+++ Opinion +++
The longest-lived cinema franchise of all time has had to reinvent itself regularly in recent decades: When Sean Connery temporarily gave up his increasingly unpopular role as James Bond after “You Only Live Twice” and George Lazenby followed in his far too big footsteps, “007” would have almost disappeared afterwards. After Roger Moore’s space trip in “Moonraker”, which was heavily influenced by “Star Wars“ was inspired, the spectacle could hardly be increased. And after Pierce Brosnan’s increasingly aloof stints as Britain’s MI6 agent, filmmakers hit the reset button shortly after the turn of the millennium to place the franchise back in the more believable here and now after the escapist Die Another Day.
Shortly before Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film, “The Bourne Identity” filled the cinema halls, reaped a strong response from the audience and promptly ushered in a new era of spy films. The Bond makers have always known how to react to signs of the times without undermining their brand core too much: they oriented themselves when realigning the five films with Daniel Craig, who made his debut in the 2006 reboot “Casino Royale” and 2021 in “No time to die” abdicated, also on the principle of success of Doug Liman’s gripping action thriller, the one you are currently on Netflix (and alternatively also on WOW) can stream.
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Italian fishermen pick up the body of a man in the Mediterranean who has two bullets in his back but is still alive. When the seriously injured man regains consciousness below deck, he is shocked to discover that he has lost his memory. Who is this man – and why did you want to kill him? The recovered man disembarks in Marseille. He made his way to Zurich via an implant in his hip that bore the number of a Swiss bank account. In the locker, which he apparently rented there, he discovers numerous false passports, thick wads of money and a gun. What does all this mean?
We enjoy a knowledge advantage over the Nameless: Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a highly educated EliteAgent, a killing machine stationed in Paris as part of the CIA’s “Treadstone” program. In the car of globetrotter Marie Helena Kreutz (Franka Potente), whom Bourne meets during an incident at the US embassy, he flees to Paris from the police and his clients, for whom he has become a ticking time bomb. But he’s already expected there…
Jason Bourne and James Bond both have their first and last names starting with the same two letters – but that’s by no means the only thing the successful series have in common. Bond inspired Bourne and vice versa. When “The Bourne Identity” was released in cinemas in September 2002, the 007 series was on the verge of the much-needed restart mentioned at the beginning: two months later Bond was roaring across the cinema screen in an invisible car across frozen lakes, the villain in “Die to another day” lives in an ice palace! Jason Bourne’s first adventure forms a more believable alternative to the 007 cosmos: no bombast, no futuristic gadgets and no exuberant visual effects, but rather grounded settings and rock-hard action that anchor the events in reality.
Losing his memory also makes Bourne more human. He’s not an always superior superhero like 007 often was, but a sensitive, likeable guy. Uncertainly, he reveals himself to his companion (Franka Potente as a counterpart to the classic “Bond Girl”), almost reluctantly he is in the flawless body of a fighting machine. We feel and suffer with him. A similar pattern characterizes the Bond films with Craig: 007 had to get by almost without feelings until the 90s – exceptions such as the underestimated “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” confirm the rule – Bond mourns the death of Craig’s first film “Casino Royale”. beloved Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and embarks on a vendetta in Quantum of Solace.
Similar to the Craig films, the fight scenes in the first Bourne adventure also seem very grounded, which makes them no less exciting: Instead of relying on tricky gimmicks, as we know them from the older Bond strips, these sequences are incredibly physical . After his arrival in Zurich, Bourne not only abuses two patrol officers, but also other agents who are supposed to take him out of circulation. His reflexes surprise any opponent, he fights with the precision of a robot. And yet it looks real.
Conversely, the Bourne makers have been inspired here and there by 007: The breakneck chase in the red Mini Cooper through oncoming traffic in Paris is reminiscent of the Bond film “A View to a Kill”, in which Roger Moore, who was well over 50 at the time raced around the Eiffel Tower in a not exactly brand-new Renault during his last assignment for the Bond franchise. We also know from Bond adventures the global network of agents who work for the same secret service and who, in an emergency, can never keep up with the protagonist. And of course the renegade Eliteagent who falls out with his employer.
The Bourne Identity has aged incredibly well and not only inspired the 007 films, but also kickstarted its own four-sequel franchise. There are only a few breathers: Accompanied by a strong soundtrack, it goes through Zurich and Paris at breakneck speed. But the emotional worlds of Bourne and his companion are given enough space. The characters gain depth and the film doesn’t degenerate into a soulless action spectacle. If you don’t know the Bourne series yet, you can also join in the search for clues in the past: what happened before Eliteagent fell into the Mediterranean Sea? And what is behind the “Treadstone” program, which later even got its own spin-off series?
The fact that Bourne’s superiors – above all the stressed-out Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) – leave the headquarters late in this film and appear quite woodcut-like as characters is, on balance, easy to cope with: “The Bourne Identity” offers a very entertaining, fast-paced game of hide-and-seek in the heart of Europe, peppered with fine humorous nuances. Netflix therefore offers a great alternative for all those who have always found the older James Bond films too aloof.
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