JASON BOURNE Review

After nearly a decade in seclusion and having resorted to bare knuckle brawling for petty cash Jason Bourne resurfaces with the simply titled Jason Bourne, but was there really a need for him to? Given the pristine state of the original trilogy (I didn't mind The Bourne Legacy as much as some, but don't mind forgetting it either) there was hesitance on my part to come to terms with the fact director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) and star Matt Damon could potentially ruin what didn't necessarily need another chapter. Of course, I really enjoy the Bourne films and the prospect of another was naturally enticing, so...double-edged sword. That said, the biggest obstacle this new film was going to have to overcome was that it has in fact been nine years since Bourne was on the big screen and given time goes on there would have to be something almost cataclysmic happening if Bourne had somehow managed to stay out of the spotlight this long and then suddenly be pulled back in. This was the code Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse (who has served as the editor on all of the Bourne films) were going to need to crack if they were going to have fans of the series buy into the fact Bourne was indeed back and it is here that the cracks instead begin to show in their lack of inspiration rather than the other way around. Essentially giving Julia Stiles' character, Nicky Parsons, the task of delivering exposition before telling Bourne that she has somewhat involuntarily pulled him back into this world he has been working so hard to evade things already smell funky. Without going too far into spoiler territory is to simply say that the biggest hurdle this film was going to have to overcome is basically dismissed with a single line of dialogue and then not really taken into account again due to the fact it seems Greengrass and Rouse know they don't have the best justification for the films existence. Still, once we do get past this initial hurdle in the first act of the film Jason Bourne becomes what we know and recognize from the previous films and if that is what you're looking for then you'll no doubt come out more pleased than pissed. As a Bourne fan, I had a fine time with the film and enjoyed several of the story elements, but that it did feel so familiar was disappointing. The story of Jason Bourne is one of the rare instances where it became more intriguing with each additional film, going in different directions than expected and adding new layers to the titular characters past, but while Jason Bourne once again discovers more of his past here the film fails to go anywhere new with its narrative.

The titular Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is reunited with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) under some unfortunate circumstances.
Part of me would like to make the joke (if it hasn't been done already) that they may as well have referred to this fourth Matt Damon Bourne film as The Bourne Redundancy, but in saying that it would come off as if I disliked the movie more than I did. I had a good time with it. I was never bored as Rouse's editing is once again kinetic and fast-paced while Greengrass' camera is as handheld as ever (especially when it comes to the multiple car chase sequences), but it certainly doesn't touch the greatness in the pantheon of the spy genre that its two predecessors did. And maybe that is an unfair qualifier to have for a film-that it be at the tip top of the genre in which it exists, but the talent on board for this thing warranted as much expectation and so when the final product is simply the standard when you hoped for the exception one can't help but to be a little let-down. In Jason Bourne we pick-up with the amnesic super-agent in real time, nine years down the road from when we last saw him fall into the East River. Bourne is now living off the grid with seemingly no friends and no family to speak of, bouncing from one shady outpost to another shady underground fighting ring. Meanwhile, Stiles' Parsons hacks into the CIA database and copies a few files that have to do with not only the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs, but what she believes to be a new program in the vein of those that gave birth to Bourne-Iron Hand. Yes, there is another super-secret government program that will supposedly create super-secret soldiers, but Parsons is hoping to enlist Bourne to stop it before it ever gets off the ground. Though reluctant, Bourne is tempted by the allure of knowing more of his past as Parsons discloses that the reason Bourne AKA David Webb might have enrolled in Treadstone in the first place was because of his father. The catch is, when Parsons hacked the CIA she set off a red flag alerting CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the new, young director of cyber security, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), that someone was looking into their programs giving Dewey reason to believe Bourne undoubtedly has something to do with it. There is also a subplot concerning a Google/Facebook-like company founded by Zuckerberg-like Aaron Kalloor (Nightcrawler's Riz Ahmed) who has back door discussions with Dewey about personal rights versus public safety, but this feels more like an attempt to make Bourne contemporary rather than actually having anything to do with the plot.

