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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

Bourne vs. Bond: no contest

(Looking for my review? It’s here.)

So Matt Damon thinks James Bond is a pig, does he?

Bond is “an imperialist and he’s a misogynist. He kills people and laughs and sips martinis and wisecracks about it,” Damon, 36, told The Associated Press in an interview….

“Bourne is this paranoid guy. He’s on the run. He’s not the government. The government is after him. He’s a serial monogamist who’s in love with his dead girlfriend and can’t stop thinking about her,” Damon said. “He’s the opposite of James Bond.”

No disrespect to Matt, but c’mon: this is no newsflash. Any lingering doubts about whether James Bond was a relic of decades past was surely put to rest with the arrival of 2002’s The Bourne Identity and a new kind of superspy: the one disenchanted with his work, his methods, and the philosophy of his superiors, instead of one perfectly happy with it all.

There can be no doubt, too, that last year’s Casino Royale, with its dramatic reimagining of Bond, was a response to the wild success of Identity and 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy. This new Bond was real in a way that he had never been before: he bled, he hurt, his heart got broken.

But for all the grim brass tacks and the dispensing of the cartoonishness of the previous Bonds in Royale, Daniel Craig’s 007 remains a weapon of the establishment at a time when the establishment is under fire and under suspicion more than it has been in living memory. When your prime minister gets pushed out of office by a citizenry who can no longer stand the sight of him or endure his policies, well, do you really want a hero who is — ostensibly — carrying out those policies? But who better to cheer on than a guy who suddenly wakes up one day and realizes that he’s on the wrong side, that what he’s been fighting for a lie? Jason Bourne is evidence of how screwed up the establishment is.

Film.com’s Cargill says, “So what if James Bond is a pig? It’s not like he’s meant to be a role model or anything.” (I’m paraphrasing a bit.) But it’s not about Bond being a role model, or whether he should be. Hell, Bourne is no role model either — and he’s just as fantastical, in his own way, as Bond, with his almost superhuman speed and reflexes.

What it’s about is this: How far do we trust our governments? Bond is an unquestioning agent of his government, right or wrong. That’s an outmoded attitude in today’s political environment in which the perfidy of self-serving leaderships is undeniable and increasingly dangerous on a global scale. Patriotism cannot be unquestioning … when it is, it is open to abuse by that leadership. What makes Bourne a hero for the 21st century is that he comes to realize that his patriotism has been abused — this is the central theme of The Bourne Ultimatum. Bourne doesn’t just feel more than Bond, he thinks more.

Cargill says, “Bourne is an amnesiac. He doesn’t have to feel guilty about what he’s done because he can’t remember it.” Right. Bourne doesn’t remember, doesn’t have to feel guilty — but he does anyway, because his sense of right and wrong doesn’t come in a memo from his bosses.

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