Ignore the so-so reviews. Forget about rumours of Jason Bourne going meathead. The amnesiac CIA agent is the only action hero to get a feminist thumbs-up
You can pinpoint the exact moment Jason Bourne outed himself as a feminist-friendly action hero – kicking the butts of sleazy throwbacks like Bond and brainless lunkheads. It was 2002, 30 minutes into the first movie, ‘The Bourne Identity’. The setting is a Berlin bank, where the rogue agent has just beat the living crap out of the first of the relentless stream of beefy dudes who want him dead. Making a sensible Bourne getaway – this is a man who loves a map – he pays a German woman in a beat-up red Mini $20,000 to drive him to Paris.
Hang on a minute… Where’s the convertible Alfa Romeo? Where’s the hot blonde chick sliding over to let him take the wheel? The woman Bourne bribes is Marie (played by German actress Franka Potente) and she's soon to be the Love of His Life. He nods off in the passenger seat while she drives to Paris. Everyone knows Jason Bourne can’t remember his parents, but you can bet your copy of ‘How to Be a Woman’ that his mum was a feminist.
This week, nine years after he plunged into the Hudson river from a 12-storey office block in ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’, he's back. After years in hiding, Bourne (or do we call him by his real name, David Webb, now that he's finally connected the dots of his identity?) has resurfaced with more questions about his past. This being the spy franchise with an IQ above 75, the new film is grounded in the here and now of geopolitics – super hackers, cyber warfare and civil liberties v government surveillance.
The reviews are three-star meh (can it be true, has Bourne really gone conventional?). But I’m standing by my anti-hero. Because really, what’s the alternative? 007? Watching ‘Spectre’ last year, I swear that every single woman in the cinema shrieked with laughter the moment Lea Seydoux wafted into the dining car of a train in a slinky satin dress after a mad chase across Morocco from Blofeld’s henchmen. Never mind picking bits of glass from under her nails – it was like she’d just spent the past four hours in hair and make-up. The message was clear: Yes dear, you can run around with Bond and the boys, but don’t let yourself go.
As Matt Damon neatly put it in an interview: ‘[Bond] is a misogynist who likes swilling martinis and killing people and not giving a shit.’ By contrast, he’s called Bourne a ‘serial monogamist’: ‘His girlfriend is dead and he does nothing but think about her.’ And that’s the thing with Bourne. In 'Ultimatum’, he was still haunted by grief and guilt about Marie’s death in 'Supremacy'. How long did it take 007 to get over Strawberry Fields (the agent with a name like a My Little Pony) drowning in oil, before moving on to the next lucky laydee? Maybe ten minutes – just long enough to change his product-placement underpants.
That's what I love about Bourne. Yes, his martial arts skills are awesome and he leaves entire streets of parked cars smashed in his wake. But he suffers actual remorse. Bourne is the action hero you root for if you’re the kind of person who watches a car chase pile-up in a movie thinking: I hope no-one got hurt. Or: What if one of those drivers is a single parent who hasn’t got insurance and needs their car to get to work? Remember the scene at the end of ‘Supremacy’ when Bourne tracks down the young Russian woman whose parents he killed to apologise? As Damo says: ‘He’s tortured by the things he’s done and feels empathy and compassion for other people.’ A lot of that is down to the way he plays the character. Like somewhere inside there’s a guy who’s great with kids and mows his elderly neighbour’s lawn fighting to get out.
My biggest fear about the new ‘Jason Bourne’ film is that newest cast member Alicia Vikander, 27, who plays a hotshot CIA staffer, will (maybe a movie or two down the line) end up as love interest to 45-year-old Damon. Much better is Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw’s genius idea that she slip into Bourne’s mud-colour t-shirt and take on the role herself. Until then, I’m hoping Jason Bourne staggers on – until arthritis sets into that persistent limp of his.
Read our review of 'Jason Bourne' now