After vowing that they were done with the Bourne films, Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are back with yet another Jason Bourne movie called, um, Jason Bourne. Arriving after a stellar trilogy of Damon-led films and a sole experiment with Jeremy Renner, Jason Bourne had the potential to be another gripping instalment in the life of everyone’s favourite amnesiac superspy. What was delivered has instead fallen far short of what came before, including the Damon-less The Bourne Legacy which at least made an admirable attempt at innovation. My review of Jason Bourne is after the jump.
Years after he helped blow the lid off of the CIA’s clandestine, unethical black ops programs Treadstone and Blackbriar, Jason Bourne once again finds himself targeted by his former agency, now led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) who has dispatched another assassin (Vincent Cassel) to neutralise Bourne, as well as the head of the CIA Cyber Ops division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who may or may not have her own reasons for hunting Bourne down.
The original Bourne trilogy was a rare beast: a series of intelligent blockbuster films that told an engaging, relevant story that spoke to real world issues such as mass surveillance and the consequences of wanton, government-sanctioned killing to ostensibly maintain the security of one’s country. The trilogy was also famed for delivering pulse-pounding and relentless foot and car chases alongside brutal, close quarter combat designed to make the convincing case that Matt Damon could kick some serious ass. Influencing films such as the impeccable Casino Royale, the Bourne trilogy was a refreshing example of what can be accomplished when Hollywood strives to craft meaningful films, as well as profitable ones. Most importantly, the third film ended with the character’s emotional journey complete and the program responsible for his indoctrination seemingly in tatters.
Jason Bournes biggest problem is a complete lack of a reason to exist. Do you ever get the feeling that a movie was made solely for the purpose of making money, cashing in on any lingering goodwill towards its previous instalments? Jason Bourne is exactly that kind of movie. Whereas each instalment of the initial trilogy felt vital and moved the plot and the character of Jason Bourne forward towards an endgame or toward some meaningful new revelation, Jason Bourne exists only to tell a perfunctory, overly simplified story that we have seen before in as unimaginative a way as possible.
The absence of regular writer Tony Gilroy, who would reliably deliver clever, twisting plots is solely missed (director Greengrass and Bourne editor Christopher Rouse are on scripting duties this time around). Sure this movie has many of the tropes of the other Bournes including Greengrass’ handheld photography and scenes where Bourne outsmarts or outfights everyone that comes after him, but what’s missing is a sense that our protagonist is in any real danger or that the stakes for him and those he cares about are particularly high. The film’s attempt to use a new character as a commentary on the dangers of a worldwide invasion of privacy is clumsy and poorly integrated into the plot as if the writers were trying just a little bit too hard to make their movie relevant for a 2016 audience.
On the acting front, Matt Damon’s portrayal of Jason Bourne is neither interesting or even likeable as the occasional flickers of humanity and warmth he showed in previous films have by now completely dissipated. Also disappointing is Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee. A talented actress in other movies, it doesn’t help that she only has one facial expression in this film and that the character’s ambiguous motivations make her frustratingly opaque as opposed to intriguingly enigmatic. Tommy Lee Jones does a little better, putting his disapproving scowl and laconic delivery to good use here and there as CIA director Robert Dewey but there’s only so much he can do with the material he’s been given. Also disappointing is Julia Stiles’ return as Bourne ally Nicky Parsons, this time used solely as a plot device with the filmmakers failing to make use of her potential, subtly implied personal connection to Bourne referenced in The Bourne Ultimatum.
It’s not all bad though, with the two centrepiece road chases set in Athens and Las Vegas being highlights. Though offering nothing we haven’t seen before, both are breathless, exciting and well shot with Greengrass’ handheld cameras disorienting enough to make you feel as if you’re part of the maelstrom. The Athens chase takes place in the midst of a hellish, violent demonstration complete with irate, Molotov cocktail-wielding protesters whilst the Las Vegas car chase showcases an enjoyably over-the-top sense of scale and destruction hitherto unseen in any Bourne film to date. But considering that almost every other scene is a lifeless, plodding chore to sit through, any filmmakers involved with subsequent Bourne films will need to work doubly hard to balance those stunning action sequences with a strong story and at least a modicum of heart.
By Johnson Hii
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer(s): Paul Greengrass & Christopher Rouse
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel
Runtime: 123 minutes
Release date(s): July 28, 2016