A film review by Craig J. Koban August 6, 2016

JASON BOURNE jj
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2016, PG-13, 123 mins.

 

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne  /  Tommy Lee Jones as Robert Dewey  /  Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons  /  Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee  /  Vincent Cassel as Asset  /  Riz Ahmed as Aaron Kalloor  /  Ato Essandoh as Craig Jeffers  /  Scott Shepherd as Director NI Edwin Russell

Directed by Paul Greengrass  /  Written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse

I approached JASON BOURNE - the fifth film in the spy espionage thriller series, ever-so-loosely based on the literary series by Robert Ludlum – with many conflicting emotions.  The thought of a cinematic dynamic duo re-teaming of star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (whom helmed the two best entries in the Bourne “Damon” trilogy in 2004’s THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and 2007’s THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM) felt like a proverbial grand slam home run for me.  After experiencing the depressingly unnecessary Damon-less THE BOURNE LEGACY from 2012 I grew to appreciate even more just how much Damon’s portrayal of his iconic amnesiac operative typified the franchise as a whole.  When it really boils down to it, we really should accept no substitutes here.

Yet, for as much insatiable excitement as I had going into JASON BOURNE, it was tempered by obvious concerns as to where Greengrass, Damon, and company would take this character going forward.  THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (still the franchise’s most pulse poundingly intense and enjoyable outing) did a bravura job of taking the titular character's story to its logical conclusion and provided satisfying closure to his three film arc of discovering who he is, where he came from, and accepting that and moving on.  Of course, the final moments of that film left everything open to an inevitable sequel, and the tantalizing possibilities of Bourne's future were compellingly endless.  JASON BOURNE does deliver exactly what die hard fans of this series have come to demand over the years, which is a good thing.  Ironically, though, the film suffers from delivering exactly what die hard fans of the series have come to demand over the years.  Instead of intrepidly propelling Bourne to a whole new intriguing series of adventures divorced from what came before, JASON BOURNE suffers from repetitive sameness.  It feels like a dutifully manufactured replica of the previous BOURNE outings, which is to its creative detriment. 

 

 

Just how similar is JASON BOURNE to its antecedent films?  A lot.  Jason Bourne – yet again – is in hiding and on the run.  Treadstone (the black ops government program that created him) is – yet again – brought to the forefront with a series of new revelations that – yet again – brings Bourne out of hiding to investigate.  As a result, the government – yet again – uses its omnipotently powerful surveillance tech to try to locate and apprehend Bourne as he emerges – yet again – from the shadows.   The government – yet again – contracts a lethal assassin to take Bourne down as quickly and quietly as possible.  Bourne is forced to – yet again – fly in solo and avoid detection from everyone, staying one step ahead of the government to – yet again – discover what the hell is going on with Treadstone.  Nothing in JASON BOURNE feels engrossingly fresh or invigorating, and witnessing this film lazily regurgitate story beats from previous – and better – BOURNE installments makes for an ultimately disappointing and hollow adventure.  Bourne himself is the exact same man in the exact same predicament at the end of this picture as he was at the beginning, which begs to question as to how relevant and necessary this film was…outside of profit motive. 

On a positive, the film does introduce us to some interesting new players, one in the form of CIA Director Robert Dewey (the reliably secure and quietly formidable Tommy Lee Jones) that is working on a secret pact with tech millionaire/developer Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) to launch a product that would ostensibly give the government free reign to spy on its citizens.  Dewey’s right hand woman is Heather Lee (a headstrong and confident Alicia Vikander), who's looking to impress her boss and make a larger name for herself in the agency.  Things boil over for the CIA when Bourne emerges from hiding, looking to explore a startling bit of Intel regarding his father’s questionable participation in Operation Treadstone.  Of course, Dewey wants Bourne captured using any means necessary, utilizing Lee’s steadfast determination to get the job done as well as employing an assassin (a somewhat wasted Vincent Cassel) to take him out.  Bourne slowly begins to realize that trying to – yet again – find answers to his past will be extremely difficult with all of the government heat placed on him.  

Even though Bourne is arguably more monotone and internalized than ever (he may have less than 20-25 lines of dialogue in the entire film), Damon nevertheless knows how to embody his character with the requisite characteristics of world weariness, restlessness, anxiety, and ferocious forward drive that has made the character so cherished in action film circles.  Considering the star’s advancing years, it’s startling to see Damon triumphantly fit back into his most recognizable movie role with relative ease and poise.  He single-handedly makes JASON BOURNE simmer with caged intensity and feel eminently watchable despite its lackluster and prosaic scripting.   The inclusion of veterans like Tommy lee Jones – who plays no-nonsense authority figures with a menacing low key magnetism perhaps batter than any other actor – is very welcome here, as is the appearance of recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who has a tricky character to portray here when it comes to her loyalties and allegiances.  There isn’t one inauthentic moment from her in the film. 

Of course, having Paul Greengrass – one of the more consummate cinematic craftsman working in contemporary cinema – return to the fold in JASON BOURNE is also one of its key selling features, and he brings his trademark stylistic flourishes of helming kinetic action sequences with the same head rushing immediacy and veracity that was on display before.  The BOURNE films have often lived and breathed by their adrenaline induced set pieces, and Greengrass envisions two absolutely tour de force moments of spin-tingling mayhem.  The first involves a virtuoso cat and mouse game set against the backdrop of a massive city protest in Athens and the other – during the film’s climax – involves a sensationally engineered and executed car chase involving Bourne trying to stop a runaway armored squad car while destroying a good portion of Las Vegas in the process.  With the resoundingly sharp eye of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (THE HURT LOCKER), Greengrass wholeheartedly delivers here on a level of showmanship and spectacle that has made these films so emulated by other genre films over the years. 

There’s no denying the impact that the BOURNE series has had on the modern action/spy thriller milieu.  It was an unqualified trendsetter.   Standing on its own two feet and apart from the previous series entries, JASON BOURNE most certainly is a far cry better than a reasonable number of similar espionage flicks that I’ve recently endured.  Alas, this film is fighting against the rather large and looming shadow that the series as a whole has cast on it.  If this were a standalone genre film, then JASON BOURNE could easily be classified as a relentlessly exhilarating thrill ride pulsating with smoothly efficient action beats.  Yet, this is part of a larger tapestry of BOURNE entries, and compared relative to that, JASON BOURNE feels too redundant for its own good, especially considering the talent at its disposal.  There’s some sprinkles of innovation with the themes of security and privacy during our current digital age, but they’re never fully exploited and developed like they should be.  Beyond that, JASON BOURNE feels like a placeholder effort for better Bourne films to come.  

It’s funny, but when Damon was asked about the future of the series post-ULTIMATUM he famously retorted, “We have ridden that horse as far as we can.”  JASON BOURNE is a disappointing example of sequel-itus, displaying the players in front of and behind the camera getting back on their trusted horses without any game plan as to what new terrain to cover. 

 

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