Jason Bourne is back. These are words that herald the return of one of the greatest modern action trilogies that has graced our screens. It was a trilogy started by Doug Liman and further realised by Paul Greengrass, with the series improving exponentially with each instalment, culminating with The Bourne Ultimatum, a near perfect way to conclude Jason Bourne’s story. Or so we thought. Jason Bourne is set to return to our screens on July 29th, and although I am feverishly excited to see Matt Damon back in action, I am not without my reservations.
Universal’s attempt to continue the franchise beyond Damon and Greengrass was underwhelming, to say the least, with audiences not taking to the story of Aaron Cross as warmly as they did to Jason Bourne. The Bourne Legacy grossed $276 million which is noticeably off the mark from Ultimatum’s gross of $442, with the franchise stuttering as it ventured into new, non-Bourne territory. Moving away from box office figures, Legacy just doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessors.
That’s not to say it’s a bad film, but its convoluted script, uninspired action set pieces and its shift away from Jason Bourne, mean that Legacy can’t stand up to the high standards that we have come to expect from this franchise. Perhaps most offensive, Legacy is forgettable, and that is unacceptable for the Bourne series.
Earlier, I labelled the series as one of the greatest modern action trilogies of all time, which is just my personal opinion, but there is no denying that it’s one of the most important and influential trilogies for the modern action genre as a whole. Bourne’s gritty, realistic and grounded take on action scenes, came at a time of increasing use of computer-generated imagery, as Greengrass favoured substance over style with his extremely close to the action, shaky cam method of filming.
This style saw a similar boom of imitators to that of The Matrix, inspiring a cavalcade of films attempting to cash in on the success of shaky cam, to vastly varying degrees of success, including the likes of Taken and District 9. Not to mention that the new, darker take on James Bond that we saw with Daniel Craig and Casino Royale was heavily inspired by the Bourne series, reinvigorating the then 44-year-old franchise with a new lease of life.
The Bourne Legacy moved away from this style, opting for a steadier, wider shot that felt so alien within this franchise, so imagine my hysteria when Universal announced that Paul Greengrass was returning to the franchise, hand in hand with Matt Damon. The director who inspired a whole generation of action films is returning to the series that started it all, who wouldn’t be excited to see what Greengrass could do with modern technology and an original Bourne story?
Except, when the trailers debuted and I poured over the glimpses of the film we had been afforded, I couldn’t help but feel that something felt off. It didn’t feel like Bourne, yet it felt all too familiar at the same time. In the trailers, there was quite a heavy focus on CGI action, with the SWAT van crashing through traffic and Jason Bourne grabbing onto a wire at the last minute to avoid falling to his death.
It’s great to look at, but feels a far cry from the original trilogies’ minimal use of CGI, and more grounded perspective on action that made it so engrossing. The Bourne series doesn’t need to blow a big budget to stay relevant to a modern audience, just needs to stay true to its roots of substance over style. Hopefully, these moments are few and far between, only given focus for the effect of a nice looking trailer.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m contradicting myself but the trailers also felt a little too familiar, repeating beats and threads that were wrapped up satisfyingly in The Bourne Ultimatum. Jason Bourne just can’t seem to escape his past, even after he regained all his memories, and is dragged back into the fray to fight a new programme, created by the government to track him down. The familiarity is downright freaky at times, we even get a ‘oh my god, that’s Jason Bourne’ scene from a CIA control room that could have been ripped beat for beat from any of its predecessors.
I get the impression that I’ve already seen Jason Bourne before I’ve even sat down in the cinema with my drink and popcorn combo, with Alicia Vikander’s CIA Agent Heather Lee seemingly taking up the role of Jason Bourne sympathiser, previously occupied by Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy. I wonder what happens there, it’d be weird if Lee slowly realises that Bourne isn’t such a bad guy, eventually helping him to bring down a corrupt government programme, because we haven’t seen that before.
Perhaps, this is a symptom of reviving a character long after his story has been wrapped up. Perhaps, the bigger set pieces and increasing use of CGI can help to effectively raise the stakes for Jason Bourne’s fourth outing. Perhaps I’m just being unreasonably pernickety and should just relax and trust in Greengrass and Damon to deliver the goods. Whatever the reasons are, I will be suspending all thoughts until I have actually watched Jason Bourne at the end of the month.
I have better things to do with my time than to get all worked up over two-minute film trailers. Well, I don’t but it’s worth a try.