02 August 2016

Speaks Reviews: Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne delivers fans of the franchise more of what they've come to expect--which is this sequel's biggest selling point as well as its greatest flaw.

So says the "Critic's Consensus" at rottentomatoes.com. Oh, how wish I hadn't read it before I went to see Jason Bourne the other night. I was so excited about the movie. Tried my best to stay away from anything about it (reviews, tweets, etc.). This one sentence and a Super Bowl Ad were all I knew of the movie. But here this sentence is, perfectly stated. Perfectly true. As I sat through Jason Bourne, shifting in my seat, I thought maybe I was just suffering from Bourne Fatigue (I had just re-watched the previous trilogy in marathon fashion.) But, as it has sat for a few days, I now realize that I shifted around because pretty much everyone was right.

Jason Bourne is not a new Bourne Film. It is a film built around The Bourne Formula, much like the one from a few years without Matt Damon, The Bourne Legacy. That doesn't make it bad, but it doesn't really make it good either.

This time around, now nine years later, amnesiac CIA black operative Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) remembers pretty much everything. He says so as the movie opens in a flashback to the end of the third installment, 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum. Meanwhile, present day, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the logistics officer on Bourne's original team, is still working to bring down the various Black Ops programs, like Treadstone and Black Briar (the ones we know from the original movies). Many have come and gone since. In Iceland, she hacks into the CIA system, stealing all the files on said programs.

Since the CIA, now by way of the NSA, uses surveillance to track such actions, Nicky is easily spotted by a CIA surveillance expert, whose name escapes me but is played by recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl). While she works on that, the new CIA Director (Tommy Lee Jones) pops in to basically be both gruff and shady in that classic sort of funny Tommy Lee Jones way. Together, they put their teams, including The Assett (Vincent Cassel), an operative from even before Bourne's day, on Bourne and Nicky in Athens, Greece, in the midst of a riot. Where the two make a crazy amazing escape...in a way, and we move on to Paris and London and New York and Washington, D.C. and eventually Las Vegas, all while flashbacks retrace the story of Bourne's father and his initial involvement with the very thing Bourne now wants to stop.

Like last year's James Bond entry Spectre, Jason Bourne reminds us of our current world of surveillance and paranoia. In addition to the Vikander character, there is also a subplot involving a Mark Zuckerberg type social media tycoon played by Riz Ahmed, who once used government resources to get his site running and make his billions. Now, the CIA has come to collect a return on that favor, introducing the fine line we live on this day and age in terms of "Internet freedom and personal security."

And it mostly all works, just as any other Bourne film. But what's missing in this film are the little hints of charm that made the original films work so well. By now, we know the Bourne-calls-in-while-hiding-in-plain-site schtick so well that it doesn't work. In fact, this script, written without the man behind the original films, Tony Gilroy, doesn't really give Matt Damon much acting to do at all. He's just big and buff and sort of sad in this one. And that's the biggest letdown. Matt Damon, already an established actor, truly made his name with The Bourne Identity back in 2002. He did it with his likability and charm, most perfectly highlighted in last year's crowd-pleaser The Martian. He still has it, so why not use it? Major fail.

Director Paul Greengrass, who took over the series after the original film, is back again here and also shares writing duties. Despite a couple of just plain awesome shots and action sequences, he has made his messiest film to date...by far. And this is after he made one of the smoothest action dramas in recent years, the 2013 Oscar nominee Captain Phillips. I think his handheld shaky cam style even finally got to me on this one. I haven't had trouble with it before, but I really felt it this time. It became a bit disorienting, especially in the close combat scenes.

When you get down to it, Jason Bourne is what it is--a fairly solid action flick that hits The Bourne Formula pretty much perfectly, for better or worse. The problem with that is that each film in the original trilogy built on the one before, each one becoming better in terms of information, location, action, even charm and empathy. This one doesn't continue that trend but instead goes for middling. During his nine years of hiding, apparently Jason Bourne got tired. And so did his Formula. All the present day surveillance paranoia in the world couldn't refresh it. It needed something else. It needed a real solution.

The last act of the movie is where it really shines...under the bright sun then lights of Las Vegas, looking like I've never seen it before, providing the backdrop for one of the best car chases I've seen in a long time. But by then, I wondered what the point was. Is Jason Bourne a vigilante superhero now? I certainly never wanted him to be that. And then the final scenes leave us on such a chilly cold note that I'm not sure I want to keep following him down this path. The previous entries all made us feel like Bourne accomplished something and that there was at least a shred of hope, even within the shifty, secretive CIA. There is no hope in this film. And that's a reflection of our current world I don't want to go to the movies for.

Jason Bourne
dir. Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, and Julia Stiles

★★ 1/2 out of ★★★


  1. Well… I was certainly not hoping for this. I've been watching all the previous Bourne movies the past few days. I'm seeing it Thursday night. I'm excited for it, but I'm somewhat surprised by the mixed reviews.

    1. Saw it tonight. Really liked it, but not as much as I loved the first 3 Bourne movies. Still better than Legacy though, which was good, but not as good as the others. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars for me.

    2. Yeah. This movie just left me feeling cold. This is not the Jason Bourne I had hoped for.

    3. Yeah, I felt a little cold. I thought it was pretty good.

      By the way, Alicia Vikander's character's name was Heather Lee.

  2. I still want to see this, but I'll wait for the DVD. I think I had a similiar "fuck yeah!" reaction to the initial trailer like you did, now I'm dialing back my expectations.

    1. Yeah. Wait. It's fine. Just not as good as I'd hoped.

  3. It sounds like this might be a fun movie if I keep my expectations modest. :-)