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Film / The Bourne Series

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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 novel series of the same name and (with one exception) starring Matt Damon.

This series revolutionized the Spy Fiction movie genre for its simplicity and glamourless grittiness (as opposed to the Tuxedo and Martini style), as well as for having a smart protagonist, globetrotting (with virtually zero California Doubling), well-crafted suspense and aggressive action sequences, hand-to-hand combat and car chases especially.

The main protagonist is Jason Bourne, an amnesiac who finds himself with super-assassin skills and has to stay on the run from former employers and whoever else wants to kill him or 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, and features variations on Moby's "Extreme Ways" as the end theme.

The success of the first three films helped influence the style of many modern action films. Examples include the gritty direction of the rebooted James Bond franchise for a time (most noticeably in Quantum of Solace) and the Taken films.

The following films (and television show) are part of this series:

There are also two major spin-offs based on the film continuity:

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.
  • Adaptational Villainy: On multiple levels. In the books, Bourne was not really an assassin, but a deep-cover CIA operative posing as one to bring down an assassin. In the films on the other hand, he actually was an assassin for the CIA. Moreover, Conklin in the books, while playing a similar role as Bourne's Treadstone handler, was a far more sympathetic character who, in the second and third books becomes a close friend and ally of Bourne's, whereas in the film he's portrayed as nothing more than another amoral CIA bureaucrat. Most significantly, Ward Abbott's equivalent in the books was essentially the Big Good of the first book; he's revealed to be a corrupt CIA official in the films.
  • Anyone Can Die: Several important characters are surprisingly dispatched over the course of the series:
    • In the first film, Conklin is anti-climactically 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 Abbott. Abbott 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 then set up to be the man who could answer Bourne's questions, but is blown up.
    • In Jason Bourne, Nicky Parsons, after having been in the series since the very first one, Identity, finally bites it. In fact the only major characters to survive the series are Bourne himself and Pamela Landy, and even Landy's fate is still left ambiguous as of the end of Legacy.
  • 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).
  • Ascended Extra: Julia Stiles character Nicky was a very minor character in Identity, and would have been completely overlooked if it wasn't someone with Stiles name recognition playing her. She returned in Supremacy with an enlarged role based on her involvement with Treadstone in the first film. In Ultimatum she ends up becoming a co-protagonist with Bourne, using her knowledge of mission protocol to help root out a Blackbriar assassin and hinting that they knew each other before Jason signed up for Treadstone. In Jason Bourne, she discovers more about Bourne's life as David Webb which gets her killed by the same CIA asset that killed Bourne's father. She even becomes the only film cast member to appear in The Bourne Stuntacular.
  • 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.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Bourne is a master at this, calmly assessing a situation before acting.
  • 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.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Starting with Supremacy a major part of the story ends up being a group of CIA officials trying to track down particular targets from a location in the United States, with a war room filled with computer techs and Ominous Multiple Screens, and they can bring up any computer or security camera at will.
  • Bootstrapped Theme: It was originally just the closing credits music for the first movie, but we've probably reached the point where it's not a Bourne movie without a mix of Moby's "Extreme Ways". The distinctive opening bars in particular have become Bourne's Leitmotif.
  • 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. Taken to an extreme in Jason Bourne when the Asset uses a stolen SWAT vehicle to PLOW through Las Vegas traffic.
  • Cartwright Curse: Being Jason's love interest does not tend to end well as both Marie and Nicky can attest.
  • 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 projects' agents, were actually altered by retroviral engineering to be stronger, smarter, and faster than ordinary humans.
  • 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.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: 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. (On the other hand, they are often seen lying to local authorities to manipulate them into capturing the protagonist. It's only in Berlin that the CIA takes an active role on the ground interacting with German officials since it's American agents that were murdered.)
  • The Dragon: Conklin to a number of Big Bads in Identity; Vosen to Hirsch and Kramer in Ultimatum, Byer to Kramer in Legacy.
  • The Dreaded: To any shady government conspiracy dabbling in less-than-legitimate affairs, Jason Bourne is the Boogeyman.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The chases, natch. Mostly justified in Legacy, since drivers on the streets across the Philippines actually drive like that.
  • 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.
    • Played with in Jason Bourne where he is escorting Nicky, but split up midway.
  • 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.
  • 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: Vaguely. The titles and basic characters are the same for the first three movies (The Bourne Legacy and Jason Bourne are original stories), but the plots are completely different.
    • Treadstone was not a secret assassination squad in the books and its successor Blackbriar plain didn't exist: Jason Bourne was a one-off cover ID that David Webb, a former Vietnam-era special operator, used during a mission to hunt down and kill Carlos the Jackal, and Treadstone was the CIA shell corporation backing the operation. However, the setup of an amnesiac Jason being pulled from the sea is straight out of the book.
    • Several characters are killed off in the films who either survive, or are killed later in the novels. For example, Abbott is murdered in the first book, not the second, while Marie is killed off in film two instead of surviving to start a family with her husband, David Webb.
  • 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 not 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Bourne likes pulling this trope across the movies.
    • 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. In the fifth film, she's identified as being in her early-mid 30s, and since the film is set 12 years after Ultimatum this trope comes up again.
    • 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.
  • 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 (2002), all the mobile phones are late-90s basic phones and we see PCs with massive CRT monitors. By The Bourne Supremacy (2004), we start seeing early smartphones and PDAs, such as the HP iPaq used to ID Bourne's (faked) fingerprint, and flatscreen monitors. Jason Bourne (2016) features recent smartphones and mobile apps, with a subplot involving a social media CEO.
