Do you remember the action heroes of the 1980s? Riggs and McClane were just cops. Rambo, Ryback and Dutch were just Special Forces soldiers. Hell, Indiana Jones was a teacher who just happened to battle the Nazis for the Ark of the Covenant, and the Holy Grail. They were ordinary, destructible heroes, full of humour and the ingenuity that allowed them to overcome the odds; and we loved them all the more for it.
We have been blitzed recently by the comic book movie, and we all know what this genre is famous for: the superhero. This onslaught has served to put the word ‘super’ in front of the word hero, casting a shadow over the ordinary action hero. Only the Bourne and 007, “shaken not stirred” franchises are left to uphold the equilibrium of the destructible hero, versus the indestructible superhero. Yet dare I say to hell with equilibrium?
The trailer for The Bourne Legacy suggests that Jason Bourne’s successor Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) will sell-out. It seems that Cross possesses regenerative capabilities, in one shot rising out of the water Wolverine like, dashes along rooftops and jumps from buildings like a superhuman. Rachel Weisz marvels: “We’ve never seen performance evaluations like this before.” No, neither have we. You have upgraded from hero to superhero.
The Bourne Identity opened with Jason Bourne’s body being dragged from the ocean, Bourne riddled with bullets and suffering amnesia. Immediately he faces his own mortality, suffering both mentally and physically.
Damon’s performance betrays the pain of his hero, the physical suffering he endures as a consequence of the thrilling action sequences, the pallor of the worn Bourne. This is never more obvious than in The Bourne Supremacy. On the run in Moscow, Bourne desperately gathers supplies to patch up his gunshot wound, resembling the beaten and bloody John McClane, who picks shards of glass from the soles of his feet in Die Hard, before carrying on; often having to stop to patch himself.
Now I know that some of Jason Bourne’s stunts are death defying. The climactic fight of the Bourne Identity sees him use the dead body of a CIA operative to break his fall down a stairwell, not only surviving but delivering a mind blowing kill shot to another operative.
Jason Bourne though was always the destructible hero, and so I expect the same in the next instalment of the Bourne series, though it looks as if I won’t get what I want this time.
Whilst every effort had been made to present Jason Bourne in this way, perhaps it was always inevitable that the longer the series ran, the more likely it was to jump from hero to superhero.
In truth, the Bourne series as always sat between the traditional action heroes and the superhero. Bourne’s Treadstone past connects him to the origins of Marvel’s Wolverine, Treadstone and Weapon X not that dissimilar. Bourne was a destructible hero whose origin story parodied the superhero genre. Now it seems that compromise is void and Aaron Cross will possess an indestructible physicality. Rather than The Bourne Legacy giving us the action hero it should, it will instead give us a superhero.
Like the super spy Ethan in the Mission Impossible series, it seems the destructible heroes are being pushed closer to indestructibility, and 007 with the gritty and serious Daniel Craig may be the last man standing.
So, what is the harm in this you might ask? The problem is I want to see Aaron Cross the hero, not Aaron Cross the superhero.
If The Bourne Legacy does sell out the only consolation of comfort will be that Die Hard 4.0 sold out first, and I have therefore been immunised from such acts of sacrilege.
McClane was always the cop in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was the reluctant hero, as opposed to the willing hero. His stunts in the early films frayed the nerves because of his ordinariness; McClane the ordinary New York cop, with a personable humour, and resourcefulness for battling adversity.
Then there was the sell-out that was Die Hard 4.0, which transformed McClane into the indestructible hero, the film constantly screaming at us, you see how indestructible John McClane is? Well, do you? This was not the John McClane of my youth, and just as Die Hard 4.0 transformed hero into superhero, The Bourne Legacy may do the same.
I miss the ordinary hero of the 80s. From John McClane arriving in Los Angeles with a teddy bear for his daughter, to Riggs escaping a straightjacket for a bet, and jumping off a building with a guy threatening suicide. I miss revelations like the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark that the action hero is just a teacher.
I don’t want The Bourne Legacy to sacrifice the hero for the superhero. I have enough good superhero movies to choose from. I want the destructible hero that Jason Bourne was, who suffered physically and mentally. I go to these types of films to see a more ordinary hero. If I want superheroes I’ll go see a comic book movie, or better yet I’ll fire up the DVD player with one.