The Evolution of Jason Bourne: From Amnesiac to $100-Million Weapon

     July 26, 2016

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Author Robert Ludlum brought Jason Bourne to life on the pages of his spy novels starting in 1980, but it wasn’t until Matt Damon filled out the flesh-and-blood character in Doug Liman’s 2002 film adaptation The Bourne Identity that the action hero became a household name. Over the course of four movies (three starring Damon) with a fifth coming out this year, Jason Bourne has gone through some pretty striking physical and psychological changes in his quest for answers as to his identity and purpose.

With an eye toward Damon’s return in Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne, and keeping in mind the news that Universal has no plans to terminate Bourne any time soon, we take a look at how the title character has evolved over the years. From his bone-breaking, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it martial arts style, to his expert marksmanship, to the always-thrilling car chases, we ask the question, is Jason Bourne slowing down after years of hard impacts and near-death experiences, or is he just getting better?


The Bourne Identity (2002)

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Image via Universal Pictures

Here’s where it all started. Just like Ludlum’s “The Bourne Identity” introduced the amnesiac action hero to book readers, Liman’s The Bourne Identity brought the complicated character to the screen, personified by Damon. The first installment in the franchise set the bar for action movies that would come after it, both Bourne and other films alike. Bourne took cues from earlier “JB” action movies that had preceded it: a compelling yet frustrating romantic relationship; action sequences that center on hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and car chases; and a villainous threat that makes the hero’s violence necessary. But it also established its own style: brutal, organic melee fights that didn’t feel choreographed; “shaky-cam” fight scenes that put viewers in the middle of the action; and pulse-pounding chase sequences that tapped into narrative tension in order to ratchet up the adrenaline.

What follows are some of the best examples of each of the Bourne movies’ signature scenes, allowing us to track the progression of Bourne’s skill set over the years.

Hand-to-Hand: Pen vs Knife

Gunplay:

Car Chase:


The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

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Image via Universal Pictures

After the successful introduction earned $200-million-plus at the box office, Greengrass came in to team up with Damon for the second installment. This is a pairing that would return for both The Bourne Ultimatum, infamously skip the fourth movie in the franchise, and return again for the upcoming Jason BourneThe Bourne Supremacy expanded on everything the first film introduced, further complicating Bourne’s history with memory problems, but also taking the opportunity to ratchet up his combat skills another level. This movie features Bourne’s fantastic hand-to-hand fighting and ability to use everyday objects to his benefit, and a novel use of a sniper rifle to really up the dramatic tension.

Hand-to-Hand: Magazine Fight

Gunplay:

Car Chase:


The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

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Image via Universal Pictures

The most successful film in the franchise by far came in its third installment. Though it sported a bigger budget than its predecessors, it also brought in more than $400 million at the box office, making a clear statement that moviegoing audiences were up for more Bourne. It also set its title character up for possible failure as he was tasked with surviving against a number of other Treadstone assassins who had been ordered to take Bourne down. While that premise might be something our hero has faced before, Ultimatum took the action and intrigue up another couple of notches. This movie also features some of the best examples of Bourne as a master tactician in addition to all of his action skills, so I’ve included a scene that shows this off below.

Hand-to-Hand: Bourne vs Desh

Gunplay:

Car Chase:

Tactical:


The Bourne Legacy (2012)

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Image via Universal Pictures

Just kidding. Bourne doesn’t appear in this movie, which spins off from events of the previous three films and features Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross. The title is taken from the continuation of Ludlum’s novels after his death, written by Eric Van Lustbader, but oddly enough the character Cross was an original creation for the movie. Damon and Greengrass couldn’t get on the same page with Universal for this one, so the studio went ahead with Renner and writer/director Tony Gilroy. After the film failed to kickstart a new franchise for Renner’s Cross, despite a decent box office take that was similar to the first two Bourne films but far less than The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon and Greengrass agreed to return for a new film.

Jason Bourne (2016)

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Image via Universal Pictures

Damon and Greengrass return for Jason Bourne, a movie that sees the title hero beleaguered by his past but definitely not broken by it. He’s as brutal in his combat as ever, perhaps moreso now that he doesn’t have a target to aim all of his frustration at. Bourne resorts to bare-knuckle brawling in his continued life under the radar, even as he attempts to uncover more truths from his past. It will be interesting to see what new wrinkles Damon/Greengrass are bringing to the character and his story in this installment, and I’m just as curious to see how audiences respond after so many years without a true Bourne film.

Check out a clip, behind-the-scenes featurette, and the trailer for Jason Bourne below, and be sure to check it out in theaters this weekend.

Do you think Bourne will be back and better than ever? Has Damon been able to hone his character into something more lethal and effective than ever before? Or has the actor’s age (46) started to catch up with him, lessening the threat and efficacy of everything Bourne stands for? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! And if you want everything summed up in 90 seconds, watch this video:


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