  • Love Redeems: Bourne refrains from killing for Marie's sake.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: The Bourne [X]. Averted with Jason 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.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Whenever Bourne takes his shirt off.
  • Myth Arc: The overarching storyline across all movies is about illegal superhuman assassin projects that are controlled by ethically bankrupt American government officials.
  • Mythology Gag: In Identity, Bourne's alias during the Wombosi mission was John Michael Kane. Cain was the codename of Bourne's fictitious assassin persona in the Ludlum novels.
    • While the Supremacy movie bears virtually no resemblance to the epynomous novel, it does have in common the fact that the plot is kicked off due to something happening to Marie forcing Jason back into action.
      • Bourne being framed for murders due to his fingerprints being falsely planted at a crime scene is possibly inspired by a similar plot-point in the Identity novel.
    • In Ultimatum, the training facility where Jason Bourne underwent his behavior modification is located at East 71st Street in New York City. This is also where Treadstone had its headquarters in the Identity novel.
    • In Jason Bourne, we learn that David Webb volunteered to join Treadstone after his father was killed during a car-bombing that was blamed on terrorists. This mirrors how in the novels David Webb entered the world of covert ops after his wife and children were killed in an aerial bombing during the Vietnam War.
  • Never-Forgotten Skill: Jason Bourne is introduced with having amnesia. However, his memory loss does not affect his combat skills in the slightest.
  • New Powers 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.
  • Once an Episode:
    • Bourne outsmarting CIA field agents and cops in a crowd (starting with Supremacy).
    • Bourne or Cross battling a rival killer in a brutal close-quarters fight, using improvised weaponry. note 
    • Bourne or Cross being chased by cops and/or a third party, on foot or by vehicle.note 
    • The Theme Tune "Extreme Ways" by Moby is played at the end of every movie.
    • A CIA official will be directing a large control center full of intelligence agents looking at computers and tracking Bourne or Cross. It's a different CIA official and a different control center every single movie, and the rank of the official and the size of the room seems to get progressively larger.
  • 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 Bourne Legacy, 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.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: 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.
  • 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 the 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.
    • The prime example is how Ultimatum reuses the final scene of Supremacy near its climax, recontextualizing the dialog and establishing that Ultimatum's plot occurs in the same general timespan as part of Supremacy.
    • Similarly, the plot of Legacy happens parallel to the closing events of Ultimatum and twists the outcome of Landy's actions.
  • 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 black ops 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.
    • The CIA are constantly trying to create the perfect assassin with the following different Operations, in order:
      1. Treadstone - Agents go through a behaviour-altering programme (involving waterboarding) to make them less empathetic. Agents often suffer from headaches and sensitivity to light. Noted in The Bourne Legacy to be inconsistent.
      2. Blackbriar - Successor Operation to Treadstone, no great changes shown.
      3. Outcome - Agents are physically and mentally improved by taking medication. No apparent behaviour modification.
      4. LARX - Similar to Outcome, but Agents' medication modifies their behaviour too. They're stronger, smarter, have no empathy, and are essentially brainwashed into becoming The Determinator.
      • The files that Nicky hacks into in Jason Bourne show that there were 10 Operations total; the aforementioned four, along with six new onesnote . Although we don't find out exactly how each one differed, most of them were listed as coming after LARX, suggesting that there may have been further advancements made to the training process.
  • Significant Monogram: Jason Bourne shares more than just his occupation with James Bond. Also Jack Bauer. Another badass agent.
  • Sinister Surveillance: The CIA, during operations, can hijack cameras nearly everywhere. And 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.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The nature of the series and the real-life time gaps in-between releases mean that certain characters have to be written out and replaced by these. Thus, the CIA goes through three different directors over the course of the series (Marshall in Supremacy, Kramer in Ultimatum and Legacy, Dewey in Jason Bourne), without much in the way of a proper in-universe explanation, and with other characters treating them like they've been there all along.
    • Noah Vosen is an incorruptible (but no less unethical) Ward Abbott, though this is due to the latter being killed off as the Big Bad in Supremacy.
    • Nicky becomes one for Marie in Ultimatum and Jason Bourne, down to being sniped and killed by The Dragon in the firt act of the latter, though this is intended more as Character Development and Call-Back.
    • Heather Lee is effectively a younger Pamela Landy, though significantly less heroic.
    • Jarda in Supremacy is an odd example, because it's unclear whether he's intended to be the same character as his counterpart Manheim in Identity, or an In-Universe example of this trope. Both are Treadstone operatives based in Munich, the actors in question look fairly similar, and Jarda is the only other surviving Treadstone operative at the beginning of Supremacy, with no word given to Manheim's fate. Jarda mentions Conklin's death at the end of the first film (an assassination carried out by Manheim), but his wording remains ambiguous as to if he committed the act personally or is simply recalling it occurring. Both possibilities have equal validity, since the films show that the CIA is not opposed to quietly "retiring" assets.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • 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.
    • During the fight with Desh in Ultimatum, Nicky tries to come to Bourne's aid by fish-hooking Desh from behind. Since he's a world-class assassin with an incredible size advantage, he shrugs her off and knocks her out almost effortlessly.
    • 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.
    • Also in Legacy, 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.
  • Theme Tune: "Extreme Ways" by Moby is played at the end of every movie (spinoff included).
  • 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. A fifth film starring Damon and directed by Greengrass was released in 2016.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Due to the long-running, serialized nature of the series, characters and plot points have a tendency to appear and promptly disappear after having fulfilled their purpose in the plot. These include Pamela Landy, Noah Vosen, Martin Marshall, Manheim, Ezra Kramer, and Dr. Albert Hirsch, and almost the entire supporting cast of The Bourne Legacy.
  • 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...