The Bourne Legacy, opening today, moves through the shadowy world of espionage once again

Robert Ludlum’s 1980 bestseller The Bourne Identity was typical of that era’s spy novel — a kind of tough, macho style with the CIA being very definitely on the side of the angels and the rest of the world either being compliant hand maidens or outright wicked.

A man is fished out of water with bullets in his back and head. Thanks to the bullet in his head, he suffers from amnesia and apart from a numbered account in his hip has no clue to his identity.

He goes to the bank in Zurich and finds out his name is Jason Bourne and the world and his wife are out to kill him. Much breathless action follows till all is made clear — Bourne is a CIA operative and part of Treadstone, an operation to flush the international assassin Carlos.

It sounds like a Feroz Khan plot, doesn’t it? Maybe it is because of Jaanbaaz and that bald, light-eyed killer, Carlos who wiggles his eyebrows at Kabir Bedi before shooting him.

A mini-series was made in 1988 which was quite close to the book and then came Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity in 2002 which proved the game changer. Taking the bare bones of the story, he created an updated version, where something is definitely rotten in Langley. Matt Damon played Jason Bourne keeping that crucial half-step ahead of his shadowy pursuers with cold intelligence. The movie and its two sequels, directed by British director Paul Greengrass, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) stood out for its smart plotting and stylised technique.

Jason Bourne like James Bond (look ma they even have the same initials!) is involved in espionage and travels to exotic corners of the world at the drop of a hat. But where Mr. Bond looks the evil megalomaniac in his eye and says “Bond, James Bond”, Bourne with his multiple identities is forever blending in. He is the ultimate spook who can be invisible in a crowd. Locations rather than just being pretty backdrops, are are living environments.

Also unlike 007, Bourne avoids gas guzzling sports cars (he seems mindful of carbon footprints) and uses public transport — remember he takes a bus from Panaji in Goa. Bourne also doesn’t need gadgets from Q as he is quite capable of creating mayhem with a newspaper and a toaster.

After Ultimatum there was talk of a fourth movie. Once Greengrass definitely said he was not going to be part of the fourth movie, Damon also opted out.

The Bourne Legacy stars Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz with Edward Norton as the chief antagonist. Joan Allen, (Pamela Landy), David Strathairn, (Noah Vosen) Albert Finney, (Dr. Albert Hirsch) and Scott Glenn, (Ezra Kramer) reprise their roles from earlier films. The film is directed by Tony Gilroy who wrote the earlier three movies.

Though the movie does not feature Jason Bourne, the name in the title is to indicate that the movie is part of the same universe. After Bourne laid waste Blackbriar, the CIA thinks of shutting down its other black ops including one called Outcome. Renner is an agent with Outcome and once they fail to kill him, he is on the run to expose the agency.

Without the amnesia angle and the consequent questions about identity and right and wrong — an assassin who cannot remember has found the perfect way to deal with his kills, one wonders how Legacy would play out.

Incidentally, the year The Bourne Identity came out, Tumko Na Bhool Payenge directed by Pankaj Parashar was also released. The movie featured Salman Khan who is fished out of the sea with bullets in his back and no memory of how he got there. Amnesia is a big favourite of our cinema thanks to our culture of forgetting — but that is another story altogether.