Jason Bourne Isn’t America’s James Bond
The action spy genre is back at the forefront of our collective pop culture consciousness thanks to the new James Bond film Spectre, which debuted with a hefty box office haul over the weekend.
Considering that another entry into the Jason Bourne franchise is also on the horizon, inevitably, keyboard warriors will take to the web to duke it out over whether Matt Damon’s amnesia-prone assassin is better or worse than the British lothario with a license to kill.
While some may peg Bourne as America’s version of Bond, he’s actually pretty different from the martini-drinking secret agent—and that’s a good thing.
Bond’s constant swooning and indiscriminate killing has become a bit cliche in recent years, even if he’s still a moneymaking machine. As the Daily Beast’s Nick Schager writes, “his customary wham-bam thank you ma’am sagas have grown hopelessly stale, outdated, and unoriginal,” and it’s probably time to retire a character who hasn’t evolved much since making his silver screen debut in 1962’s Dr. No.
Critics have a few issues with the various portrayal of Bond over the years, but the biggest one has to be that 007 is, quite frankly, a misogynist.
In 2007, while doing press for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon summed up some of the problems with the spy from across the pond, saying, “Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it, and drinks martinis and cracks jokes.”
It’s hard to disagree with his assessment when even current Bond Daniel Craig agrees with him.
“Let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig recently told the Red Bulletin.
The Bourne series has always given women better on-screen treatment, whether it be in the form of Julia Stiles’ fan favorite character Nicky Parsons, or the fact that the rogue CIA agent doesn’t try to bed every woman he comes across, since he’s still torn over his first love.
“Bourne is a serial monogamist whose girlfriend is dead and he does nothing but think about her,” Damon explained in the same interview.
Funny enough, the Bond franchise tried to adopt this element in the gritty 2006 reboot Casino Royale, which suggested that some of Bond’s apparent heartlessness is inspired by the death of his first love, Vesper Lynd, although he doesn’t ever seem to grow out of womanizing.
Lack of strong female characters aside, the Bond series also suffers when its core ideology is compared to that of Bourne.
007 is first and foremost a hired gun for MI6 who’s willing to take out anyone who threatens the British Crown. There’s nothing wrong with patriotism or wanting to keep your country safe, but these films give the government carte blanche to pursue any covert endeavor or state-sanctioned assassination with zero regard for public safety or civil rights.
Turning a blind eye towards Big Brother is a dangerous precedent to set, even if it’s only in a ridiculous movie franchise that features gondolas that can ride on land and villains with razor-tipped hats.
In an interview with the Associated Press, The Bourne Supremacy director Paul Greengrass perfectly tackled the issues with Bond’s ideological beliefs.
“He’s an insider. He likes being a secret agent. He worships at the altar of technology. He loves his gadgets. And he embodies this whole set of misogynistic values,” Greengrass said. “He likes violence. That’s part of the appeal of the character. He has no guilt. He’s essentially an imperial adventurer of a particularly English sort.”
The Bourne series is much more politically-cognizant, and isn’t afraid to question the actions of those in power. A product of a shady government program, Jason Bourne refuses to toe the company line and actively fights against their nefarious plans.
Given the ongoing concerns over the power of the surveillance state, it’s nice to see an action franchise that actively questions it, and doesn’t glorify the actions of its covert operatives.
Martinis, tuxedos, and gadgets are cool, but in a world where the government watches your every online move and drone strikes can decimate a village with just a click of a button, perhaps it’s time we stop looking at the life of spies—fictional or otherwise—with rose-colored glasses.