Matt Damon as Jason Bourne
A decade after the release of Matt Damon's game-changing spy film, we look at the impact the series had
It’s Bourne’s birthday! The iconic spy is celebrating a decade on the silver screen and to celebrate we’re taking a look at the impact the film has had on cinema
Prior to Bourne’s first outing in ‘The Bourne Identity’ in 2002, action movies were having something of an identity crisis. The B-movie charms of 80s flicks like ‘Commando’ and ‘Rambo II’ gave way to relatable heroes a decade later only for a sci-fi phenomenon to throw the genre into a state of flux, reports Yahoo UK Movies.
‘The Matrix’ burst the action bubble in 1999 and until late 2002 everything that followed failed to capture the hearts and minds of an audience who thought they had seen it all.
Successful films often reflect the time at which they’re released - hence the flamboyant films of the 80s - and post-9/11 the Western world was a scared one. Fuelled by expositions and needless death, the action genre had to re-evaluate and reflect the fears of its audience.
Jason Bourne’s amnesia and loss of identity could either apply to the genre he was about to change or to the confused and shaken world he was born into. Not knowing who you are and what your place in the world is, is something that would scare anyone and it’s what fuels the film.
Bourne’s quest for answers sees him fight for survival. He doesn’t kill out of vengeance or glee - it’s an instinctual reaction to the threat, both because of the training he’s had but doesn’t remember and the obvious desire to live.
‘Gritty’ and ‘realistic’ are buzzwords thrown around a lot in Hollywood circles, usually in reference to sequels. Bourne however was both of these from the start and this is embodied best by the fight scenes, which sold the film with their unflinching style and bone-crunching intensity.
A need to be gritty and realistic has hindered a lot of films over the past ten years, often those who strive for it despite their ludicrous premises (‘Transformers’, ‘Spider-Man 3’) but it has helped a few franchises. Very much in the same way Bourne rejuvenated action films, the grittilistic (it’s a word now) approach brought new life to the ailing Batman and Bond series.
007 in particular learnt a lot following the dismal and universally panned ‘Die Another Day’. The 20th Bond flick took the campy kitsch shtick of Bond’s past and turned it up to 11, leaving the series in need of a stiff kick up the jacksy.
Change came in the shape of the Bond-savvy director of ‘Goldeneye’ Martin Campbell, who took the series back to its roots with ‘Casino Royale’, breathing new life into the character (thanks in no small part to Daniel Craig). Bond had depth again and was lauded, much like ‘Bourne’, for its relevance to a post-9/11 world.
Some fans long for the campy Roger Moore days and they’re perfectly within their rights to, but going back to basics and giving the largely un-relatable character of Bond relatable motivations is exactly what Bond needed to save its fortunes and ensure it would remain a mainstay of British cinema for years to come.
Of course any talk of Bourne has to mention its star. Matt Damon’s breakout role turned the Oscar-winning scribe of ‘Good Will Hunting’ into the action icon of the Noughties. His charm, despite the seriousness and po-faced nature of his character, still shines through and his dedication to doing his best resonates to this day.
‘Bourne’s trilogy sent impact tremors through Hollywood that are still being felt today. Bond, ‘Mission Impossible’ and most of the thrillers in between have taken cues from the series.
The love movie-goers have for Bourne and his quest for answers is why the reaction to the new Damon-less ‘Bourne Legacy’ (which stars Oscar-nominated actor, Jeremy Renner as another product of a shady government operation) was so fierce. He’s a fine alternative and fits well into the world but whether the negative reaction will reflect in the box office numbers remains to be seen.
Starting with Doug Liman in the director’s chair before Paul Greengrass made the films his own with its two sequels; the trilogy is a master class in tension, proving you don’t need millions of dollars and a bank of computers to create amazing action set pieces.
The series is in capable hands now (the writer of the original is behind the camera this time) yet it’s unlikely to capture the world’s attention in the same way it did ten years ago, but that’s probably more a testament to the impact of the originals.