For a movie titled Jason Bourne, this has less to do with Jason Bourne than any Bourne film I’ve seen. Don’t worry — I haven’t seen The Bourne Legacy.
The original Bourne trilogy is without a doubt one of my favorite movie series of all time. It exemplifies cerebral thrills to perfection. Bourne is a compelling character; the narrative offers an abundance of mysterious spy intrigue. The series’ whip-smart style has been copied relentlessly over the years to diminishing returns.
Much to the chagrin of my childhood, Jason Bourne is the latest uninspired replica of the Bourne trilogy. It’s good, but it’s barely Bourne.
The last Bourne film starring Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum, was released nine years ago. It wrapped up the story immaculately, but left a small glimpse of hope for a sequel. I’ve been waiting for that sequel since I was twelve years old, but Jason Bourne never successfully justifies itself as a necessary follow-up.
Two of the main draws of the Bourne trilogy were Jason Bourne’s journey towards discovering who he was after a bout of amnesia, and a complex plot full of government conspiracies. Jason Bourne invents a clever reason to exist: Bourne’s old confidant Nicky Parsons (the criminally underused Julia Stiles) tracks him down because she has uncovered information about a connection between Bourne’s father and the Treadstone program (the organization that made Jason an expert assassin for the CIA’s black ops).
Unfortunately the screenplay couldn’t leave it there. Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter behind all three original films, brilliantly blended tales of clandestine killings with Jason’s reclamation of his identity. The lack of Gilroy is a serious blow here: half of Jason Bourne has nothing to do with Jason Bourne.
The majority of the movie follows a conflict between the CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones, eternally bored of all his roles) and a social media guru who no longer wants to sell users’ information to the government. Bourne just gets mixed up in the proceedings.
After answers to the one mystery involving its title character get tossed in around the halfway mark, the movie’s narrative descends into forgettable obscurity. The only emotionally resonant moment is lifted directly from another Bourne film. Jason Bourne plays out like a million other action movies plus Matt Damon’s face.
And although Damon’s face remains relatively silent (Bourne only has about 25 lines. It’s like the filmmakers refuse to develop him further), his gravitas as the character carries over from the earlier movies without a hiccup. Had Jason Bourne been better written, the capable Damon could have soared in this performance again.
Alicia Vikander, who blew us all away in Ex Machina last year, is remarkable as Bourne’s new CIA frenemy. Her imposing figure replaces Jason as the morally tortured figurehead, giving us a conflicted human to latch onto and identify with while other parts of the movie disappoint.
Jason Bourne’s other saving grace is its action: Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, is still adept at staging fight and chase scenes. His style strikes a raw middle ground between brutality and fluidity that never tires, especially during the film’s Las Vegas finale.
But in the end, this is the first time I finished a Bourne movie and completely forgot about it hours later, which was a letdown for me and inevitably will be for other fans of the franchise.
★★★ (3 out of 5)