Earlier on in Jason Bourne, there’s a scene in which the titular character enters a brawl on the border between Greece and Albania. As Bourne approaches his ginormous foe, the music swells into a dramatic crescendo till Bourne knocks out his opponent with one swing of his fist. It’s a massive anti-climax intentionally deployed for comedic effect: however, it also perfectly sums up Jason Bourne as a movie. There’s a constant sense of build-up and that the big reveal is just around the corner, but ultimately the film amounts to very little. The big difference though is that this anti-climax isn’t funny; it’s just frustrating.
Picking up right where The Bourne Ultimatum left off (and as if The Bourne Legacy never happened), Jason Bourne see’s Matt Damon return as the American answer to James Bond. Now with his memories returned, Bourne is in hiding until a woman from his past, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), returns with fresh mysteries for him to unravel. It’s disappointing that four movies into the franchise, Bourne’s motivation remains exactly the same; his quest for the truth has started to feel a little excessive. What new information he gains throughout Jason Bourne – and there’s remarkably little of it – doesn’t change anything and honestly doesn’t really feel that worthwhile.
Even more disappointing is that Bourne starts to feel almost childish and more than a little bit petty especially in the third act. Sure he’s been wronged by the mysterious “agency” (aren’t they just the CIA?) but his crusade against them now feels like overkill. The movie never questions his motives either: Bourne is always portrayed as a straight up American hero fighting for truth and justice. What could have been a really interesting subtext, where the audience is made to ponder Bourne’s need for vengeance, instead becomes a jarring conflict between the plot and its audience.
That’s not to say that having Jason Bourne back on the big screen isn’t at least somewhat thrilling. The aforementioned Bourne Legacy proved that without Matt Damon, this franchise doesn’t have legs, and that’s only solidified here. Bourne has become more than a match for his British rival, and Jason Bourne is a solid remainder of what a great character he is. Damon hits every action cue flawlessly and delivers lines with a confidence few can pull off. It’s such a strong performance that it deserves a much better movie around it.
It’s Alicia Vikander however who has the film’s most interesting character in the form of CIA agent Heather Lee. Working out Lee’s seemingly contradicting motivates and allegiance becomes an almost game. It’s a shame that her character’s intrigue is hugely weakened in the film’s closing moments, a move that will only hurt the next Bourne, should there be one. Tommy Lee Jones is also added to the cast as the director of the CIA in a painfully phoned-in performance that is the very definition of forgetful.
Bourne of course needs a fellow agent to go toe-to-toe with; in this case that role is provided by Vincent Cassel as the creatively named Asset. His reasons for wanting to eliminate Bourne are pretty flimsy, but Cassel does a good job of being a menacing foil for Damon. Asset feels like the biggest waste of potential in a movie with plenty of it: he could have been a long term enemy for Bourne to face across multiple movies, but unfortunately that possibility is squashed. However, the final showdown between the two government super weapons is rather enjoyable, though in signature Paul Greengrass style, it can be more than a little difficult to follow.
Damon constantly asserted that he would only return to the Bourne franchise should Greengrass also return to the helm. While it’s admirable that the two bonded so much, it’s a shame because this franchise could really do with some fresh ideas and Greengrass is not the man to provide them. The amount of shaky camera employed rivals some found footage horror movies. A supposedly adrenaline-fueled chase through the neon lit streets of Las Vegas is rendered nearly unwatchable such is the level of twitching from the camera. Greengrass not only directs but also writes, along with Christopher Rouse, so it’s fair to say the in the event of a sixth Bourne movie, which after this entry I’m hoping doesn’t materialize, Greengrass stepping aside would be in the franchise’s best interest.
That’s not to say there aren’t some thrilling moments. An early chase through the streets of Greece, while a violent riot rages on, is visually dynamic and incredibly exhilarating. It’s perhaps unfortunate that this sequences comes so early in the film as nothing else really measures up to it. A tense standoff in London comes close, and also feels like vintage Bourne, but for an action movie running two hours in length, there’s a disappointing lack of big set piece moments. However, if government officials talking bureaucracy and ridiculous technology that doesn’t really exist being employed is your thing, then you’re in for a treat because the film is fit to bursting with them.
The Bourne franchise has always felt fairly grounded, at least compared to its contemporaries, and that’s very much the case here. There’s some social commentary, focused around governmental spying and the right to privacy, but it all feels very basic and maybe even a tad insulting. Especially a tacked on subplot about a media tycoon working with the government to sell out his client’s information, which feels cheap and needlessly political. Jason Bourne is a movie that thinks it’s far cleverer than it really is, but when stripped of all the fancy jargon characters speak, this is a very simple movie both in terms of narrative and theme.
Jason Bourne fails to live up to the franchise name; this latest entry is far more akin to Legacy than Supremacy in terms of quality. Matt Damon and Vikander do what they can, but the weak material given to them is exposed long before the iconic Bourne theme kicks in and the credits roll. Nine years since The Bourne Ultimatum and the biggest change to the pre-established formula appears to Damon’s greying hair. Make no mistake about it: this is a franchise retread and a bad one at that; it often feels like a cynical throw of the dice by a studio looking to make an easy buck. Jason Bourne is as unexceptional as it is unnecessary.