Jason Bourne returns for his darkest, most intense (and uncharacteristic) mission yet.
One of the consistently enticing aspects of the Bourne film franchise was the mysterious history of the title character, Jason Bourne. Slowly but surely, spread throughout three films, we learned bits about Bourne’s past and the reasonings behind his dangerous predicament with the CIA, and seemingly just about every government agency out there. After a failed attempt to handover the franchise to another actor, Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy — not playing Jason Bourne, mind you), we’re back with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in…well…Jason Bourne. Non-ironically, this film reveals the most about Bourne’s past, leaving almost no mystery left by the time the end credits roll. Perhaps a little too much mystery is lost, in fact. Jason Bourne is still intense and darkly entertaining, with a welcome return to the brooding action spy hero for Damon.
Let’s first discuss the unfortunate decisions made regarding the depiction of Jason Bourne in the new movie. First of all, since when did Bourne become a hulking fighter who can take down other giant fighters with one punch? That’s never been the Bourne-style and it doesn’t fit well into the character’s long-lasting attempts to stay off the grid. It’s a very bizarre re-introduction to the character and it still doesn’t sit well with me. He’s angsty, I get it. But angst aside, wouldn’t it have made more sense to intro Bourne while he’s staying hidden and dodging the government, and then he roughs up some agents who track him down? Once you realize that nothing the film shows before Bourne is pulled back into the fray makes a shred of difference, you wonder why they chose to depict him the way they did. Oh well. The other characters, including CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Head of Cyber Ops Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) are worthy additions to the Bourne universe.
Speaking of cyber ops —the plot of Jason Bourne is also less fun to follow than previous installments. The Bourne Identity was a fun movie because we were piecing together the facts with Bourne, fleeing from cops and agencies alongside him, and baring witness to his surprisingly extensive set of dangerous spy game skills. In The Bourne Supremacy, it was a revenge tale so it was inevitably darker, but it still unraveled like a frantic game of chess. The Bourne Ultimatum was a brilliant “final” chapter that engaged audiences by combining the action-spectacle of frenetic spy fights with the serious tone of Bourne’s identity crisis coming to a close. In the new Jason Bourne, we’re not treated to a lot of excitably fun plot turns. It’s dark and gritty and sinister, with a less-than-thrilling cyber security subplot. It also involves a large cyber security convention in Vegas that seemed overly flashy for a Bourne movie — it’s the type of setting that would be more at home in a Bond flick. Also, even I, who is not an expert in cyber security, found some of the hacker dialogue and convention scenes somewhat laughable. I excused it in films like Dumb and Dumber To, London Has Fallen and Spectre, but here it felt hokey and like a desperate attempt to modernize a franchise that didn’t need modernizing.
And yet despite all of that, Jason Bourne is still a solid action film and ends up just barely fitting into the Bourne canon. It’s nice to welcome Matt Damon back into the role that propelled him to action star status and introduced a new level of intelligent writing and filmmaking to the spy genre. Much of that is due to returning Bourne director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy & The Bourne Ultimatum). Greengrass does, as usual, get carried away with his shaky cam flair, often missing a few medium shots that would’ve really helped make the car chases and close quarters fight scenes a lot cooler. But he still knows how to carry the tension and move a film along at a brisk pace, even when 123 minutes long. No matter how you feel by the end of Jason Bourne, you’ll break into a grin as Bourne gets to deliver one last moment of out-smarting the world as Moby’s “Extreme Ways” starts playing. You’ll feel bourne again!
Jason Bourne opens in theaters Friday, July 29.