The Matt Damon starring Bourne trilogy was a watershed moment in the world of action. James Bond followed its lead when Daniel Craig took the reigns, as did action films in general for director Paul Greegrass‘ style of shaky cam action that – whether one liked it or not – became the standard for the genre. Now, after a weird semi-sequel The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner had no real impact on the general public, Greengrass and Damon have reunited for Jason Bourne. Despite the pretty final note that 2007’s Ultimatum ended the trilogy on, the man on a mission but without an identity facing the unknown on an ambiguous note. So, how does Jason Bourne manage to carve out a reason to exist? Well… not very well, frankly. The entire purpose of that initial trilogy was to see Bourne find out who he was, why he was this incredible assassin and what he could do to redeem himself. Now, it’s all about finding out how someone from his distant past was involved in Treadstone, giving Bourne a motivation so far removed that it leaves one to wonder why he should care as much as he does.
Jason Bourne is someone who has close ties to those who help him. It’s a factor seen firmly at the start of this fourth outing with Nicky (Julia Stiles) coming out of hiding to reveal top secret information to him about his past. Yet, this all ends up feeling like a fan fiction excuse to get Jason Bourne back in the game, which is to say it’s a damn flimsy reasoning to get Damon to punch people. Sure, Bourne at this point is clearly a loner and would probably be curious when finding out that Treadstone was after him from far before he signed up. Yet, the motivation has this sort of Star Wars prequel reveal level of additional information that sort of muddles the whole point of the reveal from Ultimatum. There was a finite exploration of Jason Bourne as a character within the the boundaries of the original trilogy and this new entry makes a case for the idea that there wasn’t much else there worth exploring further.
Instead of David Webb being an operative who believed in the Treadstone program thus putting Jason Bourne‘s entire mission into a completely disturbed context, he joined for external purposes that seem pretty obvious given how the actual reveal scene happens. Despite this new potentially emotional context, it feels more like a background for a plot that’s heavily involved in cyber terrorism, but with about as much legitimate insight as an average episode of CSI: Cyber. All of the privacy hacking commentary pretty much boils down to “this hack is worse than Snowden,” using the usual mumbo jumbo for a bad techno thriller that feels somehow more dated than the few techno thriller elements of the computer lite earlier Bourne films.
There’s an interesting ethical conundrum with a character played by Riz Ahmed that goes underdeveloped, instead allowing Jason Bourne to spend more time with Tommy Lee Jones looking as disinterested as he usually does as he has a half assed mentor/mentee relationship with Alicia Vikander. That relationship is supposed to represent a passing of the torch for the villains of this franchise, but it hits about as coldly as Jones’ dead eyes staring into your soul. Vikander does the best she can with such an underwritten part, particularly with an ending beat that’s much more interesting if one were to forget about any of the development that happened before… which isn’t too out of the question. Also, Vincent Cassel is an assassin with an important role in Jason Bourne‘s life. If that sounded tacked on, it’s because it mirrors his role in the film.
Of course, this series is known for its kinetic action scenes. The type of freeform shaky cam heavy violence that gets the heart pumping. Admittedly, the action here can still be impressive at times. The opening and finale set pieces in Beirut and Las Vegas respectively have fun moments that remind us of the escalating madness that made Jason Bourne the modern action hero we love. Everything in between though is incredibly repetitive of the earlier films, including a sniper scene that copies a similar tense moment from Ultimatum right up until it choses to have Bourne get out of it with one of the dumber escape moves in any of these films or action films in general. It’s so dumfounding in fact that it makes us lose so much more confidence in Jason Bourne as a character for making such a boneheaded move.
Then again, Matt Damon’s general disinterest does a better job of that. While Jason Bourne was never a super expressive character, he at least had some human connection that kept his spy skills tethered to some emotional reality. Unfortunately, he’s about as distant as Tommy Lee Jones’ dead glaring eyes here. His dialogue is sparse, but it never feels like a man of action who lets his extreme bone cracking speak for him as much as it does a man’s general disinterested. This spills over into director/co-writer Greengrass’ lap too. His usual kinetic style is so hollow here that his 2013 thriller Captain Phillips felt like a more extensive action film by comparison. That lack of investment all around gives this the disappointing stench of a cash grab all around, one that’s about on level with the tacked on spin off The Bourne Legacy. While occasionally showing off an action scene that’s entertaining, Jason Bourne just ends up being indicative of the franchise fatigue that’s plagued this summer. In all honesty, I would rather have had an action film starring the Matt Damon puppet from Team America than this.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Opening Sound Effects from Moby’s “Extreme Ways”
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