James Bond Vs Jason Bourne : A study on how the best known spies in films stack up against each other!
To compare James Bond with Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt will be like comparing a Ferrari with a Lamborghini and a Maserati. In between them Bond, Bourne and Hunt control close to $ 30 Billion in box office earnings (as per BoxOfficeMojo.com) in the last 5 odd decades over 35 films and TV shows in total.What is it that a human being loves in watching a spy?Why is it that across decades Bond is considered a benchmark in the coolness quotient, womanising, saviour of the world and so on.......This essay aims to compare the MI:6 Agent with the 2 parallel spies universe of the arch rivals of Bond since last 2 decades ie . Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible series), Jason Bourne( Bourne Trilogy).
Why is James Bond the torchbearer for all spies in popular culture? Mostly because he has been around for more than 7 decades in public imagination. Created by Ian Fleming, Bond appeared in the novel "Casino Royale" in 1953 as a British spy who is"discerningly stylish" and yet a crime fighter. Essayed by over six vintage actors (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton,Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig) Bond is one of the few literary characters who are part of daily conversations across the planet on a daily basis.If nothing more, Bond has built parallel institutions such as Bond villains ( Largo, Scaramanga, Goldfinger,Zorin, Hugo Drax, Ernst Blofeld, Dr No.), Bond girls ( A university of sorts) featuring timeless characters like Honey Rider, Jill Masterson, Domino,Holly Goodhead portrayed by legends such as Shirley Eaton, Grace Jones, Halle Berry, Sophie Marceau,Ursula Andress and so on. In addition, his affable sidekicks like Felix Leiter, M and Q (the gadget master) and Miss Moneypenny too are household names, Bond watches ie Omega and Rolex, Bond cars such as Aston Martin, BMW Z3 and more. In short Bond is a brand institution of sorts in himself. The last movie no. 24 ie Spectre grossed over $ 1 Billion USD globally. Bond is still hot! However, behind this glory and success, The Bond phenomenon started getting severe criticism on the staleness of its narrative, recurring problems in look and feel and the fall of the Bond mystique.
The James Bond fatigue
Ever since "Golden Eye" was released, the production teams of UA and EON Productions had a challenge to get the same charisma and oomph out of newly hired writers as Bond novels of Ian Fleming were out of supply as all his books were adapted. Since then, its been a mixed bag for Bond films. Box office revenues have increased to north of $800 million for a movie but production budgets too have reached at $200 million and above. Bond girls, Bond villains do continue to be in films but they dont have the same following as what their earlier peers had. Eg. not many people remember Christopher Waltz as Blofeld as they remember Gert Frobe as Goldfinger or Donald Pleasance as Blofeld. Also in the last outings as Bond in "Spectre", "Skyfall" , the aura has faded a bit due to Bond's lover Vesper Lynd's demise. In the films itself, he doesnt get over with her death and looks a bit "chickened" of sorts.
1. An Elite Spy: Since the beginning of James Bond, he works an employee with MI:6 with top rate perks, access to the best women in the world, unstoppable funding and seamless support from all major political establishments. This took a toll on audience in the free markets economy world who were rooting for underdogs who have made it big with very less resources. In short, Bond not being an underdog has become a problem. The new 'sexy' was not someone who gets more but someone who builds on less.
2. Lack of a compelling back story:- In all his adventures, except in 2 or 3 films, not much is known about Bond and his family. There are fleeting glimpses of he mourning the deaths of his lovers but Bond is someone who lacks compassion in some ways. True, he is the saviour of the modern world but he is not an open book.
3. The Format of stories:- All Bond films are independent creative ventures. Although Bond and his MI6 sidekicks do appear in all movies, but one rarely sees the carrying forward of characters from one film to the other. It may seem to many that Bond lives a new life in each movie. That used to work before, but now people want to see more connection with the protagonist. Although the James Bond universe is not less powerful as of today but it definitely was paving the way for newer ideas!
The Space For another Spy franchiseRobert Ludlum long before Bourne came on the big screen was already a force in book writing and publishing. But for some reason or the other, Ludlum never gave out the motion picture rights for Bourne. Similarly, Mission Impossible was a famous TV show but not many people had the vision to bring the show on the big screen. Both Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt were poised to take on Bond at the box office as they both had a sizeable readership and TV viewership
The Case For Jason Bourne, A spy who keeps discovering and evolving
The stories of Jason Bourne have a super spy who is ruthless, extremely well planned, very much on top his game. But the twist is that even after all of these qualities, Bourne is confused about his identity. This defining attribute is the engine which propels Bourne to a new level!
Bourne brings a lot more personal intimacy with the audience than James Bond. Bourne too criss crosses across the world eliminating negative assets and villain driven set ups but he is also under an emotional catharsis which drives the narrative to begin with. In his very first introduction scene in "The Bourne Identity", he is seen floating above water and trying to remember who he is actually... He then uncovers truth and then stumbles on facts along the way.
1. A solo operator :- Unlike James Bond and Ethan Hunt, Bourne works solo. He does have supporters in CIA who help him by giving tips every now and then but he doesn't have a team to help him. He chooses his own weapons and his own style of operations. Compared to Bond, Bourne is a frugal spy depending on low cost and yet high tech gadgetry. Also Bourne is not on payrolls of CIA , he has gone rogue and works for himself.
2. The Evil lurks within :- Bourne fights his enemy which is usually within the spy community and doesn't have too many external villains. Be it Pamela Landy , Be it Brian Cox, Tommy Lee Jones, Albert Finney, they are all his former bosses or senior officers with personal agendas. In a way, Bourne is a victim of the system rather than a man with a mission. He doesn't choose or prepare for a mission, he usually wakes up in one with no idea where he is..
3. The Underdog Spy :- What makes audience cheer and root for Bourne? Jason Bourne will not have a big plane or a fancy car or even a fancy girlfriend. He is usually on the streets engaged in bloody duels with trained assassins like himself. He gets nearly killed in all encounters but he survives each one as he is good in recovering fast. As his own fraternity hunts him in all films, Bourne is more of a survivor and underdog. Thats what makes him palatable to the modern cinema goer. His films lack the opulence and grandeur of Bond films and Mission Impossible series.
4. The format of the films:- Bourne movies have been helmed by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass. Almost the whole film is shot on hand held camera and the character moves with it. This is a standard feature in all his films. In addition a super editing which cuts from scene to the other in no time. The Bourne films have a very fast story movement as compared to other spies films. Another point to be noted is that only Matt Damon has played Jason Bourne till now which increases its recall value.
5. Box Office ROI :- There have been 4 Bourne films with Matt Damon and one with Jeremy Renner as offshoot grossing over $1.7 Billion USD at a production budget of $400 million which is a handsome return for producers of the franchise.
Jason Bourne has turned the spy movie business upside down with a very modern story telling method. The viewer is engaged to the hilt in the not by hot women but by the right story telling. Its like the viewer is in the film with Bourne.
To put Bourne before Bond, one can easily say that all Bourne films are shot in a more dynamic way. Handheld Cams, tight story telling and fast cuts from scene to the other are the highlights. Bond movies also now follow similar narratives.
Although Mathew Vaughn has now released 2 films of "The Kingsmen" franchise as well.
The analysis will continue with Ethan Hunt
To be Continued.......