Film: The Bourne Series

Jason Bourne. We think.

"I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?"
Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity

A series of action films tenuously (pretty tenuously) based on the Robert Ludlum books of the same name and starring Matt Damon. It revolutionized the spy genre for its simplicity as well as for having a smart protagonist, globetrotting (with virtually zero California Doubling), well-crafted suspense and aggressive action sequences. Jason Bourne is an amnesiac who finds himself with super-assassin skills and has to stay on the run from former employers and whoever else wants to manipulate him to evil ends. Each movie follows a slightly different story but retains some basic elements of Bourne eluding government custody, killing a fellow assassin with some household implement and going for an innovative and harrowing car chase.

So far, there are four films in the series:

A fifth movie has been announced, and is scheduled for release in summer of 2016. The plot and title are currently unknown, but Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass will both be returning. A crossover with Jeremy Renner's character from Legacy is unlikely.

The success of the Matt Damon trilogy helped influence many films, including the direction of the rebooted James Bond franchise with Casino Royale (2006).

This series as a whole provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Several, including the dialogue with Professor in Identity, Bourne's apology to Irena Neski in Supremacy, and the conversation (rather monologue) with Nicky in Ultimatum.
  • Anyone Can Die: Several important characters are surprisingly dispatched over the course of the series. In the first film, Conklin is anticlimactically murdered at the end. In Supremacy, Marie (a character who survived the entire book series) is suddenly killed during a chase sequence. Later, Danny Zorn, Conklin's right-hand man and one of the few surviving Treadstone agents, is murdered by Ward Abbot. Abbot is later exposed as a murderer and traitor and commits suicide. In Ultimatum, Simon Ross (played by notable actor Paddy Considine) is set up to be a main character, then efficiently dispatched by an assassin. Neal Daniels is set up to be the man who could answer Bourne's questions, but is blown up. In fact the only major characters to survive the series are Bourne, Nicky Parsons, and Pamela Landy.
  • Arc Words: "Look at us. Look at what they make you give."
  • Artifact Title: The Bourne Identity makes sense given the context of the movie. The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum... less so. And of course, the Bourne Legacy doesn't even have Bourne in it (though that's the Legacy part).
  • Assassin Outclassin': The majority of action scenes are either chase scenes, Bourne beating up mooks, or confrontations with government "assets". If Bourne is the target, expect the asset to fail. If Bourne isn't the target, all bets are off.
  • The Atoner: Bourne.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Bourne is a master at this, calmly assessing a situation before acting.
  • Badass: Bourne, totally. Same goes for every Treadstone, Blackbriar, Outcome, or LARX asset, whose levels of skill and determination nearly or equally rival Bourne's.
  • Being Watched: Jason can plot the location and arc sweeps of multiple surveillance cameras at a glance and guide others through them as well as himself.
  • Black Shirt: Noah Vosen.
  • California Doubling: Spectacularly averted for the most part, with only a few minor exceptions:
    • Scenes from Zürich and the French countryside in Identity were filmed in the Czech Republic (in and around Prague), The skyline of and scene taking place in Amsterdam in Supremacy are probably filmed there as well and the very brief re-appearance of Moscow in Ultimatum was filmed around old GDR era buildings in Berlin.
    • In Ultimatum they filmed a scene set at the Waterloo train station on location, but there was no way they could get the location shut down for filming, so they just worked around the crowd. It generally worked alright as they put up signs to please ignore the film crew.
    • Calgary, Alberta served as Alaska, but that doesn't mean Jeremy Renner didn't actually get into glacier water with little protection.
  • Car Fu: Used by both Bourne and the hitmen sent to eliminate him during the car chases in the second and third movie. LARX-3 constantly crashes cars and at one point a bus in an effort to kill Cross in Legacy.
  • Central Theme: Identity.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Subverted, ultimately; Jason Bourne manages some exceptional, apparently superhuman feats, but the fourth movie shows that Treadstone's personnel, along with several other project's agents, were actually altered by retroviral engineering to be stronger, smarter, and faster than ordinary humans.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bourne gets the job done, whatever it takes. Cross too.
  • Contract on the Hitman: The various hitmen hired to kill Bourne. And, indeed, Bourne himself.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Ward Abbott, who first betrayed his superiors to form a black ops squad with Conklin, then betrayed his black ops squad to use it for personal gain and finally betrayed Conklin as well.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Bourne and Cross.
  • Deadly Doctor: Albert Hirsch, the mastermind.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A lot of the characters, especially the employees of the CIA.
  • Determinator: Insert whoever belongs to the superhuman projects here.
  • Did You Actually Believe?: See trope page.
