Given his initials, it’s probably not a stretch to think that Robert Ludlum was inviting comparisons between his character Jason Bourne and Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Not being a huge reader of Ludlum’s novels, I’m not able to comment on the literary character, but as played by Matt Damon, Jason Bourne exists as almost a complete antithesis to the cinematic character of Bond.
Rather than being a martini-swilling clothes horse with expensive tastes in high living, Bourne lives in the shadows on the periphery of society. His clothes are non-descript and his wheels consist of anything he can steal when he needs to make a get away. His only gadgets are what’s between his ears and his training-honed instinct for survival. Despite being almost invulnerable physically, the emotional vulnerability created by his amnesia humanizes the character to a degree that’s unusual for 21st-century action heroes.
The first Bourne movie was a lean, fat-free freight train of a spy-thriller that established Matt Damon as a credible action star, and this second film maintains the level of quality to a truly gratifying degree. As we rejoin Bourne, he’s living about as far off the grid as humanly possible in Goa, India, with his wife Marie (Franka Potente), trying to recover memory of his life before Treadstone, the CIA assassination project to which he once belonged.
A CIA task force in Berlin led by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is trying to buy evidence in the theft of $20 million in purloined agency funds. The buy goes bad and both the contact and her agent are killed and the evidence stolen. A fingerprint leads her to a CIA file called Treadstone and back to Langley, Virginia.
Back in India, Bourne spots someone that his instincts tell him shouldn’t be there, and he’s right, because it’s the guy from Berlin. Snapping up Marie, Bourne takes flight but a bullet from the assassin misses him and kills her. Thinking Bourne dead, the assassin returns to Berlin. Bourne also returns to Europe, thinking Treadstone is after him again.
Landy has returned to Langley to discover that the fingerprint belongs to a Treadstone asset known as Jason Bourne, which leads her to the desk of Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), the former head of the Treadstone project. The two of them head back to Berlin to track down Bourne, who is now suspected of killing Landy’s agent.
No Jason Bourne movie would be complete without a central set-piece chase scene and this has a great one through the streets of Moscow as Bourne tracks down the man who killed Marie and Landy’s agent.
One of the great things about this series of movies is how they mix the heart-stopping action scenes starring the youthful and athletic Damon with intelligent scenes of dialog delivered by mature, thoughtful actors like Allen and Cox. These give the Bourne movies a level of sophistication that is a cut about the brainless twaddle usually barfed up by the Hollywood action machine. I’m also convinced that the success of these films was at least partially responsible for the superb re-invention of the Bond movies that was Casino Royale, so we’ve gotten two excellent action franchises for the price of one.