The Bourne Ultimatum — the review’s up!

My review of The Bourne Ultimatum is now up at CT Movies.

One angle I don’t pursue in this review is the comparison or contrast that some have made between Jason Bourne and James Bond. Matt Damon himself told the Associated Press:

Bond is “an imperialist and he’s a misogynist. He kills people and laughs and sips martinis and wisecracks about it,” Damon, 36, told The Associated Press in an interview. . . .

“Bourne is this paranoid guy. He’s on the run. He’s not the government. The government is after him. He’s a serial monogamist who’s in love with his dead girlfriend and can’t stop thinking about her,” Damon said. “He’s the opposite of James Bond.” . . .

Damon said he bumped into former Bond star Pierce Brosnan in London and they chatted briefly about how the British super-spy’s movie handlers were trying to update the character with last fall’s “Casino Royale,” which introduced Daniel Craig as Bond.

Brosnan told him the aesthetics and style of Bond can be updated “but fundamentally, what the character is is something from the 1960s,” Damon said.

There may be some truth to Damon’s characterization of Bond if he is thinking of the Roger Moore movies — but that Bond was very different from the character Ian Fleming created in the 1950s. The Bond of the books certainly wrestled with the moral implications of his missions, and he wasn’t quite the rampant hedonist that we saw in the films. (Hedonist, sure, but not quite so rampant.)

I have not read all of the James Bond books, but I have seen all of the movies, and the differences between them may be particularly obvious if we look at the two versions of Moonraker (published 1955, filmed 1979). If memory serves, Bond doesn’t bed anyone in that book — though admittedly not for lack of trying. There is a woman with an engagement ring, who Bond assumes is wearing the ring in order to ward off attention from the villain, but at the end of the book it turns out the woman really is engaged, and Bond chides himself for not allowing for the possibility that the engagement ring was genuine. In the film, on the other hand, Bond beds something like half-a-dozen women, just to kill the time.

Also, in the book version of Moonraker, Bond seriously considers a suicide attack, destroying a missile on its launch pad in such a way that Bond himself would die, but the millions of people living in London would be spared. Say what you will about Bond’s personal life, but he is serving his country (and the planet, in some of the wilder movies), and he puts his life on the line to do so.

And what about Bourne? “He’s not the government,” says Damon — but would being the government necessarily be a bad thing? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bourne character, and I love the Bourne films. But I don’t think Bourne is inherently morally superior to Bond simply because he fights to protect himself, whereas Bond fights to protect his fellow citizens. (In the newest film, by the way, Bourne actually puts an innocent civilian in harm’s way; maybe that civilian will be released by the CIA eventually, but given how lethal and paranoid the CIA are in these films, who knows?)

It seems to me that Bond and Bourne are both escapist adventure heroes, but heroes who address different needs. And just as there is room for both conventional wisdom and subversive wisdom in our philosophies and theologies, so too there is room in our collective imagination for heroes who fight on behalf of earthly powers and heroes who fight against those same powers.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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