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The James Bond franchise has been the reigning champ of the spy genre since its first outing, and even now it would be bold to say it's no longer the gold standard for espionage movies. It may be even bolder to say it still isn't, though many began to question if the crown was slipping when Jason Bourne movies arrived on the scene and started doing things that the Bond movies were not.
As much as I love James Bond, I believe the Bourne movies have outshined the premiere franchise in a few different ways over the years. Here are some of the ways I think Bourne has outshined Bond, and will continue to do so until further notice.
Jason Bourne Is A Better Spy, And Isn't Even A Spy
James Bond is smooth as silk, a womanizer, and a great marksman, but he's never necessarily been known for one of the most important things about a spy: keeping a low profile. The hiding in plain sight thing has worked out for Bond so far, so I can't really justify him going dark in every mission, but one of these days a villain will get the drop on him and he'll regret giving his full name to anyone who asked days prior.
For Jason Bourne, keeping a low profile and gathering intel was his means for survival. If he wasn't constantly on the move or searching for leverage against the CIA, he'd be dead. The plot does kind of demand Bourne be one step ahead of the CIA even though he's basically just a highly skilled brainwashed assassin, but in doing so, it's made it so that Bourne has to be a spy on the level that he's a step ahead of one of the biggest intelligence organizations in the world.
The Bourne Movies Have Better Continuity Than The Bond Films
The Bond franchise has been around for decades, and while that's a true testament to its success, it also gives it a major disadvantage in this category. The Bond movies have very little to no continuity, and even when movies try to make connections (like with recent outings), the layman may need a road map to navigate the ins and outs of the story and make sense of it.
There are less Bourne movies, yes, but it isn't hard to tell which order they come in or how they all factor into the big picture. Jason Bourne's story is one big arc set across four movies, and then there's Jeremy Renner's offshoot The Bourne Legacy which is still tied to the story, but not necessarily that of Bourne. You don't have to make sense of it, it already makes sense, and I can really appreciate that when trying to work out Bond connections.
The Bourne Franchise Is More Capable Of Expansion And New Stories
The James Bond franchise has lived for decades in Hollywood, and yet, we still have yet to see a spinoff come from this franchise. Granted, there have been whispers of something happening after the upcoming No Time To Die, but until then, this adventure has been about the story of James Bond. Kind of strange considering MI6 has more than just one field agent, and there have to be more stories to tell or create from this rich universe.
The Bourne movies have already had two spinoffs, one being The Bourne Legacy and the second being the short-lived Treadstone. While the movie has yet to get a followup and the show apparently won't get another season, both showed that this franchise can continue without Jason Bourne if it has the right idea. I'll personally add that Treadstone was an exciting show that didn't quite get the attention it deserved, and think it had the right idea with how to expand the world of Bourne greatly.
One Could Argue Daniel Craig's Bond Is Largely Inspired By Jason Bourne
Though there were those with doubts about a "blonde Bond" there's no denying Daniel Craig's rough and tumble take on James Bond reinvigorated the franchise. There's also little denying that his movies have taken some inspiration from the success of the Bourne movies, and it's easier to see Jason Bourne in James Bond in Craig's take than it is to see Bond at times.
Sure, Craig's Bond has the style and is arguably classier in some regards than past Bonds. He's also a master of close quarters combat and gritty in a way past incarnations weren't. Jason Bourne is obviously the standard for covert agents with great close combat skills, and you see a lot of Bourne's moves in the bathroom scene in Casino Royale. This could just be a sign that James Bond has finally gotten with the times, though I (and others) are more convinced it's more the Bond franchise finally seeing a legitimate contender and measuring up against someone else in the spy genre.
There's Only One Jason Bourne
James Bond has had the luxury of remaining relevant over many decades, but with that legacy comes the need for change. Sean Connery is a fantastic actor with an undeniable legacy, but there are just some things at the ripe old age of 89 he couldn't do playing Bond today. To keep Bond looking smooth, suave, and suitable for action recastings are needed, which isn't the worst crime in the world. Characters are recast all the time, but there is something to be said for when only one actor plays a role.
Matt Damon is Jason Bourne, and it looks like he will be the only actor to play Bourne. Perhaps that will change if the franchise is around for as long as Bond, but for now, there's something commendable about how this franchise is willing to try and branch out without needing Jason Bourne. If that changes sometime down the road, I think something will be lost, though can ultimately get given the franchise hasn't necessarily found another major face to lead the franchise. Until that day comes though, I'll tip my hat to Bourne to giving its star just one face.
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