Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a deep-rooted liking for the Bourne movie trilogy. I like to think that these are movies that I and I alone hold as a favorite, but that’s simply a lie. Somewhere between scaling US embassies, performing martial arts with lethal precision, houdini-like escapes, and backing stolen Audis off of rooftops, Jason Bourne captured the hearts and minds of an American generation. While our greying fathers still remember a martini-sipping Sean Connery when they hear the word “spy,” a new generation of movie-goers thinks of a cool-headed, resourceful Matt Damon.
Why this paradigm shift in what the youth of America sees as great action? I would chalk it up largely to special effects. While our parents grew up in a generation that was satisfied with explosions, gun fights, and beautiful women (don’t get me wrong, we still love these things too), such images were all commonplace as we grew up and adapted to the media. As these arts became more perfected and a gunfight could seem more realistic due to computer enhancement and computer-controlled explosives on-set, we lost the thrill that our parents found in a good ol’ gunfight or car-bombing.
Hollywood had completely numbed us to violence, especially with the final (pre-Graig) James Bond push in the 90s and into the new century. Not only was the fun lost in massive explosions and gadgets (which were more present in the Brosnan Bond films than evil villains and exposed upper thighs combined), but spy movies seemed to have reached a dead end. It was impossible to pack any more gadgets, women, or sickening one-liners into anything but a CNet review or a hip-hop video.
So, Doug Liman, what do we do now?
What they did was bring it back down to a (somewhat) realistic level. What if our protagonist isn’t trying to save the world, but just to stay alive? Now there’s a concept we can all relate to. Sure, I don’t have a CIA task force hunting me down, but I want to stay alive just as much as the next guy. What we love about Jason Bourne is that he uses the world around him to wreak his havoc. He doesn’t need the latest and greatest Aston Martin or a watch that doubles as a grappling hook. No. In fact, let’s take an inventory of Boune’s arsenal: Guns (well come on, it’s still an action movie), upside-down guns, a newspaper, a toaster oven, a household gas line, a coffee-table book, a hand towel, a ballpoint pen, and (my personal favorite) the knockout combination of an electric fan, a flashlight, and a broomstick.
While I don’t (always) keep a toaster oven on hand just in case, I see a movement in the Bourne movies but also in spy movies as a whole (including 007, who’s been largely electronics-free for the last… 007 years). Special effects have lost their big-screen shock factor. Now we look to thick plots (I was tempted to take notes watching The Bourne Supremacy) and character development to spice up our new, reduced gunpowder spy movies.
So cheers to the movie industry, and to America. At least one genre has successfully become simultaneously more realistic and more extraordinary. You can expect to find me and my toaster-wielding counterparts in movie theaters across America on the glorious 2010 weekend that will deliver us a fourth Bourne movie.
Until then, I’ll be explaining to my parents why Jason didn’t activate the hover function on his Audi before backing off that rooftop.