The Bourne franchise has always been light on plot, big on action, and salted with just enough political commentary to make it all feel like it matters. But none of those things are the reason I love the franchise as much as I do, and I love it a lot. For me, the first three films in the series comprise the best cinematic trilogy since the original Star Wars films. In the midst of all the political intrigue and Greengrass Shaky Cam™, there is this iconic story about a man who discovers he is a bad man (The Bourne Identity), rejects that identity and tries unsuccessfully to make amends for his transgressions (The Bourne Supremacy), and finally accepts his inherent depravity, repents, and is baptized into a new life (The Bourne Ultimatum).
I was raised on Bond movies and 70s conspiracy thrillers. Prior to Bourne, the Bond franchise actively distanced itself from any kind of character transformation, and the 70s conspiracy thrillers settled a little too comfortably into cynicism. Bourne was new in that while it maintained the best of what spy movies had been—great action scenes, paranoiac dread, and socio-political resonance—it was also doggedly optimistic. Given every reason to despair, Jason Bourne tries to become a better man, and the way the movies chart that transformation is true to the Christian understanding of character development.
The latest entry in the Bourne franchise picks Jason Bourne/David Webb’s story back up and considers an issue pertinent to his character: finally free from corrupt system that had tried to use him and very aware of his own complicity in that system, David Webb is listless, floating, without direction and unaware that he needs to find something new and good to which to give his life. A former colleague pops back into his life and tries to convince him to join a fight she believes is worthwhile, but of course, no cause is pure in this world, and Jason/David would rather simply survive than work for a possibly corrupt system.
And the United States government is up to their old tricks (again) crafting black ops programs. When Bourne blips on their omnipresent screens, they get worried, thinking he’s out to expose them (again), so they try to chase him down and catch or kill him (again). It wouldn’t be a Bourne movie without this narrative element. Greengrass and crew find ways to keep these chase/fight scenes interesting, including the biggest traffic incident in Las Vegas since Sean Connery rode a firetruck through the Strip in 1971. If you go to Bourne movies for the chase scenes and Bourne’s inventive weaponization of everyday objects, you won’t be disappointed. If you avoid them because of Greengrass Shaky Cam™, stay away. (I like Greengrass Shaky Cam™, because it puts us in Bourne’s disoriented yet opportunistic headspace where he grasps around for whatever he can lock onto to help him in a given situation. It serves a character purpose in these films unlike when some other filmmakers adopt the style.)
Somewhere along the way in this movie in the midst of all the gunfire and automotive mayhem, Bourne’s internal quest to find something better to live for gets lost for a while, but Greengrass’ entries in this series have never really slowed down for in-depth conversations between the characters. Those moments have come in the Tony Gilroy and Doug Liman-helmed entries. They establish the character motivations and pose the questions key to Bourne’s (lack of) identity; Greengrass sets the flames to the pot and distills out the answers. So in this film, Greengrass is posing the question about what Jason might live for “instead,” but it doesn’t get answered, not yet anyway.
Though I do wonder what kind of satisfactory answer Jason might find, because it is true that having abandoned one identity, he needs something new to live for. That’s one of the glories of the Gospel – it both sets us free and missions us for something truer.
Is the final entry in the franchise going to feature a monk-cloaked David Webb in India caring for lepers – The Bourne Penitence? Will we find him organizing factory workers in Malaysia, leading them in revolt against their late-Capitalist slave masters – The Bourne Liberation? Will he take to the TED Talk circuit, spin yarns of daring-do, and try to motivate people to build a better world – The Bourne Inspiration? Is any kind of other, better life possible for Jason Bourne in this narrative universe, or will there always be another government agency using the latest nefarious scientific advancement to track Jason down and either use him for their purposes or kill him? Wars and rumors of wars. ’TIl the end of time. The Bourne Perdition. So it goes. Good movie though.
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