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Idiot's Guide to the 'Bourne' Movies

The Bourne Legacy
Universal

The cinematic odyssey of amnesiatic CIA assassin Jason Bourne left a trail of bodies, property damage and wrecked cars, but there's apparently still more carnage to be mined from this franchise in this week's "The Bourne Legacy."

Picking up after (and sometimes during) the previous three movies, "Legacy" presents a new agent named Aaron Cross dealing with government duplicity as many, many bullets are fired at him, seemingly at all times. As Jeremy Renner inherits the Bourne mantle, we look back at his predecessor to help you catch up. It might be difficult, though — Matt Damon can run really fast.

'The Bourne Identity' (2002)

The Bourne Identity
Universal

The inaugural entry in this cinematic legacy begins with our hero (Matt Damon) doing the dead man's float in the middle of the Mediterranean when he's caught by some fishermen. Rather than winding up in a yellow Gorton's box at your local supermarket, the unconscious man wakes up, violent and disoriented, totally unaware of who he is or why he was found in the water with bullets in his back.

He follows his only clue, the number to a safety deposit box in a laser pointer embedded in his skin (what happened to writing something on the back of your hand?), which leads him to a Swiss bank. In the box he finds a smorgasbord of passports and IDs with the name "Jason Bourne" along with piles of cold hard cash and a couple of pistols. Given that the night prior he put a couple ofcops trying to arrest him in the hospital, he starts to get the picture that his Bourne persona might not be the most mellow fella.

Bourne seeks safe haven at the U.S. consulate but he's nearly captured by The Man again and flees, offering high-strung Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente) twenty grand to give him a lift to Paris. During their drive, the nervous blabbermouth ginger girl gets Bourne to open up about his predicament and he confides that she may be his only friend in the world. Aw!

We then abruptly cut to CIA headquarters in Langley, VA — possibly the most photographed-from-a-helicopter location in spy movie history — where we meet Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper), head of the ominously-named Treadstone program that honed Bourne into the lethal instrument of death that he is. Turns out Conklin had sent Bourne to assassinate a pain in the ass African dictator named Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and now that his agent is suddenly back on the grid he wants him eliminated.

Thus, the movie introduces its coolest feature: Assets. These "assets" are dangerous dudes the CIA just sends a text message to and, whether they're giving their daughter a piano lesson or whatever, they drop everything, grab their guns and get to work. In this case there are three assets activated; the first attacks Bourne in his Paris apartment, only to be subdued by the born-again killer. Marie freaks because the guy had a picture of her on him, too — revealing that she's as much a target as Bourne.

A second asset, code-named "The Professor" (Clive Owen), dispatches Wombosi before Bourne can talk to him, and somewhere during the course of a crazy car chase through the streets of Paris that disregards innocent bystanders and the laws of physics, our hero decides he doesn't want to be the government hit man he once was. Good for you, Jason!

Bourne and Marie attempt to hide out at her stepbrother's place in the country, but The Professor tracks them down. Bourne takes him out in a field, and before the asset dies we learn he's also a noted Treadstone alumni, with his final words to Bourne being, "Look at us. Look at what they make you give."

Marie flees with Bourne's dough while Bourne travels back to the Paris Treadstone safe house run by Ryan Reynolds … er, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), where he confronts Conklin. Bourne learns that he himself had planned the whole Wombosi assassination but had chickened out once kids were involved; he then got shot by his intended target and fell into the drink to be caught by the Gorton's fishermen. Bourne warns Conklin not to go after him any more … or else!

From here, Bourne takes out a bunch of armed dudes for no reason other than one last adrenaline rush for eager ticket buyers while Conklin gets his from the third asset, as ordered by his superior, Deputy Director Ward Abbott (Brian Cox).

In the end, Bourne finds Marie in Greece running a scooter shop on his dime and, rather than chastising her for making such a lousy investment, they embrace and live happily ever after … FOREVER!

'The Bourne Supremacy' (2004)

The Bourne Supremacy
Universal

Okay, remember what we just said about Bourne and Marie living happily ever after? Not so much.

We find the two lovebirds two years later scrounging an existence in some mudhole in Goa, India, where Bourne is trying to piece together his past life through the magic of nightmares. These nightly occurrences have turned him all PTSD, with the only things keeping him sane being Maria and robotically precise marathon runs along the beach.

Meanwhile, CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) has staged a mole hunt operation, but instead of smoking out the traitor, a Russian agent named Kirill (Karl Urban), who looks just like Dr. McCoy from "Star Trek," kills everybody, takes a bunch of money … and leaves Bourne's fingerprints behind. Oooh...

The Russkie then travels to India to take out Mr. Bourne, but his target uses his Spidey sense and hightails it outta there with Maria. Even though he tells her to keep their car moving, she stops the vehicle as she insists on arguing with him — thus giving Kirill his shot, which she takes to the head and sends the car over a bridge into a river. Lesson: Always listen to Bourne.

