In my experience, nothing excites and unnerves a geek more than pitting his (or her) favorite imaginary character against a rival fictional character in a hypothetical showdown to the figurative death. Nothing. My good friend, Rodney, believes with every fiber of his being that Jason Bourne epitomizes ‘badass.’ Yeah, Matt Damon . . . badass . . . My friend is somewhat goofy in the head. Rodney has even gone to such lengths to name his iPhone after the chronic amnesiac, and dubbing himself ‘The Rod Identity,’ secret sidekick to the world’s most kickass secret agent Again, the guy’s goofy in the head.
Still like all zealots, Rodney actively sought altercations with those who believed Mr. Bourne had proven himself . . . slightly less-than-awesome. As so often was the case, the argument exploded from a deep intellectual discussion on the quality of Hugh Jackman’s performance in The Wolverine while on vacation last July . . .
We had just exited the theater at Downtown Disney, a cornucopia of Disney merchandise, theme restaurants, and — my favorite — AMC theaters. Both Ryan and Rodney, having tragically lost half-a-dozen tennis matches two weeks prior owed the gang lunch, ice cream, and a few hours at the local cineplex. We had spent much of the day at Animal Kingdom, sweating in lines and jumping between sunshine and deluges of afternoon thunderstorms. As the evening sky cleared, we felt grateful for the safety of soft red velvet and an air-conditioned movie theater. I had suggested Marvel’s latest superhero tale — thus, harmonizing my love for Japanese culture with my passion for Canadian mutant assassins — at AMC’s Dine-in theater where we snacked on sushi, mozzarella sticks, and bread pudding . . . mmmm.
After the film, as we piled back outside, recoiling against a wall of Floridian humidity, Rodney used our collective euphoria as a microphone for his obsession:
“. . . a metal skeleton and that healing thing too? Aww man, if Jason Bourne was in Japan, all of those ninjas would be dead in an hour. No powers. Shortest movie in history. He’d do some kung-fu lightning and . . . boom!” Rodney’s hands expand into waves of a swelling mushroom cloud. “Problem solved!”
A family of four stares at my friend’s apocalyptic mimings and accelerate their stroller across the Disney parking lot, their arms and legs blending into a row of parked convertibles. Somehow their matching saffron Pooh-shirts managed to glow amid the dusk-light, affording the momentary illusion of disembodied Disney merchandise piling into a Ford Escape, perhaps departing for Universal Studios or Sea World. I watch them turn out of the lot and sigh. As if vacationing fathers have never dreamed of nuclear holocaust after a day in the Magic Kingdom.
“You’re seriously not comparing Jason Bourne to Wolverine,” Ryan asks incredulously. My overly conservative brother hated Matt Damon after the actor had publically praised the new health-care laws. “The guy’s a Commie d-bag, a James Bond knock-off.”
“Wha . . ?” Rodney starts, caring or knowing little about ‘biased’ Hollywood politics. “I know you did not say that, man. Bourne isn’t just any spy. He is THE Spy. Not some alcoholic womanizer in Armani. A real man.”
“Murph, are you hearing this?” Ryan shouts just as we pass the Planet Hollywood gift shop. From the signs, the restaurant was nearing bankruptcy. The place is packed with middle school tourists from — judging from their bright yellow t-shirts — Venezuela flipping through racks of tied-dye shirts and cheap sunglasses. Few of the merchandise sported the Planet Hollywood emblem. In fact, although the general Disney crowd considered dog-eared hats trendy, most tourists ignored the shop entirely.
“Hey, Murph!” Ryan calls again. “Rodney thinks Bourne could beat Bond in a fight.”
“Not beat,” Rodney interrupts, giving the air a karate chop. “Kill. Disembowel. Wax-on, wax-off.”
I pull my gaze from the store and making a mental note to discuss the sexual connotations of 80’s filmography with Rodney , entered the argument.
“Huh? Oh yeah, dude . . . ,” I recover quickly, dipping into my vast reservoir of spy movies, “Jame Bond could make short work of the entire yakuza. He’s saved the world like dozens of times.”
Rodney scoffs at the suggestion. Loudly.
“What have I been saying? Bond’s nothing more than a firecracker, all flash and no substance. Jason Bourne could take a Roman Candle, land on the moon and still take out a drug cartel. The man’s an artist like that. The only thing James Bond can do is wear a tuxedo, drink martinis, and bed beautiful women.”
“You just sold me on Bond,” Shannon says, offering a wolfish grin. Shan has suffered for the last week without his computer or internet, and as such had become a bit . . . restless.
“All I know is that the girls in Bond movies are freakishly hot.”
I blush a little, stealing a glance at a pack of skin-tight cocktail dresses giggling by the taxi stand. The sun had finally set behind the palms; the summer night gathered around us like a hungry house cat, swallowing the last dregs of sunlight and those little black dresses into the lush Disney landscaping. Disembodied arms, heads and legs skipped along the sidewalks, past Rodney who momentarily distracted paused long enough to stare before resurrecting the argument.
“That’s because you’re superficial,” Rodney replied, pointing a finger at Shannon. “Being an international badass requires you to improvise, use your surroundings to take out the bad guys. Bourne concocted a bomb using a toaster and a few issues of Vogue. Take away Bond’s gadgets and what do you have?”
“Um . . . an international superspy-slash-playboy, who saves the world on a daily basis?” Shannon asked. “Has Bourne ever saved the world? Or wrestled with some hot semi-clothed female assassin in a vat of extra virgin olive oil? Their bodies becoming all hot and greasy, slippin’ and slidin’ all over each other . . . . mmmm.”
Everyone stopped to look at Shannon, whose face had broken out in sweat.
