With Jason Bourne rushing into theaters on Friday, fans will inevitably want to brush up on the franchise’s first three movies. But anybody that throws in their DVDs and sits back to watch some heart-pumping spy thriller intrigue wont be looking for any sort of eloquent script-work or character development from the series, to which Matt Damon is returning for the first time since 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum.
This is, after all, the Bourne franchise, which is known for its gritty realism and relentlessly awesome action set-pieces. People will head to the theater for the espionage-based spectacle, but mostly just to see Matt Damon’s amnesiac secret agent pummel other people to a pulp. They’re the series’ hallmark, which makes it pretty hard to choose the best. But we’re brave enough to try, so here goes nothing.
5. The Stairwell Fight
It’s a pretty solid Bourne movie trope: some bad dudes are looking for the special-ops assassin, and Damon’s character manages to ice each thug with graceful, gritty aplomb. Case in point: this stairwell fight from filmmaker Doug Liman’s 2002 original, The Bourne Identity. Bourne takes out guys by dual-wielding a pair of firearms with one gun right-side-up and another upside-down, and with ease. But the pièce de résistance is Bourne going so far as to use one of the dead baddies as a flying human shield just to take out another one of their unfortunate bad guy friends who is marching up the stairs with a very large machine gun. As per the Bourne franchise though, our unbreakable hero is anything but, and Damon has to take a minute to recover from the ridiculous (and ridiculously awesome) bit of tactical maneuvers he just pulled off.
4. The Waterloo Fight
Another close-quarters brawl, this time in director Paul Greengrass’s third installment of the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum. The setup of this fight is the prolonged lead-in involving actor Paddy Considine’s journalist character being tailed by government stooges out to silence him. The banter between Considine’s anxious Simon Ross character and Bourne’s cool, calm, and collected spy caps a great bit of espionage thriller. It connects what is essentially two guys talking on the phone in the middle of London’s Waterloo station with a brief eruption of violence in the corner when the situation boils over. Bonus points go to Bourne for once again using one of the stooges as a temporary shield to incapacitate another’s gun before high-tailing it out of there. Unfortunately it’s all for naught — Considine’s character is later assassinated when he doesn’t heed Bourne’s advice.
3. The Pen Fight
This is one of the fights that made audiences first sit up and take notice that Jason Bourne isn’t your typical 007 ripoff. When Bourne and his civilian companion Marie are laying low in a Paris safe-house, they quickly learn it isn’t quite as safe in there as they’d hoped. The dude with the frosted tips happens to be a brainwashed secret agent from the same government program as Bourne, and has been sent to kill them to make sure they don’t keep causing problems. Bourne quickly disarms bleach blonde, and things turn into an atypical close-combat brawl. The tow-colored assassin pulls a mini knife, causing Bourne to think fast. A ballpoint pen has never been so deadly.
2. The Jump-Between-Windows Fight
This Tangiers-set fight in The Bourne Ultimatum encapsulates basically everything that makes a Bourne fight great. The cat and mouse intrigue, the hurried camerawork, the practical stunts, and a bone-breaking and brutal brawl. The key to this one is the seemingly simple but totally unbelievable shot that follows Bourne from one apartment to the next through a glass window to take out another brainwashed government assassin named Desh. This time, the killer is out to silence a secret exiled source spilling secrets about the government program called “Blackbriar,” which created agents like Bourne. The other key is the way the film’s editor, Christopher Rouse, manages to create a sense of panic with a rapid series of quick cuts, while still maintaining a sense of proximity for the audience once the fight gets going. It could have been a confusing mess, but instead it’s a gloriously ferocious scene of tactile intensity.
1. The Magazine Fight
At worst, critics say these kinds of fights are mere gimmicks, but the so-called magazine fight in Greengrass’s first entry in the series, the sequel The Bourne Supremacy, sees the pen fight from the first movie and raises it with another seemingly innocent object. Bourne foregoes the pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword tactic and trades it in for a magazine. It would be a gimmick if the movie revelled in the idea, but it simply reinforces the fact that Bourne’s certain set of skills can be adapted to basically any situation. When his hands fail him, he’ll use whatever he can get those hands on to complete his mission. This time it just so happens to be the latest issue of some hoity toity European interior design magazine.
Honorable Jeremy Renner Mention
You thought we’d forget about the black sheep of the family didn’t you! Poor Bourne Legacy, you never had a chance without Matt Damon. Well at least you had this pretty killer fight where Jeremy Renner’s super-soldier Bourne-wannabe Aaron Cross takes out a bunch of dudes in Rachel Weisz’s sparsely decorated and surprisingly dilapidated country hideout.