As a series of films that made its mark in the previous decade, the Bourne trilogy of films (Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum) captivated audiences by relying on a formula that became recognizable but one that still continually produced tense moments and high-octane action. Flash forward almost ten years later and fans have another chance to ease into something familiar and comfortable as star Matt Damon reunites with director Paul Greengrass for another go around in the series’ latest iteration, Jason Bourne (Universal Pictures, Running Time 2 hr 3 min). Does this film retain the magic and intrigue of these previous generation of spy thrillers or has this agent outlived its usefulness with movie goers and thus in need of elimination?
As a direct sequel to 2007’s Bourne Supremacy and skipping over entirely the 2012 attempt in The Bourne Legacy (With Jeremy Renner in the lead role) to resurrect the series, once again the titular character is begrudgingly thrust back into the fray of chaos and deception and squarely in the focus of his one time employer, the Central Intelligence Agency. Although he now has a memory of his previous life as Jason Webb, Bourne is still torn and conflicted over what he has done as a part of the CIA’s Treadstone project and is heading for a downward spiral of self-inflicted punishment masquerading as a Russian pit fighter near the Greek-Albanian border.
When his fellow former operative, Nicky Parsons (again played by Julia Stiles who does not look thrilled at all to be in the movie) pops back up with information that involves his late father and a plan by the CIA to implement many of the same actions he chose to disavow via a connection to a new social media program, Damon’s character comes to the realization that in order to get the answers he’s looking for he must go after the agency’s director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) who is mixed in the middle of his own turmoil with fast-rising Cyber Defense head Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, Ex Machina). He must not only come to grips with the truth about what happened to his dad but how far the CIA will go to ensure the country’s safety.
To spur the movie to its end goal we are subjected to many of the same elements seen time and time again when it comes to the Bourne franchise: Fast-walking sequences, CIA control room friction and betrayal, catastrophic car destruction, creative hand to hand combat, gratuitous cell phone usage and hotel room coverage it’s all there. But in this particular outing what comes together is something that as a whole does not work quite as well as the sum of its parts. Given a minimal amount of dialogue (25 lines), the movie as its predecessors must rely on its supporting characters and Damon’s non verbal actions and mannerisms to keep the movie going along.
While Damon fares well again in a role he has comfortably played before it is those around him and the story itself (written by David Buckley and John Powell) that does not hold its own weight this time around. The story itself does not remain compelling throughout and ceases its importance by the final act despite its strong opinion on a controversial subject and becomes no more than a simple tale of revenge. Add to this the combination of Jones’ over the top villainy and Vikander’s low key style as she deals with her inner conflict between doing what’s right or what’s best for the CIA doesn’t provide that extra edge that this movie sorely needs (Joan Allen, where are thou?).
While the previous films have set themselves apart with their political intrigue, it has always relied on a healthy dose of action sequences that always provide enough of a adrenaline rush for audiences and Bourne relies on this element more than any other movie in the series. Whether navigating through a community uprising in Greece or crashing through the Las Vegas Strip, Greengrass saves the best moments of the film for the harrowing antics of Damon regardless if he’s the hunted or the hunter himself (“Sin City” residents, please allow some leeway when watching).
Continuing a tradition of strong performances by those (Karl Urban, Clive Owen) who have played the CIA’s top assassin called “the Asset” sent to kill Bourne in each of the previous three main films, Vincent Cassell (Ocean’s Twelve, Black Swan) ruthless aggression shines in a role very different from the last time he appeared alongside Matt Damon in a film (Ocean’s Thirteen) and it’s their interplay that keeps this movie headed in a generally positive direction.
The Bourne iterations have always tried to take viewers into a world of secrecy and deceit led by a hero who’s haunting memories provide both immense guilt and gritty determination in the face of an agency willing to do almost anything to stop him. With that said, Jason Bourne tries to recapture the magic of its first three installments by implementing many of the same elements which made this series a hit with movie goers, but the payoff on this occasion doesn’t quite allow the film to live up to its predecessors. In the end what ultimately got put onto the screen is good enough to fill up two hours, but this movie’s execution will have the audience like its lead character “on the fence” about a future going forward for this franchise.