In this regard, the film can be somewhat disappointing as what was always so interesting about the Bourne sequels was the fact they allowed themselves to peel back only enough of the bigger picture to allow the possibilities for what that actual bigger picture was/is to be endless. That Jason Bourne mostly restructures the story from the second (and most heralded) film in the franchise is a sucker punch that won't quickly be forgotten. In short, Vikander's character more or less becomes the Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) presence as her mentality clearly appeals to Bourne despite the fact they seem destined to be at odds. If Vikander's character is Landy though, then Jones' character is just Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) on a bigger scale. With the levels of deception at play here the film does beg several questions as to where Jones' Dewey might have been lurking all those years prior when Bourne was causing a ruckus, but the idea is that Bourne has finally made his way to the top of the food chain and everything is coming out. They're slyly restructuring the same story for a new decade while simultaneously broadening Bourne's horizons which, while sounding great on paper, again feels repetitive once things get going. The good news is that things do in fact get going and though the film throws Vincent Cassel another underdeveloped antagonist role it is still Vincent Cassel playing the baddie which makes for not only some impressive large scale chase sequences, but a menacing presence to exist within them. There is a thrilling, stripped down hand to hand combat scene in the finale that is foreshadowed nicely by those aforementioned early scenes and both Cassel and Damon are in top form here with the choreography being as strict if not as precise as it once was. Speaking of the performances, they are certainly a highlight of an otherwise generic action flick as Damon is once again solid as the stoic spy. It was reported before the film opened that Damon would only have twenty-five or so lines of dialogue in the film, but that never feels like a goal they were striving for, but more it is the fact this man has now been on his own for nearly ten years and has little communication with the outside world to the point he's likely not sure how to exist in it anymore. Damon emotes what is necessary to understand Bourne's arc through his face in a fashion that probably won't be as appreciated as much as it should, but while Vikander provides some fresh-faced urgency to the aging franchise and Tommy Lee Jones is Tommy Lee Jones (which is totally a compliment) this is still Damon's film and he commands it by not seeming as if he's trying to command it.
CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) track Bourne after he shows back up on their radar.
Jason Bourne, like its predecessors, is heavy on plot in the best way in that it clearly has ambitions. While not all of those ambitions may have been achieved in the way Greengrass originally envisioned the seeds of those ideas are still there and that counts for something. Though the subplot concerning the Kalloor character feels somewhat tacked on it is in the tradition of the series that it addresses the state of the nation at the time of its existence. The Bourne Identity came out a year after the September 11th attacks and was a movie that questioned the credibility of the powers that be and their true intentions at a time when the nation couldn't have felt more patriotic. Flash forward fourteen years and we are now in a state where the cynical world view has resurfaced and the advances in technology have brought about major concerns about privacy as well as accountability. In taking on this implied responsibility Greengrass has incorporated lines of dialogue that reference Edward Snowden and conversations that discuss the difference between freedom and security, but the writer/director fails to utilize these observations within his story in any way. There is fertile ground for good conversation here, but the inclusion of such elements in this Bourne film feel more like a hindrance than an intrinsic piece of the story. How have these tracking technologies-the social media check-in's and the google maps locators-affected Bourne in his trek to stay off the grid? Such ideas could be applied more naturally to the Bourne storyline, but instead the film goes the route of simply commenting rather than illustrating and because of that there is a lack of cohesion in what themes this film is exactly trying to touch on. What Jason Bourne does do well with its many plot strands is bring them together in a culmination that makes it all feel more necessary than my trepidation had me thinking it would early on. In having a strong closing to the otherwise consistent, but not overly engaging film that proceeds it Jason Bourne again becomes a character I wouldn't mind seeing more of as long as they can find somewhere new to take the character next time and a more organic way to incorporate timely ideas into the story. There is plenty to dive into and dissect when it comes to corrupt institutions that control society, but one has to be willing to make the deep dive and Jason Bourne is simply treading old ground.