I just finished watching the most recent Bourne movie. For those of you not up on the franchise, a secret agent-assassin loses his memory, and runs from shadowy CIA-types who are trying to kill him. That was the trilogy with Matt Damon. In the newest one, the Bourne Legacy, the protagonist, played by a less-charismatic Jeremy Renner, far from losing his memory, has been given an enhanced memory (and intelligence in general) by chemical means, specifically by blue pills. He also takes green pills to enhance his musculature, reflexes and balance. Or perhaps it is in the other way around.
As the reader can glean from reading these blogs, I don’t watch many movies, and this is only my second review. In fact, that recent Bourne movie came out in 2012, so you can see how far behind I am.
My avoidance of movies, one may also glean, stems from what I discussed in the review of the Avengers, namely, a lack of drama. Sure, the visual spectacle is impressive, but, without the dramatis personae, the basis of all plays, movies, novels and literature, there is no involvement of the viewer in the story. One may as well be watching a video game, or someone else playing a video game.
Now, the Bourne movie is not completely bad. One does, to some small degree, identify with the characters, but not much. Aaron Cross, the agent played by Renner, was originally ‘Kenneth Wingstrom’, or something. Originally, he had been an army recruit who had to have his I.Q. faked by 12 points just to make the minimum for the infantry (and that is saying something). Well, for reasons untold, he is chosen for this program to turn such unlikely material into a highly trained soldier-operative; hence, the green and blue pills.
There is the presumption here that intelligence is a function of the brain’s chemistry; dose a few extra neurotransmitters and, voila, a genius. Metaphysics, however, (the science of what lies beyond the strictly material) requires that intelligence be not so much a function of the brain, for how we could a material thing know itself? Then there is the theory of the mathematician Kurt Godel, which states that an algorithm (a material entity like a computer) could not transcend its own operations, and be aware of itself.
This raises what has been called the ‘transhumanist’ question: Can our humanity be perfected, and ultimately transcended, by artificial means? There is an interesting discussion of this at First Things, with some of the bizarre a priori principles of some of these transhumanists, most of whom believe in more or less extreme forms of computerized and mechanical perfection (similar to the chemical-genetic means in the film).
This is a constant temptation of man, ever since Adam ate the forbidden ‘fruit’, the tower of Babel, and every race or tribe that considered its blood more pure and perfect than its neighbours. We now have more technological means to perfect certain of our powers. One could argue that such ‘perfections’ do not really perfect us as humans; they are simply technologies superadded to an always-imperfect human nature. That is, you are perfecting the machine (which cannot think) and not really the person (who can think, but who may choose not to, or choose to think and act badly). Ponder: Does having a smartphone, and instant access to much of the world’s knowledge, make one more intelligent? The question answers itself. Intelligence, whatever it is, somehow transcends the material, and cannot really be enhanced materially.
Regardless, for I will discuss this further in future posts, I am willing to live with the limits of the ‘perfection’ given to Agent Cross, whose special brain powers seem to be limited to the ability to make really good fake I.D.’s. Such skills would have come in handy back in high school, trying to buy a 24 at the beer store. Certainly, his conversational powers in this film’s lame-o dialogues, a lament of most movies, consisting here of emotional shouting matches and pounding various objects, do not evince deep intelligence. They should have given one of those green pills to the screenwriter.
Of course, no one seems capable of defeating Aaron, who dispatches his protagonists with ease; somehow, the pills give this formerly-dumb-as-a-stick army recruit highly enhanced ju-jitsu skills. There is not even a hint of vulnerability. I would rather one fight scene with drama, than ten without. Question: Why and how does Aaron Cross show up at a deserted house just before the ‘evil’ agents are about to kill the innocent female doctor with a faked suicide? How did he get past at least three highly-trained agents guarding the house? Did he drive there, or run all the way from the city? Why wait until the last second, except to provide a contrived tension, which, like love, is no tension at all?
Watching movies like this is like a Road Runner cartoon: The Runner and his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote, break the laws of space and time on a regular basis, but no one cares, well, because it’s a cartoon. I expect at least a little more consistency from a film aimed, presumably, at adults, even if the rules for space and time are ‘bent’ somewhat.
On the Road Runner theme, once they escape, there is lots of running in this film; somehow, the skinny-thirty-to-forty-something female doctor keeps up with Cross, who with his enhancements could presumably outrun Husain Bolt (like he outruns a wolf earlier on). Speaking of the female ‘lead’, she spends most of this film looking somewhat lost, with blank, panicked stares, and, her biochemistry Ph.D notwithstanding, apparently even less intelligent than her supposedly super-intelligent hero.
She does use her smarts once to help him regain his powers, done vaguely through a ‘virus’, this time permanently, a process that seems ridiculously easy. If so, why wasn’t this done earlier on, and forget all those pills they have to carry in their dog-tags?
The now-permanent ‘genetically’ enhanced Cross does set up the basis for a franchise, but I read recently that the producers are bringing Matt Damon back for the next Bourne movie. Perhaps even the producers were turned off by Renner’s lack of charisma (one may blame the screenplay…see above). I thought the getting-on-the-older side Mr. Damon was not returning for what he once quipped would be the ‘Bourne Redundancy’, but money talks, I suppose.
At least Damon’s original character, Jason Bourne, enhanced his skills through training and discipline. Developing one’s potential to assassinate people mindlessly for the U.S. government is not the best use of one’s life, but at least the effort implied in the original Bourne series gives the viewer a stronger sense of involvement, and a more dramatic sense of vulnerability and tension.
Or perhaps a new transhumanist Matt-Bourne will be back better than ever, with pills in hand. Then again, maybe this time it will be smartphone with an enhancement app.
January 21, 2015
Saint Agnes (a real heroine!)