle "an austerity ridden Europe in a post-Edward Snowden world of surveillance," Bourne is ready to continue his reign as the spy of the 21st century.

He doesn’t function in a simpler world that we want, but occupies a grounded setting that we connect with on a deeper level, because it is a place that we recognize.

Jason Bourne is out on July 29th 2016.


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