Themes in the Bourne Movies

The Bourne UltimatumLast week I introduced my father to the feature film version of The Bourne Identity. He really liked it, so I showed him The Bourne Supremacy and finally tonight The Bourne Ultimatum. As cheesy Hollywood superhero action films, they are fine. In fact, The Bourne Supremacy is actually kind of good. I particularly like the ending of it when Bourne confronts the Neski daughter (played by the fine young Russian actress Oksana Akinshina). Typically, just about every scene from the film is on YouTube, except this one.

The Bourne Ultimatum kind of sucks. In the first two films, Jason Bourne was already pretty hard to accept as a character outside of a bat suit, but I could suspend my disbelief for the greater good of mindless movie fun. But the action is totally comic book in this last one. What’s more, the plot was not well scripted. Many things are not explained. Nicky just disappears halfway through the film without anything like a resolution. And perhaps most of all, it seems that the CIA is the most corrupt organization in the history of the world. (Which may be true, but it gets tiring in these films.)

Thematically, The Bourne Ultimatum was interesting when you look at the history of the first film. The Bourne Identity was finished in the middle of 2001. Then 911 happened and the producers freaked out. Don’t believe what you hear about Hollywood being liberal and all that. Sure, they’re social liberals. But when it comes to war, you can count on the Hollywood elites to be among the biggest cheerleaders. The concern with The Bourne Identity was that now, in this “new” terrorist world, what America might need above all else is a good assassin like Jason Bourne.

So they shot another ending where Abbott meets with Bourne right before he is reunited with Marie. Abbott gives him the recruiting speech, just so we Americans can know if need be, Jason Bourne will be around to murder our problems. But they tried out the film and they found—Quelle surprise!—that no one left the film thinking, “But we need Jason Bourne out killing everybody!” Instead, everyone thought that assassination was bad and that it was real nice that Jason Bourne was able to put that behind him and reunite with his love.

Jump ahead 5 years. People have noticed that we don’t actually live in a “new” terrorist world. All the new governmental powers designed to keep us safe have—Quelle surprise!—mostly been used against us. And so The Bourne Ultimatum makes the bold thematic statement that the surveillance state is bad. Of course, back in 1998, Enemy of the State made this case far better in no less a Hollywood “blow shit up” way.[1]

As film franchises go, Bourne is about as good as you can hope for. It is certainly true that 3 was closer in quality to 1 than was the case for The Godfather. Of course, the starting place wasn’t as high.


[1] Interestingly, Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter of all the Bourne films (and writer-director of the very good Michael Clayton) was supposedly an uncredited written on Enemy of the State.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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