  • The Dragon: Conklin to a number of Big Bads in Identity; Vosen to Hirsch and Kramer in Ultimatum, Byer to Kramer in Legacy.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The chases, natch. Mostly justified in Legacy, since drivers on the streets across the Philippines actually drive like that.
  • Elite Mooks: Treadstone/Blackbriar operatives.
    • In Legacy, there is the utterly frightening LARX agent, arguably the most elite of these mooks, almost Terminator-like in ruthless efficiency.
  • Easy Amnesia: Averted. Bourne is suffering from dissociative amnesia, caused by the mental trauma of breaking years of training and protocol by refusing to complete his mission, as well as his internal conflict about being an assassin. The physical injuries he sustained, followed by hours of floating unprotected in the ocean, may have contributed as well.
  • Escort Mission:
    • In Ultimatum, Bourne guides reporter Simon Ross (carrying important information about Black Briar) through Waterloo Station evading agents out to get Ross, mostly through instructions via cell phone. A potentially awesome escape is averted when Ross deviates from Bourne's instructions and in a panic, rushes into the open, prompting a headshot from an awaiting sniper.
    • In Legacy, Aaron Cross has to take Marta to Manila to obtain the medication. She was already being tracked by the CIA/Outcome operatives.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Guess who.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Treadstone is supposed to have transformed Bourne into the ultimate assassin, but he can't bring himself to kill a father while his kids are watching. His plan necessitated a lack of witnesses, meaning if he had killed Wombosi, said children would have been next.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Avoided, but played straight once in Identity.
  • Evil Mentor: Dr. Albert Hirsch
  • Film Noir: Some of the stylistic elements of the series (e. g. Bourne is a loner on the run investigating the convoluted secrets behind his past, most of the action in Europe takes place during the snowy winter months, adding to the gloomy atmosphere, etc.).
  • The Film of the Book
  • Flat "What.": Marie evokes this trope in the first movie.
  • Follow the Leader: You can see a lot of influence these films have had on similar genres, both in movies and television, including James Bond (post-Casino Royale (2006)), Taken, Burn Notice and Leverage.
  • Genius Bruiser:
    • Bourne is what you get if you combine Bond and Batman.
    • Same for Aaron Cross, as the alterations specifically allowed him to have a sharper thinking process and increased strength.
  • The Government: The movies take a very unsympathetic view about American government. More specifically, they portray the government as made up by ethically bankrupt officials busy conducting illegal assassination projects, and when those projects are exposed, they choose to kill their fellow countrymen rather than face trial. This is most notable in Legacy, where no one officials question the illegality of murdering fellow Americans. In fact, all of them appear to regard their targets as terrorists.
  • Heel-Face Turn:
    • Bourne's semi-voluntary defection to the side of niceness.
    • Also, in Ultimatum: Pamela Landy's switch from hunting Bourne to helping him and blowing the whistle on Operation Blackbriar.
    • Nicky also switches sides for Bourne.
  • Hero Antagonist: Pamela Landy in Supremacy and Ultimatum, until she blows the whistle on Operation Blackbriar in the latter film.
  • Hidden Supplies: Bourne's only clue to his identity was a safety deposit box in Switzerland, with cash, fake ID's for multiple countries and a gun. Aaron had a car parked in an unknown location with similar items hidden inside one of the doors.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Bourne, sort of.
    • Legacy also showed that the Scientists were beginning to find this a problem in both Treadstone and Outcome agents, thus developed LARX agents to be more efficient.
  • Hyper Awareness: In the books and movies, but much more noticeable in the books, where Bourne can sense he's being trailed.
  • I Can See You:
    • When Bourne calls Pamela Landy at her office, he lets her know he's within line of sight.
    Bourne: Get some rest, Pam. You look tired. *click*
    • A similar example: Bourne requests a meeting with Nicky. He is asked what if they can't find her.
    Bourne: That's easy. She's standing right next to you.
    • An inversion happens during Bourne's phone conversation with Vosen later on.
    Bourne: If you were in your office, we'd be having this conversation face to face.
  • Immune to Drugs: What fact could make Supremacy's final chase scene even more awesome? Both Bourne and Kirill will have been WASTED while it was going on.
  • Improbable Age:
    • Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is one of Bourne's field handlers on an extremely sensitive mission and apparently has beyond Top Secret clearance given what she is involved in (monitoring all of the Treadstone field agents). In other words, significantly more dangerous to the Agency than Bourne is if she screws up, or if something was missed in her vetting and she is less than 100% loyal. When the movie was filmed, Julia Stiles was a very young looking twenty-one. There's an attempted Lampshade in Supremacy when Nicky explains her cover was an exchange student studying in Paris.
    • Bourne himself looks like he could be another offender, but Damon is just very slow aging. He is a very boyish looking 31-32 during filming of the first movie, which is actually appropriate for an experienced soldier who volunteers for a CIA black ops job, and Jason's file in Ultimatum confirms his birth year is the same as Damon's.