“Sorry, I need to grab a drink or soda or something,” he said, hurrying to a nearby Coke machine.
“More to point, did you ever notice that all Bourne’s fights occur in a kitchen or bathroom?” Ryan asked, doing his best Seinfeld. “Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, it’s no wonder no body ever invites him to dinner parties. The guy goes all beserker at the sight of porcelain and Tupperware.”
Kevin suggested we text the rest of the family for their opinions. He fell back to type and was swallowed up by crowd of Brazilian tourists in green t-shirts.
“The thing with Bourne is,” Sean chimes into the conversation, lawyer-fashion, unwilling to allow this case to go before a jury, “is that anyone could play the role. Matt Damon can only play Matt Damon. You could replace him with any actor and still have a decent movie.”
“Anyone?” Rodney exclaimed, so fast I think a kernal of popcorn shot from his mouth. “Jason Bourne is Matt Damon, one of the greatest actors of this generation. The man’s a genius. Nobody could replace him. Nobody.”
The group collectively coughed.
“I can think of a dozen actors better than Matt Damon,” Sean scoffed. “Murph, you’re our resident movie buff. Any suggestions?”
“Well . . .” My mind scanned through two to three dozen actors with more impressive resumes. “Are we talking living or dead?”
“Oh, living,” Sean decided with sidelong look at his brothers. “We’ll cut Rodney some slack. Living actors around Damon’s age. I personally vote for Viggo Mortensen, citing LOTR, Hidalgo and History of Violence to counter your three Bourne movies.”
Rodney countered: “A History of Violence? Is that a biography? Of Jason Bourne? As played by Matt ‘asskicker’ Damon?”
Ryan, who had recently watched Moneyball for the twenty-third time yesterday — seriously, I counted — chose Brad Pitt, citing Seven and Fight Club as the actor’s best movies.
Rodney: “Fight Club? Hmph, Jason Bourne could take out a entire legion of trained mercenaries with a rolled up magazine and a spork. Pitt can keep his ‘club;’ Damon fights armies.”
Finally Shannon, who had just finished gulping a liter of Aquafina, elected Ben Affleck as his champion.
“Range? You want range?” Rodney squealed, his voice becoming shrill in his excitement. “Check out The Informant. Man, he had me convinced he was some weaselly little twerp . . .”
“That isn’t acting. He really is a weaselly little twerp,” Ryan added.
From behind the bus stop, Kevin reappeared staring guiltily at his cell phone.
“What do the girls say?” Ryan asked.
“Oh . . .” Kev faltered, “they think Damon is ‘pretty good’ — that’s Mom — and ‘hot’ — that’s Bree of course. Katie of course loved him in Ocean’s Eleven . . . but no one seems to mention the Bourne movies . . .”
“Ah ha,” Rodney, now quite full of himself, laughed maniacally. The fact that none of the girls seem to register the Jason Bourne movies did not faze him. “Bourne is the greatest superhero of this generation. Chuck Norris, Superman, Wolverine. None can compare to the Bourne!”
“Murph!” Sean shouted, panic rising in his voice like a man moments from drowning. “We need you!”
“Yeah,” Shannon chimed in, “you’re the movie addict! We need actors!”
I just laughed, momentarily enjoying the night air. All in all, I cared not a spit about Bourne but the argument amused me. Matt Damon certainly could not be counted among the Jimmy Stewarts, Clint Eastwoods, or Morgan Freemans of the world, but he certainly was no Pauly Shore either. Moreover, years of debating comic characters with my geeky brethren had taught me that conversations like these rarely end well: passions flare, egos sputter, and feelings break. Thus, in matters of fictional characters, I stuck by one rule, one basic code of honor, which . . .
“Hell, Bourne could drop kick Batman too.”
. . . had just been broken.
I will spare the intimate details of the resulting tirade. Needless to say, much was said concerning the nature of heroism, the epic journey, and iconography. Allusions to Count of Monte Cristo, Zorro, animal totems, and Sherlock Holmes were interspersed with the concept of the monomyth, the archetypes of the medieval and ‘modern’ knights. On the hood of a nearby car, I drew bar graphs in the accumulated dust detailing the frequency of Batman’s efforts to save the world versus Jason Bourne’s (countless: 1, and that is a tentative 1 at best). Finally from a pile of discarded cups and pizza boxes spilling forth from an overloaded trashcan, I even constructed a scale model of Gotham City, recreating the span of Bat’s responsibilities (the results of which were mixed at best, but I was on a roll).
“Furthermore,” I stated, summing up my argument, “Jason Bourne contends with trained killers and government stooges, while Batman faces off against sociopaths, assassins and monsters both real and metaphorical, avatars of both madness and chaos. Yet he stands resolute, abdicating all claims to happiness and family for the sake of his moral crusade. Moreover, he operates in a world with aliens, demons, and god-like men and women nigh invincible, yet this mere man stands toe-to-toe with these earth-bound titans with a sneer and a whisper through the darkness ‘Come at me with all you’ve got . . . You’ll need it.’ Now … THAT is badass.”
Finished and out of breath, I waited for the rebuke from the waiting audience. Yet on their faces, admiration wrestled with terror as if discovering your favorite rock star was teaching kids about nutrition on the Disney Channel. As such I felt a tinge of pride at the result. Everyone looked Rodney for his rebuttal.
“It is that a fact?” he smiled. “Well, Jason Bourne is still better.”
I smiled back and looked at the boys, who had began to grumble and complain again.
“I’ve done what I can, guys,” I said with a shrug. “There’s a kind of virtue in stubbornness. Bourne doesn’t have it, but you can’t be Batman without it.” And with that parting shot, we piled onto the Disney bus and allowed the bus driver to take us back to our rooms . . . like a badass.