In 2002, the genre of espionage movies was in a shaky spot. With the James Bond series in serious danger of becoming a parody like Austin Powers and the much hyped Vin Diesel vehicle XXX failing to leave any lasting impression on the cinematic punters, it was the Bourne series – that came from out of nowhere – and for me at least, was the most important action series of the decade.
Thick in plot, production and style, it was a breath of fresh air compared to it’s CGI obsessed counterparts.
There were no scenes featuring a poorly computer rendered version of Jason Bourne parasailing off a cliff edge and no pointless attempts to make him look like he was down with the kids (Xander Cage from XXX *cough *cough)
Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, with a script written by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Heron, the Bourne Identity introduced us to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Discovered off the coast of southern France and with no memory of how he got there, the film is instantly puzzling and draws the audience in.
As it progresses, Bourne slowly begins to realise the skills that he possesses are not your everyday abilities and begins to suspect he is part of a bigger picture.
Each film furthers the story of Jason’s journey, however each one nicely rewards the viewer with a decent payoff, never leaving them feeling short changed.
One neat trick had the second film’s (The Bourne Supremacy) final scene, take place two thirds of the way into it’s follow up. It’s a mental idea, but it works really well as you see it play out from a different perspective.
The Bourne series featured a number of great performances, particularly from the esteemed Scottish thesp Brian Cox who played the shifty Treadstone director, Abbott. Watching him and Joan Allen act off one another during the Bourne Supremacy is fascinating stuff – its two actors at the top of their game.
Other established faces in the series included Albert Finney, Chris Cooper, Franka Potente, Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Julia Stiles.
One thing that stands out in the series are the action sequences – the fist fights with the Treadstone agents are choreographed impeccably, featuring a mixture of different martial arts and use of everyday objects (books, towels, pens, magazines), and are unpredictably thrilling to witness.
The same can be said for the chase sequences, with each film featuring a different city for their location.
Speaking of which, that is another charm the series has to offer. With most of the proceedings set in Europe, it was refreshing to see a film set somewhere else other than the United States. Of course, the 3rd film’s closing scenes are set in New York, but the rest of the series is shot on location through out the world, with notable scenes taking place in Berlin, Goa, Moscow and London.
The series also featured an impressive soundtrack – a blend of classical strings and dance beats, written by John Powell.
Directed by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, the Bourne series demonstrated that you didn’t need computer effects and massive set pieces to make a great film. It ultimately comes down to the story and it’s approach.
It must have done something right, because it convinced the Bond producers to ditch the quirky Austin Powers approach they had taken with Die Another Day and re-introduce 007 as a hard edged and fallible spy who had no interest in extreme sports.