Extreme Ways: A Deep Dive

An anti-establishment hero, trained to perfection, betrayed, left without gainful employment, in the midst of an identity crisis? Jason Bourne is the prototypical millennial. And in each movie, as Bourne makes it through insurmountable odds only to turn the table on his enemies in the final seconds, we hear the same refrain:

Wree! Wree! Extreme ways are back again, Extreme places I didn’t know…

That’s right: Moby’s Extreme Ways. It’s been with Bourne, and with us, for an entire five-film series. Join me on a journey back to the pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, prehistoric days of 2002…

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Look at that young scamp

Despite its hyperkinetic violence, The Bourne Identity reminds me more of arthouse European cinema more than anything else. That may be why Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone all turned down the role, leaving it to comparatively-unknown Matt Damon. Who knew it’d become a franchise?

The choice of Extreme Ways as the end credits song seems fitting — Moby was very popular at the time, and it had an appealing euro-electronica-dance vibe going on.

That original Extreme Ways does not sound like a movie soundtrack in the slightest. It may start like a soundtrack, but as soon as the lyrics kick in, you realise that it’s something very different — especially since the lyrics are monotone.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

“Get some rest, Pam. You look tired.”

One would have forgiven Paul Greengrass, the movie’s director, if he ditched Extreme Ways in favour of something more conventional. After all, the massive success of The Bourne Identity demanded a new approach…

Or not.

The ‘Supremacy’ version of Extreme Ways initially sounds identical to the original version, but as you rummage around for a final piece of popcorn, you realise something is different. Something more… orchestral?

Yes, this version takes a full 24 seconds longer to get to the lyrics than the original song. You only hear Moby’s dulcet tones until 53 seconds in — long enough for most viewers to exit the theatre remaining under the impression that they were, in fact, listening to a conventional movie soundtrack.

It’s possible that Greengrass stuck with Extreme Ways because he liked it, or because he didn’t want to mess with the movie’s formula too much. However, since Supremacy was released a mere two years after Identity, I wonder if they just didn’t have the time to find anything else.

And yet on such casual choices, empires are built.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

“Jesus Christ, that’s Jason Bourne!”

It’s a new Bourne
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

The Bourne Ultimatum was spoiled for me. Not the plot, but Extreme Ways’ appearance during the credits.

I consider Ultimatum to be the pinnacle of the Bourne saga, and the ‘Ultimatum’ Extreme Ways as a reasonably good variation on the original. It’s more up-tempo, and someone’s clearly told Moby to make more of an effort with his singing.

Arguably it’s a bit too fussy with all the wailing, but the introduction of the strings towards the end makes for a good orchestral-feeling, while not losing the essential eurotrash-dance nature of the endeavour.

Time to lyrics: 46 seconds (-6s from Supremacy)

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

For the first thirty minutes of The Bourne Legacy, you think that maybe they’ve pulled it off. Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross has the same kind of compact energy and sidelong suspicion as Jason Bourne, and he’s given a brilliantly tense yet action-packed introduction.

Unfortunately, the subsequent ninety minutes are some humdrum bullshit that attempts to explain — and demystify — the source of Cross and Bourne’s powers. RUINED! We all know it’s millennial angst, anyway.

More like Extreme Orchestra, am I right? But I like it. It’s sparer, more elegant than the over-ornamented ‘Ultimatum’, while retaining the essential quality of the original. The orchestral arrangement give it the feel of a Tron Legacy (the finest movie soundtrack of the 21st century), so it remains my favourite version yet.

The only downside is that The Bourne Legacy has the worst ending of all the Bournes so far. Usually, Bourne outwits his foes one last time using a combination of intelligence and endurance, after which we get the wree wree, but here, Cross just zooms away on a speedboat while making a lame joke. After that shitshow, there was no choice but to return to the OG Bourne.

Time to lyrics: 46 seconds (no change)

Jason Bourne (2016)

Just look at him. He’s an old man now, but he hasn’t lost his wits. He can sense the rise of some new bullshit generation that’s even more annoying and hard to understand than millennials.

We have now reached the point where it’s unacceptable to use any song other than Extreme Ways, as made crystal clear by the most important critics in the world: YouTube commenters:

Can’t argue with that

Again, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they changed things up. After all, the movie’s name was 67% different from the previous four, retaining only the word “Bourne”. Maybe they would make Extreme Ways 67% different as well (e.g. calling it “Ways”)?

Of course not. It sounds disappointingly similar to the previous versions. ‘Jason’ drops most of ‘Legacy’s’ orchestrals in favour of guitars for a more threatening sound. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so there is little more to say.

Time to lyrics: 45 seconds. Clearly the formula has been set.

The Future

Jason Bourne grossed $420 million on a $120 million budget. Conclusion: guaranteed sequel, assuming Damon and Greengrass are interested. Extrapolation: That sequel is near as guaranteed to include Extreme Ways.

Of course, we can’t predict how musical tastes will evolve in the future. Maybe they’ll change the vocals, or it’ll go all-electronic. Maybe it’ll take even longer to get to the lyrics. Who knows.

The beauty of Extreme Ways is that it isn’t a great song. If it was great, we’d be offended that they keep on changing it. Instead, it’s merely a good song, one that we’re happy to hear remixed time and time again, like a carousel.

Extreme Ways lets us travel the way Jason Bourne travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we’ll see the hyper-kinetic shaky-cam competence-porn that we’ve always loved.

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