Back many years ago I used to go to our local library looking for something new and interesting. I would go through the stacks looking for books that had many copies, thinking that popular meant good. I’m no literary critic, but in that manner, I discovered Robert Ludlum, and gobbled up everything he wrote. If not good, at least he was enjoyable. He had a sense of authenticity about him, and his characters, while formulaic, were not the typical American-good-everyone-else-bad type. Anyone could be a villain, duplicity was all about, and power was always hidden in the shadows.
Ludlum died having written perhaps half of his final book, and other authors took over. I could tell, reading that last book, exactly where he passed on. The writing voice changed, the characters became cardboard cutouts.
Robert Ludlum is now a trademark, and the books are written by a committee named “Robert van Lustbader.” I’ve not read another since.
His character Jason Bourne was a wide favorite. A spook who suffered amnesia, he began to discover, as Matt Damon put it, that he was the biggest bad ass on the planet. They made a movie of it, The Bourne Identity, and it was fun to watch as this young man discovered hidden talents, an amazing memory, and incredible reflexes. He also fell in love, had a guilty conscience, and just wanted to be left alone. He was a bit complex.
Two more movies followed, but Hollywood being what it is, they became less enthralling, and substituted chase scenes for real plots. They introduced us to a world Ludlum would have laughed at, where elected officials have real power, where there is a real news media. Spook agencies in these sequels tremble in fear that journalists will expose them, that a congressional committee will grill them, de-fund them. My willing suspension of disbelief went out the window. The movies became mere gladiator spectacles.
I have tried now, twice, to sit through the latest installment, JasonBourne. Two nights ago I awoke to see the credits rolling. What did I miss? Something about Las Vegas. One important facet of movie making was missing: acting. Tommy Lee Jones was as believable as head of the CIA as George Bush in the role of POTUS.
Julia Stiles was carried over from The Bourne Ultimatum, and, of course, killed. Jason is not allowed the comfort of a close companion. But she needed to go, as we were to believe that she too had Bourne’s gifts of computer wizardry and street fighting. She’s a pretty person, and yes, I always buy that a woman can be soft and beautiful and also kick fight and throw a punch that drops a man like a bag of Play Doh. In this movie they they gave us a new girlfriend, Alicia Vikander, who hails from the Walking Stick school of acting. But it’s OK. They will kill her in the next sequel. Honestly, she needs to be killed.
In The Bourne Identity, they gave us the character Marie, played by Franka Potente. She was more of the true Ludlum style, an innocent thrown into an evil world who survives by previously undiscovered nerves. She and Jason were deeply in love – he still had his boyish charm, and yeah, it was just a movie, but I bought into them. They killed Marie in The Bourne Supremacy, as tragic waste of a vital character.
Since that time Bourne has turned morose, brooding, violent and boring. He’s not aging well. I hope in the next movie sequel (The Bourne OK Guys Let’s Just End It?), they do us all a favor and kill him off too.