Nine years after the release of The Bourne Ultimatum, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass return to the Bourne franchise, seeking to rescue it from the mediocrity of The Bourne Legacy, and reintroduce Jason Bourne as a stalwart of the modern action genre. There’s a lot of expectation from audiences, with the hope that the self-titled Jason Bourne can live up to the high standards of the Damon Trilogy, a slew of films that inspired and reinvigorated the action genre as a whole. Can Jason Bourne follow in its predecessor’s footsteps or should Damon and Greengrass left well enough alone.
The film kicks off with a handy ‘previously on Jason Bourne’ sequence, courtesy of some violent flashbacks, complete with blurry and shaky camera, to bring audiences back up to speed. A segment to catch us up on the past, before we venture onto new pastures. Or so I thought. There’s a frustrating sense of familiarity throughout Jason Bourne, in a film that sometimes feels like a greatest hits reel of the franchise as a whole. Bourne is dragged out of hiding to uncover secrets of his past and, with the help of a sympathetic CIA Agent, comes back into play to do battle with a corrupt CIA executive, as they are rolling out a new iteration of Treadstone. A synopsis that could be applied to either Supremacy or Ultimatum, save for a few minor details, with Jason Bourne never really feeling like its own film, just a product of recycling from its predecessors.
The biggest problem with Jason Bourne is with the main character himself, as the latest entry picks up on a story that was suitably and neatly wrapped up in Ultimatum. Bourne had discovered who he was and had revealed the corrupt nature of certain branches of the CIA, the agency thought he was dead and Bourne swam off into the sunset. So when Jason Bourne is forced out of hiding by old pal Nicky Parsons, I was expecting something big and significant to put the CIA back in Jason Bourne’s sights. The reality was a half baked revenge plot about Bourne’s father that feels forced, especially when you consider the fact that we have neither seen or heard absolutely nothing about his father in the previous films, or his supposed relevance to the Treadstone programme.
There was a clear goal and motivation behind Bourne in the original trilogy, one that we could understand and invest in. Jason Bourne struggles to flesh out its new motivations. We are expected to get behind Bourne is his quest to avenge his father but we know nothing of their past relationship, making it extremely difficult to get emotionally involved in his journey, in between all the great action set pieces. There’s some notion that Bourne is also seeking retribution about getting tricked into joining Treadstone in the first place, with the death of his father spurring him into action, but this revelation doesn’t really add anything new to proceedings and only undermines an interesting wrinkle of Jason Bourne’s past life before his bout of amnesia.
However, the intricacies of plot details are not what you love about the Bourne franchise, it’s the nuanced set pieces and I am very happy to say that Paul Greengrass delivers yet again. The fight scenes and stunt work are predictably sublime for a Bourne flick with the franchise sliding comfortably back into its shaky cam roots that inspired a generation of action films. Greengrass does not seek to glorify the fight scenes, with huge scores and fancy hand work, but to portray the weight and substance of them, with the audience feeling and hearing ever blow amidst the silence that accompanies them.
In its most basic form, the film revolves around three amazing set pieces, as we travel from Athens to London to Vegas, with Greengrass showcasing his knack for shooting within an urban environment, simultaneously showing the vastness and claustrophobic nature of his landscape, perfect for the cat and mouse chase scenes, as we swiftly move from control room to Bourne to CIA agents and again, with Greengrass moving these scenes on at a considerable pace, heightening tension all the while. As with previous Bourne films, prepare to be on the edge of your seat at people typing and looking concerned at computer screens – which is no easy feat to accomplish as a director.
The performances from the cast are solid across the board, with Matt Damon excelling at portraying Bourne’s tortured sensitivity that makes him so easy to root for as a character, picking up the slack on that account left from the writers. Tommy Lee Jones is entertaining as ever in his role as Agency Director Robert Dewey, really taking the miserable, craggy old man to a whole new level of Tommy Lee Jones’ grumpiness. However, it is Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee who stands to be one of the most interesting characters that the franchise has produced, residing in murkier waters as to what her character’s motivations and final goals are.
Despite its familiar feel, Jason Bourne is still an extremely entertaining action film that reasserts Paul Greengrass’ credentials as a true craftsman of the genre. The set pieces are so thrilling and exciting that you won’t find yourself questioning the plot holes in between, with a tantalizing door left open for future installments. Bourne is back.