James Bond. Jason Bourne. The two most bad-ass people with the initials JB, (Sorry Jack Bauer) but which one is really the best?
To celebrate the currently filming new editions of both respective franchises with Skyfall and The Bourne Legacy I will attempt to decide which is truly better. It’s a more difficult scenario than you might initially think, as whilst the two have some similar aspects they could not be more different in others. It is also a subjective argument and people will always have their own favourite. Furthermore the odds have been unfairly skewered. For one Bond has been in the public consciousness for a helluva lot longer than Bourne. This gives Bond a little bit of an unfair advantage, having had more time to develop an iconic status. This aside however the two are on a fairly even-keel when it comes to awesomeness.
Both of these characters began in novels but they both found their stride when it came to their respective film adaptations. For sake of fairness the current film versions are the ones I will focus on.
Any good secret agent/disgraced operative really needs to know how to fight. How else will they be able to demonstrate to baddie-faces how awesome their fists are? Pre-Craig era bond had a fairly limited fighting style. It was effective and dispatched many-a-henchman, however it lacked that brute strength and power that Craig has managed to bring to the table. Craig’s fighting ability was demonstrated within the first ten minutes of Casino Royale as he ruthlessly earned his double ‘O status. It was an appropriate introduction to the new Bond as it demonstrated he was not mucking about, when it came to his Licence to Kill. It introduced the new-era of Bond and immediately showed the new tone the series was going to adopt. However had we not previously seen a similar tone in an earlier non-bond film?
I think you would be hard-pressed to argue that Bourne hasn’t had at least some influence as to this new direction and tone Bond is taking. Bourne introduced the brutality that previously Bond had been afraid to offer. When you watch Bourne fight it seems real. His adaptability helped bring some authenticity to his fights. In The Bourne Supremacy he takes on an armed-assailant with a magazine. Then proceeds to win. Bourne has faced numerous foes who should be as good as him and has beat every single one. But really this is all moot when I just need to show you this:
His skill at adapting to his environments and utilising every-day items puts his fighting skills above Bonds. If it came down to a fistfight Bourne would win every time… With his hands tied behind his back… Blindfolded… and probably with a paperclip.
The Man, the Girls
If there is one thing that Bond is known for it is his ability to seduce any woman (Judi Dench being the exception). His name is synonyms with style. Their is a term that can be linked strongly to him. “Women want him, Men ant to be him”. What man didn’t want to be Bond at some point when growing up? I readily admit I did (do). Craig carried on and even sparked knew life into this story.
Bourne however is more of an everyday man when it comes to women. The love story that blossoms in Identity feels natural and not too forced. The fact that after she dies, he does not move on really, drives the relationship home. He feels and emotes. This is where it is important to mention that Craigs Bond had a similar experience. He fell in love with a beautiful woman, even to the point where he was willing to relinquish his job. Not since On Her Majesties Secret Service had Bond really connected to a Bond-Girl. This pain continued into Quantum of Solace. Whilst he may have been quicker to move on than Bourne, the fact that he managed to bring this vulnerability to Bond was effective enough to give him a lead.
Already this feels like an unfair fight. Bourne famously doesn’t even smile in the second two films. Bond however has this:
If it were any different Bond there would be a very clear winner. Sean Connerys’ suave smile alone would trump Matt Damon’s constant seriousness. But with Craig trying to be just as serious there is more room for competition. Bourne has a real journey in his films. He is tying to find out who he is, in the process he has found love and has it taken away. There is an emotional attachment with Bourne. You feel if only he would be left alone he could become a real person with little Mini-Bournes and everything.
Bond however is always dapper and seems to be able to pull a cheeky-grin and pun in any situation (Casino Royale torture scene anyone?). There is little to connect with in Bond though. He is such an icon and represents everything a man could want to be that he become inaccessible. It really come down to whether you want to have an emotional connection or a genuinely likeable lead. For me there is only one answer.
Music is a staple of any great film. The Bond theme is so engrained in the public consciousness that it only means one thing. It can play over any clip and your mind will still immediately go to Bond. It matches his style and represents everything Bond. Then there are the film themes that accompany each film. These have been very hit-and-miss. Some you would be proud to have on your iPod, others not-so-much. Conveniently Craig has both types in his two current films. Chris Cornell produced a respectable theme song for Casino Royale, that could get away with being a song in its own right. Quantum of Solace however harkened back to the likes of Die Another Days theme and felt like it could only be used within the context of the film. Neither piece is exactly iconic though.
The Bourne Trilogy features mainly electronic style music. However the only real theme he gets is played over the credits of each film. The track is Extreme Ways by Moby. Whilst Bond may have an iconic theme, in their current incarcerations Bourne edges this one. This is mainly due to the ending of Bourne Ultimatum. Just thirty seconds before the film ends we have no idea what state Bourne is in. He could be alive or dead. However as it is announced on a TV he is missing Extreme Ways kicks in. Nicky Parsons knowingly smiles and the scene cuts to where we left Bourne. In the water where he first began his adventures. The track sticks with you as you know Bourne is free at this point. It is a fitting close to the film and Damon’s trilogy, the music makes it all the better.
This is another section where I am glad I am only using Bonds current form. If the whole series was open to use he would be steamrolling Bourne. He has a submarine car at some point for heavens sake. Ridiculous? Maybe. Awesome? Definitely. Aston Martin provided the usual cars for Craig’s Bond in both Royale and Quantum. Bourne has a mini. There is no debate here who has the better car.
However how much do you really remember about Bonds cars? Aside from they were silver and he had an awesome crash in Royale, they are very forgettable. In The Bourne Identity however we are given a very memorable car chase. The fact that he outmanoeuvres so many people in a mini is a testament to Bournes skills. There is also the fact that he did not crash the mini. The mini car chase sequence is a much more memorable ordeal than Bonds crash. Whilst the respective sequels all failed to deliver as iconic car moments, the first films more than made up for this oversight. Bonds crash was a record breaking stunt, proving that Bond can even crash in style. Bourne may have a crappy car but boy could he move it. Essentially the winner of this depends on whether you are going for style (Bond) or substance (Bourne).
Even reducing the series down to Craig’s Bond does nothing to make this a fair fight. Craig immediately redefined our perception of Bond. Not since Connery had a Bond been so iconic in such a short space. Whilst Connery is still the ultimate Bond for many fans, the new direction Craig brought to the series was exactly what it needed. This means that for just as many there is a new favourite. This is especially true to younger fans who have sadly never had the opportunity to see the older films.
Matt Damon however IS Bourne. No-one else could conceivably play him at this point. This is why it is a good thing that they have not decided to recast/reboot the series. As good an actor as Jeremy Renner is, he could not replace Damon. There are different rules when it comes to this. Bond at this point can easily be recast because really he is a name and a number. Bourne is however is merely a character. This may sound more effective but it just means that the personality has already been set. Any changes to him would be met with negative reactions. The amount of personalities that Bond has now means he is can easily be replaced. This may give the franchise longevity but it means there cannot be an end to Bond. The fact that Craig was seen as a reboot is a testament to this. He has completely re-sparked the iconic status of Bond, for this he wins.
And the winner is:
James Bond of course. As awesome as Bourne is he does not quite live up to Bonds current shadow. He comes extremely close to beating Craig for the most badass operative, but can’t quite measure up. Of course as I said before it is all subjective really, everyone will have their own favourite. Who’s yours?
This article was first posted on November 29, 2011