Bond and Bourne began as book characters who made a successful shift to the big screen. Bond has been around longer since the books on which he is based came out between the 1950s and ’60s while the Bourne books came out in the 1980s and 1990, at least those by Robert Ludlum. A new series was started with Eric Van Lustbader after Ludlum’s death in 2001.
The first Bond movie I saw in a theatre was Diamonds are Forever starring Sean Connery as James Bond, his last until he came back in the rather forgettable Never Say Never Again, which was not really part of the franchise but managed to squeeze in there somehow. I saw the rest of the Connery films (along with the solo flick by George Lazenby) on Betamax. Roger Moore took over from Connery and when he retired, Timothy Dalton took over, then Pierce Brosnan, and, currently, Daniel Craig.
Brosnan appears to have been the most spy-like. Craig is more a licensed thug although his run is the most coherent series, although the Austin Powers ending to Spectre was really awful and disappointing for a promising new twist to the old character. Connery was something of a cross between the two. Moore was the most suave, the quintessential Englishman but he was also the most compromised. I often wondered how he could still operate as a spy when everyone knew who he was down to his Walter PPK. Craig has the best choreographed fight scenes. Brosnan next but I guess this is expected with the development in filming over the years. We can expect newer films try to make their scenes more realistic. Compared to theirs, Connery’s and Moore’s fight scenes looked pretty antiquated where a single karate chop or kick is expected to knock a bad guy out. Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the most underrated Bond story.
Jason Bourne came out in the movies in the 2000s. It was miles from the original story in the Ludlum novels except for the amnesia and being picked up at sea. The original story was more like Aidan Quinn’s The Assignment, which came out a year or two before the first Bourne movie. Maybe this forced the producers to come up with a different direction because it could have still been adopted with a few tweaks for the 2000s. The original story had David Webb volunteering to go undercover as a terrorist named Jason Bourne in order to force the real terrorist called Carlos the Jackal out of hiding and kill him, which he finally did in the third book. Bourne of the movies is no spy. He is a killing machine plain and simple. He may adopt cover identities but he had one purpose: kill.
Parenthetically, Carlos the Jackal is a real-life terrorist whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez best known for a series of bombings targeting Jews in France in connection with his espoused aim of liberating Palestine. He has been captured and serving prison sentences in France. Here’s the thing, his nom de guerre was taken from The Day of the Jackal, a novel written by Frederick Forsyth, which was also made into a movie starring Edward Fox, the M in Connery’s Bond comeback film Never Say Never Again. Good movie by the way. The reboot, The Jackal, with Bruce Willis as the assassin is right there with Never Say Never Again as one of the most forgettable movies of all time.
Bond is more versatile; however, his tradecraft is pretty sloppy for a spy. At least Craig is. Moore too, of course. Bourne takes the effort to wipe his presence from a scene. Bond leaves it around. Worse, he left an electronic trail that Bourne avoids as much as possible unless he wants you to see it. Knowing that there was a CCTV in the hideout of Mr. White, alias The Pale King, Bond left the footage there for all to find. That placed the life of the daughter of Mr. White in danger, and was even used to torture her in a way. Bond also has a way of lingering at a scene — at times depending on the home government to straighten things out as if it was that easy to straighten out an international incident — whereas Bourne would just disappear.
Bourne appears to represent an actual spy or operator: low-key, efficient and self-sufficient. Bond’s much more glamorous life isn’t really sustainable. It works for particular operations but over too much time, its value quickly dissipates. It’s more public, therefore, the spy would really have to keep his activities pretty mundane. That’s how you maintain your cover. Avoid publicity as much as possible. Just ask The Americans. I’m sure Ian Fleming knew what he was doing when he created Bond since he served wth British Naval Intelligence. The filmmakers maybe had Hollywood ideas that we know can be farthest from reality. Even for a movie.
Between the two, I prefer Bourne over Bond. I like the Craig series but, on the whole, I think Bourne is much more credible as a spy or operative. Both are lethal but Bond calls to much attention on himself. Bourne will strike from nowhere. Even if you know he’s there. Bourne has, to me, the best choreographed fight scenes in Hollywood. Fantastic storytelling even for Hollywood. That’s how you do a clandestine operation on film. The series definitely has plot holes; however, when everything is said and done, I find Bourne more believable than Bond. Craig is getting there with Skyfall but got derailed a bit by Spectre. Austin Powers as inspiration? Yeah, right. Bourne wins.