It could be a coincidence that the two spies have the sort of names that in police procedurals – those on TV anyway – would be typical of a situation in which the protagonist has to change his name but wants to keep the initials so his luggage will still match. Whether Robert Ludlum had any such notion is unconfirmed, but he did an excellent job of re-making the whole ‘spy’ image when he wrote ‘The Bourne Identity’ and its successors.
Since the first James Bond movie came out in 1962, the British M15 agent and his exploits have dazzled audiences with a barrage of sophistication, sex and violence that rarely depends on a believable plot, and James Bond is a not-quite-believable – and sometimes utterly unbelievable – character who always has a flip one-liner to deliver just before he knocks off another bad guy with a suitably devious weapon.
When Ian Fleming was writing the James Bond books he intended his character to be an upper class Brit with emphasis on the ‘upper’. Bond has expensive tastes and habits in the best super-snob tradition but he’s not afraid of getting his hands metaphorically dirty – mind you he wouldn’t be caught dead with literally dirty hands. He’s also the epitome of male chauvinism, but behaves with impeccable manners as he womanizes his way through whatever mission he’s on.
Those missions, based mostly on Cold War activities of governments and/or private sector criminals in Britain, China, Russia and the U.S., don’t usually allow for any gray areas or subtleties; as a rule the Good Guys are British and the Bad Guys are not. Some of the villains in the Bond movies are blatant caricatures, though Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the villainous role played by several different actors in different films, retained his menacing and mysterious fascination until he was finally dispatched to his dubious reward.
As the Bond film franchise continued through the 1980s, producers Harry Salzman and Barbara and Albert “Cuddy” Broccoli saw the need to add a bit of depth or at least humanity to the suave, unflappable secret agent man; by the time Daniel Craig played Bond in Skyfall the character was a little less dapper and a lot more down to earth – so to speak – but basically the martini was still shaken, not stirred. Ludlum’s Jason Bourne appeared after Vietnam, Watergate and the perceived end of the Cold War.
The first Bourne film was released in 2002, after the September 11 terrorist attacks that rocked the U.S. to its core. In many ways Bourne was born of greater cynicism, more pragmatism and a deep sense of betrayal; his enemies are not the larger-than-life and irredeemably awful criminals of the Bond films.
Bourne fight scene
Instead they are often his own countrymen, more concerned about their own careers and agendas amid the power games they play within and without their own organizations. Jason Bourne is really a highly trained agent in a CIA black ops branch called Treadstone; he’s a trained assassin with advanced martial arts skills and a slew of languages at his command, amongst a lot of other assets useful to his deep-undercover profession.
When he’s nearly killed and loses his memory as a result, the real story starts to roll. Here’s a lethal weapon who has human feelings and no desire to kill anyone, but his memory retains all the skills and sharply honed instincts of a life before amnesia. In this respect he’s the equal of James Bond, but his motive is survival rather than any mission for Queen and Country. For both characters, Jason and James, films have outlived the original authors; other writers and screenwriters have taken up the challenge and turned two very different but remarkably similar Secret Agents into huge stars in their own right.
Bond’s history is much longer, film-wise, and he has changed with the times to some extent. Bourne is still trying to put the pieces of his past and present into a future that he can live with – literally, and at the box office. In this case a new face replacing the original Matt Damon just has not worked, although many would argue that there is only one James Bond, Sean Connery.
Bond fight scene Although the Bond franchise rumbles on with new faces for each generation, its core values are lost in the 1960s. Bond has become something of an old and trusted uncle who is just pops up once every couple of years at a family function. We don’t really care if he is there or not, but if he wasn’t there we would probably miss him.
Unfortunately Bourne has suffered the same fate that very nearly befell Bond. A replacement for Connery was almost unthinkable but they got away with it and have continued to do so. With the exit of Matt Damon the Bourne franchise seems to have lost its Connery only this time he can’t be replaced.