  • Improvised Weapon: Bourne has used pens, magazines, hand towels, and bathrooms as lethal weapons. Yes, the whole bathroom. And a toaster. In the bonus features, it's revealed that he uses Filipino Kali, a practical martial art that emphasizes quick reflexes and subduing enemies while using improvised weapons.
  • Indy Ploy: Arguably, since Bourne is constantly forced to improvise some kind of escape.
  • In Name Only:
    • The premise is mostly kept intact, but the film and book series diverge wildly in where they go from there. The movies are well-crafted and well-respected, having set a new standard for action flicks. They just, you know, don't follow Ludlum's plot.
    • The Bourne Legacy is the most spectacular example of this. Not only does it not follow the novel, the eponymous Bourne himself does not appear in person.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Used by Bourne in Supremacy, when he intentionally lets himself be caught in USA consulate in Naples, and again in Ultimatum, surrendering to the NY police to hijack their car.
  • Jitter Cam: In the last two films. The second one, especially, gave many theater-goers headaches. Toned down for the third. Legacy featured a new director and thus was removed almost entirely, in favor of zooming in too close to the action and cutting between shots far too frequently.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Largely averted. Foreign characters are usually shown speaking in their native tongue.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Pamela Landy.
  • Le Parkour:
    • Frequently used by Bourne to escape his pursuers. Helped popularize the art.
    • Also used by Aaron Cross as short cuts to the second floor of Marta's house, and all over the roofs of Manila.
  • Long-Runner Tech Marches On: Very subtly done. In The Bourne Identity, all the mobile phones are late-90s basic phones and we see PCs with massive CRT monitors. By The Bourne Supremacy, we start seeing early smartphones and PDAs, such as the HP iPaq used to ID Bourne's (faked) fingerprint, and flatscreen monitors.
  • Love Redeems: Bourne refrains from killing for Marie's sake.
  • MacGyvering: Bourne frequently does this.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: The Bourne...
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • In Supremacy, Jason expected Vladimir Neski to be alone, but realizing his wife was with him, he killed them both, and made it look like a murder-suicide by Neski's wife.
    • In Legacy, the Outcome agents are poisoned so their deaths appear from natural causes. The scientists are killed by a colleague going crazy in yet another workplace shooting incident, with the Sole Survivor meant to have committed suicide. A news report mentions that Hersh died of a 'heart attack' while under protective custody before he had a chance to testify. Only the two Outcome agents miles from civilization are slated to be killed directly.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Layers and layers of it are added in each film, but then again this IS a spy drama.
  • Master of Disguise: Bourne's character was influenced by 20th-century assassin Carlos "The Jackal", who was infamous for his ability to blend in and elude the authorities. Carlos himself appears as an antagonist in the novels.
  • Moscow/The New Russia: The second main setting of Supremacy and at the beginning of Ultimatum. Bourne's unofficial first mission consisted in the assassination of a progressive Russian politician.
  • Myth Arc: the overarching storyline across all movies is about illegal superhuman assassin projects that are controlled by ethically bankrupt American government officials.
  • Never-Forgotten Skill: Jason Bourne is introduced with having amnesia. However, his memory loss does not affect his combat skills in the slightest.
  • New Skills as the Plot Demands: Justified in the first film; Bourne has a ton of skills that help him disappear, beat people up and kill. He doesn't know about most of them until he has to use them; best demonstrated when a couple cops try to arrest him for sleeping on a park bench. A few seconds later they're both disabled and he is standing over them with one of their service pistols, a look of utter bewilderment on his face.
  • Omniglot: One of the first things Jason Bourne learns about himself after his amnesia is he can speak several different languages including Italian, French and German.
  • Omniscient Database: The CIA's database. And granted, there's a CD containing various project personnel...
  • Once an Episode:
    • Bourne or Cross battling a rival killer.
    • Bourne or Cross being chased by cops, on foot or by vehicle.note 
  • One-Man Army: Bourne, and indeed any of the Treadstone/Blackbriar operatives.
  • Paranoia Fuel: in-universe. The American government is depicted to be controlled by ethically bankrupt spies who are capable and willing to assassinate anyone (even their fellow Americans) anywhere for self-serving interests. The worst part? Divine intervention aside, they will always get away with it. This is best shown in the scene where CIA-sent therapists try to kill Marta and make it look like suicide.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Most of the cast, including Bourne (especially in the second and third movie). Nicky is perhaps the best example, which makes her warm knowing smile seen at the end of Ultimatum all the more awesome.
  • Positive Discrimination:
    • There are no evil female characters in the first three movies. Either they are sympathetic to begin with, or if antagonistic toward Bourne, are established as being misinformed and at once turn good after learning the truth.
