Despite having concluded the Jason Bourne series quite satisfactorily with 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass return for another Bourne movie. Unfortunately, Jason Bourne is as uninspired as its title. This time Damon’s ex-CIA assassin is in full command of his both memory and his destiny, but he’s still on the run from CIA hit squads. When former operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the agency database to uncover evidence concerning its illegal black ops programs, she finds previously hidden information dealing with Bourne's recruitment, and secrets about his father. The CIA Director (Tommy Lee Jones), one of his top computer wizzes (Alicia Vikander), and a brutal assassin (Vincent Cassel) attempt to hunt down both Parsons and Bourne.
Now, to be clear, I’m not totally convinced the world needed three Bourne movies to begin with. I think you could take the first forty-five minutes of the initial film, The Bourne Identity (2002), and combine it with the last hour and a half of the third installment, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and you’d have one first rate action picture. My trouble with this trilogy is how thin and repetitive both the narrative and the hyper-stylized action sequences are. But at least those three earlier features had an intriguing character and a dramatic situation at their center. Jason Bourne (created by novelist Robert Ludlum in the early ‘80s) is a compelling, quasi-tragic hero. He suffers from extreme memory loss and must figure out who he is and why he has such unbelievable fighting skills and survival abilities. In the process, he must also reason out why many elite assassins, shadowy organizations, and the CIA all want to kill him. It’s good pulpy stuff, and Damon delivered both as a credible action star (which was unexpected when he took on the role) and an empathetic protagonist. Tony Gilroy’s reboot The Bourne Legacy (2012), which starred Jeremy Renner as another CIA agent, was perhaps more realistic and certainly less frenetically stylized than the original trilogy but it lacked clarity, personality, and purpose.
Legacy felt like an attempt to keep a franchise going after it had come to a logical resolution, but at least Gilroy tried to do something fresh and original with the material. This latest re-reboot comes off as nothing but a pale copy of its predecessors or, to put it crassly, a shameless cash grab. Greengrass and his co-writer Christopher Rouse (editor of all the director’s movies since The Bourne Supremacy) do nothing to justify the existence of this sequel. With the central internal struggle/mystery of Jason Bourne’s identity solved, a new puzzle or problem is required in order to reengage with the character. Granted, it is tough to top the situation of someone who has to figure out who he is and why everyone wants him dead, but Greengrass and Rouse don’t even try. Jason Bourne wants to know the truth about his dad? He might as well have accidently picked up the wrong suitcase at the airport and discovered he was carrying around a bunch of cocaine!
Worse, the themes contained within this film could have been gripping if explored properly. Government surveillance of its own citizens is a hot topic these days and should make ideal fodder for a contemporary espionage thriller. But rather than an enthralling suspenseful plot with a morally complex central dilemma, we’re treated to more of those tiresome scenes that plague nearly all modern spy movies, where intelligence operatives in confortable offices watch the field agents on computer screens with such all-seeing, all-knowing accuracy and access that it plays as laughable rather than alarming. We get to hear a lot of people yelling, “Bring him in!” and “Don’t let him get away!” over and over, and watch yet another endless succession of rapidly cut fight scenes executed with no sense of direction, spatial relations, or physical laws. The movie is just a bunch of loud punches in rooms we have no geographical understanding of, and chases along streets we can’t really see and have no idea where they go.
The characters and the cast simply don’t engage the viewer enough to pull us into the flimsy story. MVP Alicia Vikander, who can usually infuse surprising depth into underwritten roles, looks hamstrung and disgruntled. (Maybe she and her character know this would be a much more interesting film if they were the star.) Even Tommy Lee Jones’s comically deadpan line readings get monotonous before the halfway point. In one astoundingly awful sequence, Damon and Stiles fast-walk through a crowded chaotic street while delivering expository dialogue in the flattest, most robotic manner imaginable. Honestly, you’d swear they were reading off cue cards with the understanding that they’d get to go back and loop their delivery later, but then the production ran out of time for proper dialogue replacement. This lazy, uninspired exchange is indicative of the entire picture—a shameless jog through a bunch of random noise and flash while speaking without conviction about absolutely nothing.