Jason Bourne fails to Justify its Own Existence

Jason Bourne promises a return to form for the Bourne series after the little-loved The Bourne Legacy (2012), boasting the return of Matt Damon to the title role and The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) director Paul Greengrass. The title itself seems intended to say “Sorry about that one with Jeremy Renner.” While Jason Bourne does bring back a number of the elements from the first three Bourne films: the aforementioned Damon and Greengrass, a CIA cover-up, Bourne’s improvisational fighting style, Greengrass’s patented shaky-cam, but never manages to recreate what made that original trilogy special.

Jason Bourne, finds the titular hero enjoying life off the grid, making his way by participating in underground boxing matches which are, naturally, unevenly matched. When old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, weirdly wooden) reappears with a flash drive filled with damning information regarding covert operations, and the death of Bourne’s, or rather, David Webb’s father, having Snowden-style hacked the CIA database, Bourne finds himself once again on a search for truth while the agents of an ethically compromised CIA higher-up of-a-certain-age (Tommy Lee Jones, following in the footsteps of Identity’s Chris Cooper, Supremacy’s Brian Cox, and Ultimatum’s David Strathairn) try to take him out before he can expose any corruption. Greengrass, who co-wrote with editor Christopher Rouse, broadens the scope for Jason Bourne, expanding upon Bourne’s search for the truth of his past to include a, very timely, plot involving the CIA using private information gleaned from a social media entity known as “Deep Dream.”

That expansion of scope works to the film’s detriment. Despite the promise of a return to form, Jason Bourne doesn’t feel like a Bourne movie, even if it looks like one. Jason Bourne is not James Bond, it does not work to simply plug the character into any old plot and call it a Bourne film. Bourne is basically an anti-Bond in that he, necessarily, does not have an identity. The appeal of the Bourne series has been in the style of the films, their breezy pace, the authentic-seeming spycraft. Previously, Jason Bourne has been a fun character to watch because of his having to improvise with whatever tool is at hand, defending himself with towels or magazines when attacked with a knife. That fun is not present now, when an enemy “asset” (Vincent Cassel) takes off in an armored SWAT vehicle (in a scene that would seem more at home in one of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy) the vehicle Bourne steals to pursue is a Dodge Charger, not a Peugeot.

A strong ensemble was put together for Jason Bourne only to be, mostly, wasted. Jones, still better at playing cynical and tired than anybody working, does little to separate himself from the aforementioned previous older white-guy villains of the Bourne series. It is suggested that Cassel’s antagonistic assassin may have a legitimate grievance against Bourne, but any notion that he is anything but villainous is overshadowed by his penchant for casually shooting everyone who crosses his path. Riz Ahmed, who is great in, like, everything he’s in, is tragically wasted as the wormy CEO of Deep Dream and fellow rising star Ato Essandoh is relegated to playing the kind of CIA functionary common to the series. Faring somewhat better is Alicia Vikander who, despite a somewhat shaky accent, provides the film’s most interesting character, in Heather Lee, a subordinate to Jones’ character whose allegiance is constantly in question.

Despite what a few hardline, retrograde Ghostbusters fans might have to say, it is Jason Bourne that is the most pointless exercise in franchise-expansion of 2016. The Bourne trilogy had closed very nicely with The Bourne Supremacy, reopening it now, only three years after The Bourne Legacy (2012) and nine after Supremacy doesn’t feel like the triumphant return of a long-absent, much-loved character. The reunion is forced and awkward, Bourne should have stayed off the grid.

C

Jason Bourne (Universal)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writer: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd

Editor: Christopher Rouse

Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel

Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh.

English/ PG-13/ 123 min.

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