Oh, how we long for the early days of 007, when James Bond battled Communists. Remember Lotte Lenya as the SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebbe who tries to kill Bond with a poisoned toe-spike? Killer shoes, indeed! Things were much simpler back then with a clear line drawn between “us” and “them.”
After the Berlin Wall came down, writers who followed Ian Fleming were forced to become more creative when inventing the bad guys. Terrorists from the Middle East picked up some of the slack, but now those who craft nail-biting scenarios for books, TV, and film have decided that no threat is more dangerous than one that comes from within. As Pogo, the central character in Walt Kelly’s long-running daily comic strip, once observed, we have come face to face with the enemy and—surprise!—he is one of us or, more often, many of us.
Conspiracy in the U.S. government is now the name of the game and while such plots aren’t particularly new or original, what makes these thrillers scary is that we now possess the technological know how to bring these deadly plots to fruition. Brad Thor delivers that zinger in the beginning of his latest thriller, Black List: “All of the technology contained in this novel is based on systems currently deployed, or in the final stages of development, by the United States government and its partners.” That thought will keep many a reader awake long after turning the final page.
This “America as villain” phenomenon is at the heart of The Bourne Legacy, the latest entry in the series based on the best selling books by Robert Ludlum. Eric Van Lustbader now writes the Bourne books, but his Legacy bears no resemblance to what ended up on the screen. After three films, Matt Damon decided he would no longer play Jason Bourne, so to reinvent the series, we meet another assassin/spy Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, a medically enhanced killing machine. Threatened with exposure, those running this rogue CIA operation move to shut it down by killing Cross and any of the remaining operatives. There’s much collateral damage, however, since the drugs used to create these super-fighters were produced and administered by a pharmaceutical company. Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) spent years drawing Cross’s blood and giving him blue and green pills, but remained outside the loop. The sole survivor of a government-initiated shoot out in her lab, she is later targeted by agents in her home. Cross helps her to escape and, in turn, she agrees to help him “viral out” of his medication. Obtaining the needed drugs means a trip to Manila. Although the two do their best to avoid detection, with cameras virtually everywhere—on streets, in parking garages, in airports—the government soon tracks them down and sends the next level of super assassin (this one never suffers remorse, making him the perfect killer) to take them out.
Even those of us who applaud our government’s efforts to keep us safe, have to squirm at the photos of Dr. Shearing walking through the airport, picking up a newspaper. After the government discovers which flight she is on, facial recognition software is used to scan everyone on the flight to identify her companion. Compounding the terror is that the majority of the CIA personnel are just doing their job, never truly understanding why they are targeting and killing other Americans. Edward Norton as Eric Byer, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel responsible for overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations, seems like the ordinary guy next door. He never wavers in his resolve to extinguish the program by assassinating Cross and others who for many years just made the mistake of following orders thinking they were serving their country.
Thor’s Black List once again features Scott Harvarth, a former Navy Seal who works for the Carlton Group, headed by Reed Carlton, a dedicated and principled public servant if there ever was one. Harvarth, too, is a grown up Boy Scout, risking his physical and personal life to track down and kill America’s enemies. In Black LIst, however, he and Reed are up against a home-grown conspiracy whose tentacles reach into the highest levels of government and business. Reed survives a fire at his home in Virginia, while Harvarth loses a fellow agent and potential love interest in Paris. Each is on the run, believing everyone in the Carlton Group is dead. Harvarth is aided by Nicholas, aka the Troll, a little person whose exceptional computer skills brought him wealth and frequently found him working for the wrong team. After meeting, and being saved by Harvarth, however, Nicholas’ loyalty is with the former Navy Seal. Never without his two Russian Ovcharkas, Argos and Draco, Nicholas will play a major role in helping to defeat a group of Americans who dream of creating a new Internet, one that will make George Orwell’s 1984 seem like a children’s bedtime story.
ABC wants in on this trend and offers up a new fall show, Last Resort. When questionable government sources order a U.S. submarine to fire nuclear weapons on Pakistan, the crew defies the order and is then hunted down by the U.S. Navy. Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) and Scott Speedman (Felicity) head up a strong cast. Last Resort will have an entire season to build up the suspense of what happens when personal principles trump national interest. Should be an interesting ride.
The Bourne Legacy
Starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz
The Bourne Legacy
Eric Van Lustbader
Check local listings