Review: 'Jason Bourne' Returns Without Creativity, Excitement or Cool
by Jeremy Kirk
July 29, 2016
At least Matt Damon is back, right? That may be a common sentiment from anyone who followed along with the Bourne franchise. The first trilogy of films – The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum – make up an impressively intense series of espionage thrillers with Damon's eponymous character riding high in the lead seat. With The Bourne Legacy, Damon chose not to return, Jeremy Renner took his place, and the stale, lackluster adventure that time around made it seem like the franchise's shining moments were long behind it. It's now 14 years since the initial entry, and though Jason Bourne sees Damon returning for his fourth outing as the rogue super-spy the bloom hasn't quite grown back on the rose leaving us with a dulled, run-of-the-mill version of a series that once actually brushed against the limits of cool cinema.
You don't have to be following closely with the series to know where Jason Bourne finds himself at the beginning of this film. He's completely off the grid spending his days in Greece wiping the floor with opponents in underground fighting rings and generally coping with incessant nightmares and PTSD. It's a luxurious retirement for anyone who spent their better years trekking the globe and taking out nefarious, foreign threats with excessive force. But those days of knocking stooges cold with one punch are about to come to an end for Bourne.
Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the former CIA tech who went underground to help Bourne escape appearing in all three of the original films, has just hacked into the database at Langley, and she's come away with all the information Bourne needs about Treadstone, the program with which he was once involved. Naturally, the CIA notices the hack, begins tracking Parsons' movements towards Bourne, and unleashes a ruthless agent (Vincent Cassel) to take him out once and for all. If you have any problems keeping track of it all just take a look at the four, previous films for reference at any time – they'll help you catch up.
That's the chief concern going into Jason Bourne. The franchise, for all of its freshness as far as spy films go, for all of its efficiency when it comes to story progression and action, has a very tried and true structure that each film seems to follow to the letter. As if there were a checklist of requirements to make a Bourne film, screenwriters Christopher Rouse and Paul Greengrass, both first-time writers for this franchise, don't deviate from the familiar plan of action one bit leaving the audience with an endless barrage of computer monitors, foreign cities, and serious faces.
Bourne himself has nothing different to do from his previous adventures around the world, and his never-ending quest for information about his past seems to keep rolling around again and again. It wouldn't be such a problem if there were any, fresh ideas regarding either side of the morality coin. The CIA is still run by old, white men in suits who dispatch assets and give kill orders at the drop of a hat. This time around the powers in charge are personified by Tommy Lee Jones with Alicia Vikander playing the agent in charge of cyberterrorism who may represent the only gray-area character in the film. Neither character is written with any depth nor originality, though, and you sit back waiting for the film to progress to the precise points where you know it's headed.
You do the same with the lead character, too, you're impatience with Bourne growing every time you're forced to watch him pensively stare off into the distance. Bourne appears to only have two speeds this time around, and, unfortunately, neither are adequately exciting or suitably memorable. Instead we're left with the general brooding we've encountered in three, previous film and an utter lack of intensity. It's not just that Matt Damon looks bored here. Bourne himself looks bored half the time to the point you expect him to drop an "I'm too old for this shit" line or some variation.
It's even more of a shame knowing Greengrass, whose direction of Supremacy and Ultimatum made them some of the most genuinely suspenseful actioners of this century, is back at the helm. For the most part, the direction in Jason Bourne and the action found within are on par with what you'd expect. Yes, the director's perpetual movement of the camera makes the action proceedings all the more difficult to follow, but it's never a confusing image. The director has a keen eye for filming chase sequences, and a climactic chase through the bright streets of Las Vegas almost reaches the action heights established elsewhere in the series. What that sequence provides is too little and too late, though.
It doesn't help matters that Christopher Rouse, Greengrass' co-writer here, takes on the role of editor, as well, a task he's had on all of Greengrass' films since Supremacy. The editing is frantic, often frustratingly so, and no amount of speed in Rouse's cutting can deliver the necessary momentum needed for a movie like Jason Bourne to succeed in execution.
None of the acting delivers anything to impress, either. Matt Damon sleepwalks through Bourne's internal conflicts, and Jones and Vikander take on thankless roles with blasé performances. Vincent Cassel fills the international-star-playing-a-sadistic-hitman prerequisite with a total lack of edge. Riz Ahmed rounds out the supporting cast as the founder of Deep Dream, a social networking tool the CIA may or may not be using to spy on citizens, and his performance is nearly as dull as that entire subplot.
Save for the handful of effective chases Greengrass pulls out there isn't much that doesn't come across as dull or tired in Jason Bourne. With Damon returning to the role that made him an international star you would expect a film that delivers the promised goods. You would think his, as well as Greengrass' return, to the Bourne franchise would mark a new beginning for a series that was once held in such high regard for action fans. Instead the film offers little more than bland, familiar structuring peppered with unremarkable action beats, the last thing you would expect from this team. Jason Bourne isn't the revitalization anyone had hoped for this franchise, and you begin to wonder if the character might've been best left out in the cold.
Jeremy's Rating: 2 out of 5
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