“You know his name”. That’s the tagline emblazoned across Matt Damon’s face on the poster for his and director Paul Greengrass’ franchise revival Jason Bourne. After having seen this 9-year later sequel now, I think a more appropriate slogan would have been “You know this movie”, as what we have here is a sequel you’ve actually seen before – I guess you could say it’s Bourne again. Sigh.
With The Bourne Supremacy having wrapped up the primary narrative arc for our titular amnesiac government superspy by giving him back his memories, Damon and Greengrass famously said that they were done with the character as there’s no more story left to tell. And despite this unexpected cinematic effort to prove their former selves to the contrary and revitalize the franchise after the misfire of the Jeremy Renner led The Bourne Legacy spinoff, I’m going to have to side with their earlier assessment. Gone is the status quo upsetting grand conspiracies of the previous Damon headlined films and instead we get Bourne drawn out of nearly a decade’s worth of hiding when erstwhile Girl Friday turned Julian Assange-type hacker Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) discovers a secret about Bourne’s father. A secret that lands with the equivalent narrative explosiveness of a damp firecracker.
Despite what Greengrass’ frantic direction might try to get you to believe, this latest wrinkle in the increasingly convoluted personal saga of Jason Bourne is not just an unengaging one, but also a fairly rote mystery. This movie may take place in the world of Central Intelligence, but there seems to be a lack of the latter as it takes Bourne a whole movie to puzzle out what it will probably take most audiences just one patchy edited flashback to do.
Whatever the wishy-washy reasons for Bourne’s resurfacing though, it puts him in the crosshairs of CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his ambitiously ravenous cyber ops team leader Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Despite finding themselves on the broader same side, their goals don’t always align though. Lee feels she can still put their ex-attack dog back on his leash, whereas Dewey wants his brutish Asset (Vincent Cassel) to take said dog out back and introduce it to the business end of a high powered rifle.
Dewey’s kneejerking violence is in accordance with protecting his latest scheme involving a Mark Zuckerberg-like tech billionaire Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) and his social media empire’s latest piece of technology, which the CIA wants a backdoor into. This is all in service of Greengrass’ behind the scenes claims that this franchise has moved on from its gritty cold war origins and is now being informed by the digital privacy conscious post-Snowden real world.
But in reality the script from Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse merely pays lip service to this posturing. What’s even worse is that it’s completely superfluous to Bourne’s actual narrative throughline. The two plots coalesce purely in a geographical sense, as a Las Vegas conference attended by both Dewey and Kaloor gives Bourne an opportunity to get closer to his antagonist. Other than that, Kaloor’s story serves no purpose – and doesn’t even get the dignity of a properly repercussive resolution as it just fizzles out with a soundbite.
To be fair though, while Greengrass’ sketchy co-scripting leaves something to be desired, he certainly still knows how to stage some cinematic chaos. His signature pulse-poundingly kinetic style – and yes, that includes the return of the equilibrium-testing shaky cam, so pack in some Dramamine – is undeniably no longer as freshly gritty as it once was, but it can still be effective in keeping your rear-end scrambling for purchase on the edge of your seat. Besides for an absolutely brutal mano-a-mano slobberknocker between Bourne and the Asset, a brace of explosive car chases bookending the film’s action beats standout as highlights. The best of these – a car-flipping melee involving an armoured SWAT van in the streets of Vegas – seemingly almost a Fast & Furious namedrop in its gloriously muscular obliteration of vehicular physics at times.
And while Damon’s Bourne is now stoic to the point of merely being a grimace with some fists attached to it, Jones appears to be having some proper fun in full-blown bureaucratic villain mode. Vikander’s character left me with a muted sense of frustration at the end to the film, but that’s purely because she does her job very well in lending Heather Lee a profound ambiguity. You’re never quite sure just who’s side she’s on.
Also, very much like it’s done in previous franchise entries, John Powell and David Buckley’s music score also does MVP work here. In a movie stuffed with scenes of people just briskly walking and talking in corridors, or tapping away furiously at keyboards while front-lit from computer monitors, the enervating music helps to keep everything moving.
In fact, it would be disingenuous for me to say that Jason Bourne doesn’t have a fair amount of this entertaining kinetic motion. The problem is that more often than not it just finds itself going through the motions. The story is far too simplified in both scope and smarts (this is a movie where hacking the CIA’s black ops files, involves copying a folder labeled “Black Ops Files” off a computer desktop), and as exciting as some action beats may be, there’s nothing original or groundbreaking about any of them. This has all been done before and done better – and oftentimes by past entries in this very series.
As a low mental cost action movie diversion that should elevate blood pressure, it’s certainly a more than watchable and entertaining affair. As the rebirth of the of the franchise that Damon and Greengrass were angling so hard for this to be, this unnecessary sequel is a bit still-bo(u)rne.
Last Updated: July 28, 2016