The next installment in the illustrious Bourne series is almost upon us. Having monitored the hallowed pages of VultureHound the last few weeks, and finding no one has taken up the debate as of yet, it seems down to me (the lowest of the low of your film-loving writers) to do the obvious, open up the can of worms, and discuss what everyone at some point, over a Nandos or a MacDonalds, has discussed between mouthfuls of quarter-pounders with cheese. Bourne or Bond?
In the red corner. The challenger. Jason Bourne!
Deriving of 13 books and 6 films Jason Bourne is a CIA assassin introduced to us on a fishing boat in the Mediterranean Sea with nothing on him other than a Swiss safe deposit box number embedded in his hip. In a hectic ride across Europe Bourne continually has to escape the tenacious grasp of the mysterious military organisation Treadstone whom trained Bourne and now wish to eliminate their rogue asset whilst simultaneously holding all the keys to Bourne’s mysterious and murderous past.
In the blue corner. The reigning champion. James Bond!
Inspiring 26 films and over forty novels and short stories, Bond traverses the world with a licence to kill issued by the British Government to be used in the interests of national security against international arms dealers, tyrants, media moguls and men with golden guns, metallic teeth and bowler hats that cut through marble.
Whilst I’ll argue Bourne is the better Bond is unarguably champion of the spy genre largely due to his longevity and the plethora of books and actors who have portrayed his exploits. If you still wrinkle your noses to Bond’s automatic champion status, then it will have to be the bottom line that convinces you. The bottom line being money. The Bourne franchise to date has generated 1.5 billion dollars in box office takings, 4 times less than the all-conquering Bond, a whopping 7 billion dollars. However, when evaluating conception of the characters within book form the gap between the two becomes far smaller. Both characters created by Ian Fleming (Bond) and Robert Ludlum (Bourne) have in-depth and enthralling backgrounds.
Bond is a Royal Navy Reserve Commander and intelligence officer in the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6. Born in Glencoe in Scotland to parents Andrew Bond, named after an American ornithologist based in the Caribbean, with a love for gambling and golf Bond is estimated to have been born between 1920 and 1921. Fleming based his piece-di-resistance on Howard Hoagland ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael, a famous American singer and actor of the 50s and 60s.
Described by Vesper Lynd in the original Casino Royale she says Bond is someone who ‘reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless.’ This is precisely what Fleming wanted. Bond was to be plain, dull and boring, a blunt instrument used solely for killing, the excitement within his story generated from the events that take place around him.
Jason Bourne is not actually Jason Bourne. He is in fact foreign service officer David Webb, married to a Thai wife by the name of Dao and having two children with her. During the Vietnam War a fighter plane strayed into Cambodia and dropped two bombs near the Mekong River killing Webb’s family. With Cambodia holding neutrality towards the feud neither America nor the Viet Cong took responsibility for the ruthless murders and so David Webb, not knowing who to bring his vengeance upon and with nothing to live for, wonders aimlessly through life till he discovers a top secret special forces unit called ‘Medusa’. Medusa was a death squad made up of ex-criminals paid for by the US government to assassinate officials of the Viet Cong headed on the ground by the mysterious and ruthless ‘Delta’ who, with growing disregard to rules and orders, kidnaps Webb’s brother, US Army Lieutenant Gordon Webb, on his first tour of Saigon. It was an original member of Medusa by the name of Jason Charles Bourne, working as a double agent for the Vietnamese, who orchestrates both the Webb’s escape from Vietnam whilst being hunted down by Delta, found, and executed on the spot. It is only years later in a new operation titled ‘Treadstone Seventy-One’ that Webb is recalled to duty, assigned rank of Delta (primary agent) and given the alias Jason Bourne.
Thus, above is the secret recipe and all you need to create a multi-billion pound spy franchise. So how do these renowned cinematic goliaths compare?
Bond’s strength is in its establishment. The franchise’s most potent weapon in its arsenal is an iconicity that cannot be matched. From Sean Connery to Miss Moneypenny to its renowned baddies, a bottle of Bollinger and the Aston Martin. In Bond Fleming really did create a character every man wanted to be and every woman wanted to be with. However in Bond’s transition to the screen his edge as a ruthless cold-hearted assassin seems to have been lost, largely due to Connery’s insistence on stamping his cheeky persona down on the character, Roger Moore’s portrayal of the comic killer, and to a lesser extent, Brosnan’s last couple of outings.
Where Bond lost the edge Jason Bourne found it. Bourne is a spy born more of the real. A vengeful killer, having been through horrendous loss, utterly dispassionate, exceptionally trained, with an excessively precise execution of actions. His fight scenes are brutal. His ambition and determination unwavering. His plans pull off with the military precision that Bond simply does not have. Film after film Bond seems to enter further into the realms of the ridiculous with missions in space, sinking buildings in Venice, bungee jumps in Russia and getting squashed by London tube trains… The makers want us to accept that Bond is an extraordinary spy whilst having the time to sink vodka martinis, play games of cards, rounds of golf then, in the evening, well, what does James Bond normally do in the evening? The ‘secluded assassin’ who’s acquired nearly every female in mainland Europe. Bourne on the other hand really is alone. No team behind him, never seen jumping from bed to bed, unable to let anyone in, paranoid and near emotionally obliterated by his harrowing past and unrelenting training.
The world has changed. The scope of the lens has become more intrusive and pervasive than ever before. It was fun in the 60s, but some fifty years later, having come through severe austerity measures, wars observed in a light never before seen, battling a reaching form of terrorism never experienced, it feels the ideals of Bond and the dashing, debonair, luxurious spy just doesn’t sit right anymore. And in this awkward position my mind just will not allow my suspension of belief. We now seem to be in need of a more vindictive form of hero more representative of a reality incessantly reported upon based in an obscure and callous world. This is by no means a good thing. I implore anyone to take up the debate and endorse the embattled Bond. I mean, fundamentally, we go to the cinema to escape, not withstand. This is all merely one man’s interpretation of two fantastic and iconic fictional characters.
The essentially titled Jason Bourne is released to cinema on Wed the 27th of July.