    • Does not hold true for Legacy, where the leader of the team sent to kill Marta is a female, as is a prominent member of Byer's team.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Overall opinion is that they're great movies. The books were written in the 80's, with the Cold War going on. This topic just doesn't carry the same impact now. Plus, the real-life terrorist at the center of the book series, Carlos the Jackal, had been in prison years before the movies were ever made.
  • The Precarious Ledge: Jason Bourne escapes the American Embassy by navigating a ledge.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • At the end of Ultimatum, Landy faxes classified documents about CIA black operations to the public. This makes her a subject to a criminal investigation in Legacy, because, after all, those documents are classified.
    • Legacy: Even chemically enhanced, LARX-3 dies when he crashes head-on on a concrete pillar. Similarly, Cross slips out of consciousness after taking a bullet earlier.
      • Cross and Marta bluff their way into a pharmaceutical factory in the Philipines. The bad guys spend a few hours tracking them down, and call the factory management. Turns out said management already figured out something was fishy and were trying to figure out who to call. The manager - who is an average middle aged man - nearly gets both of them caught just by having common sense.
  • Replacement Love Interest: Nicky Parsons, almost.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: The whole point of Treadstone is to avoid this trope, as all of Bourne's kills are supposed to look like internal rivalries or murder/suicides. As Bourne's handler puts it: "I don't send you to kill; I send you because you don't exist!"
  • Retcon: All sequels fill in Bourne's backstory in ways that color the previous film(s) and introduce increasingly higher-ranked government officials who were really in charge of the Treadstone/Blackbriar program. But the prime example is how Ultimatum reuses the final scene of Supremacy halfway through its runtime, recontextualizing the dialog and turning the Heartwarming Moment of Supremacy into an Awesome Moment in Ultimatum.
    • The plot of Legacy happens parallel to the closing events of Ultimatum and twists the outcome of Landy's actions.
  • Roof Hopping: Happens in Ultimatum and Legacy.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Water symbolizes death. In Identity, Jason was discovered in the middle of the ocean after having been shot by Wombosi's men. In Supremacy, Marie gets shot while driving, taking their jeep off the bridge to the water below, and his first assignment in Treadstone took place on a rainy night. And in Ultimatum, it's shown in flashbacks that, as David Webb, he was waterboarded into becoming Jason Bourne when he first joined Treadstone, and in the end, he falls into the water after apparently being shot, mirroring his first appearance.
    • Cross' first appearance is him emerging from water, symbolizing his rebirth. It even resembles a baptism.
  • Serial Escalation: The first movie concerns about an amnesiac man wanting to quit his job as a contract killer. Fast forward to the fourth movie, and we have ever-growing superhuman projects engineered by ethically bankrupt officials in charge of American spy agencies.
  • Significant Monogram: Jason Bourne shares more than just his occupation with James Bond. Also Jack Bauer. Another badass agent.
  • Sinister Surveillance: The US Government, during operations, has hijacked cameras nearly everywhere, and still can't catch Bourne. Granted, they trained him to avoid it, but...
    • Not only cameras, but satellites as well, as shown in Legacy.
  • Spiritual Successor: Green Zone is from the same director as the second and third films, has the same leading man, is loosely based on a book, involves a possible cover-up, and was even described by Greengrass as "a look inside a privileged world few people see", except it's the military instead of spycraft.
  • The Spook:
    • Bourne was trained to become one of these, and it shows what happens when one of these turns back on its creators.
    • The Bourne Legacy showed that there was several series of similar programs, which trained at least nine more operatives, including Aaron Cross.
  • Stairwell Chase: Played with. And how !
  • Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Bourne. A lot.
  • Trilogy Creep: The third film tied things up nicely, though leaving them open ended in case Matt Damon wanted to return as Bourne. When he passed on Legacy due to Greengrass' lack of involvement, a new character played by Jeremy Renner was written-in. However, as the top of the page explains, a fifth film starring Damon and directed by Greengrass will be released in 2016.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Simon Ross, the Guardian reporter who got in way over his head, and despite Bourne's repeated warnings, panicked and decided that it would be a good idea to try and escape a security trap on his own.
  • Walking the Earth: Justified by Bourne being on the run. The first half of Identity even has a certain Road Trip Plot charm to it.
  • We All Live in America: It appears the CIA can do almost anything they want in any European country while the local authorities dutifully assist them, or at least don't do anything to hinder them. That the local authorities might refuse to help the CIA based of the fact that an American organization has no jurisdiction in their countries never seems to have crossed the writers' minds.
  • Weapon of Choice: Many of the assassins use weapons manufactured by Sig-Sauer, Glock and Beretta
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Bourne is the master of this trope. The CIA operatives try hard to Out Gambit him in every movie. They always fail miserably...