Starring: Matt Damon (The Martian), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black), Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You)
Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips)
Writers: Paul Greengrass & Christopher Rouse
Runtime: 2 hour 3 minutes
Release Date: 27 July (UK), 29 July (US)
Back in 2002, The Bourne Identity was a fresh air for the espionage thriller genre. James Bond movies at that point had devolved into gadget-centric nonsense, but Doug Liman’s first entry into the franchise brought a real-world grit and intensity to the table along with an intriguing look inside the morally questionable motives of government agencies. Paul Greengrass took over the franchise with the solid follow-up The Bourne Supremacy, but his third chapter The Bourne Ultimatum is the true crowing jewel of the franchise that perfected everything the series set out to do, capping it off with a conclusive and satisfying ending that still left some wiggle room for more. However, where do you honestly go from there? Well, 2012’s The Bourne Legacy certainly wasn’t the answer; especially given that Jason Bourne isn’t even in it. Now Matt Damon and Greengrass have finally returned for a true follow-up to Ultimatum, and given the amount of time since then you’d think they’d only come back if they had a story worth telling. In reality, Jason Bourne is an admirably attempt to continue the series but one that can’t help but pale in comparison to its predecessors.
The Bourne films have a very specific formula that this new entry certainly doesn’t deviate from, so still expected to see lots of scenes with Matt Damon walking around with a tense face intercut with guys in suits barking at computer monitors. However, whilst each new film previously brought new ideas to the table, Jason Bourne often feels like too much of a retread of the series’ greatest hits. The plot on a basic structural level is cobbled together from elements of the original trilogy, even down to emotional character beats and action sequences. Whilst the story does bring to light a few interesting details about Bourne’s past, none of it drastically changes our perspective on the character within this film or the previous entries. If anything, it perhaps reveals a little too much, ruining the mystery behind our enigmatic hero. In many respects, it feels like Greengrass wanted to use this film as a platform to talk about online privacy and government surveillance rather than make a Jason Bourne movie, but as relevant as that topic is it doesn’t really belong in this movie and only distracts from Bourne’s mission. Regardless of the content however, it’s still a well-executed story with efficient pacing and gripping action, but as strong as the direction is it can’t make up for lacklustre writing; the lack of series regular Tony Gilroy as screenwriter is achingly noticeable.
Jason Bourne is easily now amongst Matt Damon’s most iconic roles and no one can truly replace his presence in the franchise (sorry, Jeremy Renner). He returns to the character here with a little more weariness but with the same straightforward determination and focus. Bourne is at his best when he doesn’t say much, and here Damon again portrays him with the cold efficiency of a Terminator, conveying his emotions through facial expressions and body language rather than words. This is possibly Bourne’s most personal mission yet, and Damon still gives it his all even when the film loses focus on him. Juila Stiles is the only other carry-over from the previous films, briefly reprising her role as Nicky Parsons to set up the plot, but the new supporting cast are all able replacements. Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee brings a modern perspective to the franchise as it delves into the issues of today, and her mysterious and conflicting loyalties make her a consistently enjoyable character to watch; should the series continue, I’m actually more invested in her story at this point than Bourne’s. Tommy Lee Jones does what he does best as the new CIA director, and though he doesn’t offer anything particularly new to the table his natural grumpy charisma more than carries the character. Vincent Cassel as the series’ latest villainous Asset gets a lot more development than his predecessors, with motivations beyond simply following orders, which adds a further variable to Bourne’s chances every time he enters the fray. The Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg analogue is already a played out character in modern films, but as much as Riz Ahmed tries his best to fight against the archetype through some relatable internal conflict he still can’t but help feeling like a tacked-on character.
If Jason Bourne proves nothing else, it does clearly demonstrate that Paul Greengrass knows how to shoot an intense action scene. Being one of the few directors in the world who knows how to use shaky-cam properly, the film is packed with strongly choreographed chase sequences and fistfights. Though none of them come close to topping anything like the Morocco sequence from Ultimatum, they’re all fantastically entertaining, especially the final destruction-heavy rampage through the streets of Las Vegas. John Powell returns once again to the franchise with some suitably intense compositions, and as much as I’d prefer these films to reuse the original version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” instead of constantly remixing it, I’ll take it over not having it at all; it’s as integral to the franchise’s identity as Damon is at this point.
Jason Bourne is certainly a competent enough piece of entertainment, but it doesn’t do much to justify its own existence. Making a worthy successor to Ultimatum is a difficult but not impossible task, and after nine years it’s a little disheartening to find this is all they could come up with. From a technical perspective it is as masterfully constructed as Greengrass’ previous entries, but on a story level it feels a little too distracted by ideas that belong in another movie whilst simply following the tried-and-true Bourne formula. There are flashes of brilliance within it and it’s certainly a better tribute to the originals than Legacy was, but it can’t help but live in the shadows of that near-immaculately constructed trilogy. I certainly don’t get the impression that Damon or Greengrass were phoning it in, as their passion is clearly there along with everyone else in the cast and crew, but I’m having a hard time pinpointing what exactly went wrong here. It’s certainly clear that they want to keep making these movies and, though taking him out of the picture is an idea already proven to fail, it’s hard to think of what they could actually do with Jason Bourne that hasn’t already been done. Maybe one day they’ll figure it out, but if it doesn’t I’m perfectly happy to just enjoy the original three as they are.
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10