Jason Bourne is my Mantra

A few years ago I was on a bus and an old lady’s hat caught my attention. Exciting story Rob, do go on, I hear you cry. Well! It was decorated all over with the letters ‘WWJD’ in gold thread, and for a moment I couldn’t work it out, but then I got it – ‘What Would Jesus Do’. He probably wouldn’t wear that crappy hat, I thought to myself. But it’s healthy to have a role model. For me the son of god doesn’t cut it though. I want to be Jason Bourne.

The Bourne Identity was a great action film. The circumstances of its creation weren’t auspicious – born in a stable… no, I’m getting mixed up again… plagued by the kind of production problems that normally lead to a Waterworld or an Avengers (shudder), based on a pretty rubbish book that had already been made into a shocking film, it didn’t look like it was going to be good.

But it was so good – playing out what was in essence a very silly story with more naturalism and seriousness than many producers would be prepared to apply to a cars-guns-things-explodingy kind of film. The chilly European locations rang completely true, Clive Owen, Chris Cooper and Brian Cox brought realism and gravitas to small roles we so often see sketched out in the most basic, hammy way, Owen in particular bringing more power and pathos to the screen in a couple of lines than he has in several leading roles since, and Franke Potente’s Marie is the only realistic, well-rounded female character in any James Bond-style action film I can think of.

Of course she gets off with Bourne, but she exists independently of the men around her, not girlfriend, mother, unrequited friend-who-loves-the-hero or stay-at-home-Florence-Nightingale-angelic-paragon-of-virtue character. She’d be there, realistically doing what she does anyway, whether Matt Damon came along or not. Try and think of another woman like that in this kind of man-spy film. I can’t. You usually get someone like the Thandie Newton character in Mission: Impossible 2 – introduced as a master thief, she becomes a girlfriend in peril within about thirty seconds.

Of course – and here’s a spoiler if you haven’t seen it – early on in The Bourne Supremacy, the second film in the series, Marie gets it. Marie! Jason Bourne’s only friend, the woman who saved him, dead in a river ten minutes in! Fantastic. Who has the confidence to kill off a key character like that? Gandalf doesn’t count, he pops up again almost straight away – he didn’t die, he just had a bath and put his robes on a boil wash.

And that’s the catalyst that gives The Bourne Supremacy it’s power – it’s not a rerun of the first film, although it follows on from it brilliantly. It’s darker, grubbier. Identity is all clean and logical, reflecting Jason Bourne’s Rainman-ish psyche, empty of memory but full of skill and technical know-how. The Supremacy’s Jason Bourne now has a past, and it hasn’t put him in a good mood, and the film’s dim, shaky, bloody, crashy mise-en-scene reflects that.

It’s that rare thing, a sequel that’s as good as the first film. And I really mean rare. The Godfather Part Two, Toy Story 2, The Bourne Supremacy. That’s all of them.

Alright, The Empire Strikes Back. The Two Towers at a push. But there aren’t many.

I don’t know if it’s because I was reared on Bank Holiday Monday Bonds, but my very favourite films always feature action heroes who fulfil the James Bond paradox – men (they’re always men) who convincingly walk the line between constantly being in the deepest trouble, and being able to do anything at all – drive a tank, win a fight with a dozen goons, climb a sheer wall, cook up a tasty meal. They are vulnerable yet superhuman. Perhaps the Indiana Jones paradox would be a more appropriate name for it.

So I wait, in this summer of poor third installments – Shrek, Spiderman, Oceans 13 – for Jason Bourne to achieve the impossible once again by being in a good one. Now that I’ve finished the Harry Potter book – vulnerable yet superhuman, nice – the only thing left for me this summer is the Bourne Ultimatum, and I’ve got high high hopes.

And do I live by the maxim ‘What Would Jason Bourne Do?’

No, because the answer is ‘disable and disarm everyone, remove all traces of self, leave the scene immediately’, and that’s not a practical way to get through the working day.

But faced with a daunting challenge and feeling jittery and useless I do have a habit of muttering ‘Jason Bourne’ under my breath, and that way I can convince myself that although I feel vulnerable, I can probably do anything at all.