Kirill thinks his target is done for but all he did was make him mad. Bourne thinks Treadstone is behind the attack, while the CIA thinks Bourne is trying to kill them. This ride on the confusion train continues as Landy gets access to Treadstone files and she's sent with Ward Abbott to apprehend Bourne, who has since intentionally had himself detained by authorities. He soon breaks out, in case you didn't guess.

Bourne steals a SIM card from an agent's cell and taps into Landy's calls, learning everything that they know because they tend to recap it all over the phone (it's just that easy). Bourne develops an uneasy alliance with Landy as he tries to clear his name, traveling to Munich to pick the brain of the only other living former Treadstone operative, Jarda (Marton Csokas).

Jarda proves slightly uncooperative, pulling all sorts of killjitsu or whatever, so Bourne wastes him and blows up his house for good measure. That's called laying it on a bit thick.

Bourne calls Landy and arranges a meeting with Nicky Parsons, who spills the beans that Abbott, not Conklin, was the real man behind the curtain of Treadstone. He goes to the hotel from his nightmares and realizes his first mission was a double murder made to look like a murder-suicide. To get to the heart of this conspiracy, he intimidates Abbott at his hotel room, tape recording his confession to plotting the hotel murder, Marie's death and the agent in Landy's earlier operation. He sends the tape to Landy, and Abbott winds up shooting himself in front of her. That's called an admission of guilt.

Bourne then travels to Russia to apologize to the girl he orphaned when he murdered the couple in the hotel all those years ago. This visit provides a perfect opportunity for Kirill to try to kill Bourne again, but instead it just results in another slam-bang car chase with the Russkie dead at the end of it, presumably all thanks to seat belts (or a lack of them).

Six weeks later, Bourne contacts Landy, who thanks him. He not only clears his name (sorta) but also learns his real one: David Webb. (Not to be confused with screenwriter David Webb Peoples, who wrote "Blade Runner.")

'The Bourne Ultimatum' (2007)

The Bourne Ultimatum
Universal

Okay, now things get complicated.

The movie begins right after Bourne's run-in/drive-in with Kirill as he evades Moscow police and vanishes into the shadows to tend to his bullet wound and fierce limp.

Six weeks later, we find an intrepid reporter for England's The Guardian named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) has stumbled upon some secrets involving Bourne, Treadstone and Blackbriar, an operation so top secret that just Ross saying the word on the phone makes him a target. Bourne arranges a meeting with Ross, but the reporter soon realizes the CIA is after him. Bourne tries to guide Ross to safety but the idiot journalist deviates from Bourne's instructions and gets himself killed by an assassin named Paz (Edgar Ramirez).

ALWAYS LISTEN TO BOURNE!

Anyway, the orders to ice Ross came directly Blackbriar's director, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), and Landy is now teamed with him to help bring in Bourne, who has gone to Madrid to find Ross' source. Bourne's investigation comes up empty, but Nicky Parsons comes out of nowhere to help since it turns out she used to have the hots for him. Hey, why not?

Nicky takes Bourne to Tangier, where they discover the source conveniently right before he's car bombed and get chased by asset Desh Bouksani (Joey Ansah), whom Bourne kills with the help of a book from your local library. Seriously, they need to show this scene to kids, it will get them to read — or at least inspire them to beat each other up with some of the heavier dictionaries.

Bourne then flies to New York to find the headquarters of Blackbriar. He makes the same phone call to Landy that we saw at the end of "Supremacy," only now we know Vosen is listening in. Of course Bourne knows this (why wouldn't he?) and puts Vosen on a wild goose chase so he can break into his office and steal his classified Blackbriar documents.

Paz goes after Bourne again, thus giving us a piece de resistance car chase through NYC that ends with Bourne letting Paz live … for some reason.

Bourne gives Landy the files and heads into the Blackbriar building, where he meets Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), the dude who ran Treadstone's behavior modification program — essentially the Frankenstein to Bourne's monster. Bourne's declaration that he's no longer Jason Bourne, despite his conditioning, sort of plays like a "telling off dad" scene.

Bourne then flees to the roof, where he encounters Paz again and echoes Clive Owen's line from the first movie, "Look at us. Look at what they make you give." This triggers Paz to put the gun down and Bourne jumps into the East River, with Vosen appearing at the last second and shooting at him. Is Bourne dead or alive?

We then see Parsons living incognito somewhere, watching a broadcast about Hirsch and Vosen being arrested, Blackbriar being exposed and Jason Bourne's body not recovered. Bourne then swims away, off to peace, seclusion or perhaps another sequel. We don't know for sure, but we do know we'll hear Moby's "Extreme Ways" over the closing credits.

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