Let’s assume for the sake of argument if you’re reading this, you’re relatively familiar with the Bourne franchise, even if you haven’t ever read one of Robert Ludlum’s original books or those that have been published since his death. If the only film you happened to see was The Bourne Legacy, stop reading immediately and go pick up copies of the trilogy, because as much as I like Jeremy Renner, that movie is not on par with the others. It’s not even that it was bad, but it was dull, too long, and uninteresting. Maybe it actually was bad.
Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass have returned to the series, and Legacy’s primarily existed to fulfill and maintain the relationship with the studio and keep Bourne in house for the future. From its opening seconds, Jason Bourne takes us back to 2007, but with a storyline that has evolved in a world where Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are both household names.
The debate over privacy vs. security has become paramount in our lives. Since September 11, both sides have viable points and the acolytes on either side have grown louder and louder. It’s not limited to political affiliation either, as republicans and democrats fall on both ends of the spectrum. For example, while conservatives generally oppose expansion and data collection by the NSA, Marco Rubio does not.
Jason Bourne has always been on a search for answers, and with each film, he gains knowledge, but with the new information he learns, new questions emerge. From the very beginning of The Bourne Identity, we remain largely in the dark, so that we never know much more than the protagonist of the story. We’re ahead of him, but not by light years. We recognize the Treadstone program has led to Bourne’s current predicament, and we know the CIA would like to eliminate him. To protect secrets, his ability to breathe is a potential threat to “national security.” At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, it feels like much of his story has been told, something Matt Damon himself said after its release.
Through the three previous Damon movies, we’ve come to like Jason in much the same way as we like Jack Bauer. His methods were violent, but we see them as necessary. He’s gone through a lot, from complete amnesia to discovering who David Webb is to becoming the scapegoat for a wide variety of CIA misdeeds.
But, more than anything else, we know one thing about Jason Bourne as a character. He’s always on the run, even when he’s on the offensive. And it’s here where Jason Bourne, the fourth film in the franchise, excels. Of all the Bourne movies, the action in the newest entry dwarfs that of its predecessors. It’s a two-hour adrenaline shot, filled with constant suspense, property damage, violence, death, and dual quests for revenge.
As an action film, it succeeds. It’s fun to watch. The problem arises when you look for any depth beyond the most basic, surface-level concepts. The story is thin and predictable, and considering the length of time spent searching for Bourne, when he does arrive, it’s without much fanfare. CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and cyber-expert Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) don’t give the reaction you’d expect after seeing a unicorn pop up on their monitors.
Within the first 45 minutes of Jason Bourne comes one of the more important events that have ever taken place in the franchise. It left my theater in complete silence, and even the usual sounds of wrappers opening, drink cups being placed into holders, or popcorn being chomped were absent. Unfortunately, after that point, the film is unable to replicate that level of emotion.
The movie can be broken down into three parts, each based on geographical location. A few others are scattered between, but what matters occurs in Athens, in London, and in Las Vegas, which is the setting for Jason Bourne’s climax. Political unrest in Greece provides for a visually arresting backdrop for Bourne’s initial activities. Molotov cocktails, fires, fights, furniture burned and thrown to the street, police in riot gear, faceless politicians behind gates, and the return of Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles).
The same people on the hunt to either convince Bourne to come back to the CIA, or to murder him and silence him permanently, behave in similar ways in each location. Again, the action is in your face, and there are definitely times where you’ll wish the cameras would stop shaking, creating a blur effect that makes it somewhat difficult to see what’s actually happening. Even the quickest moves in The Bourne Identity were visible. That’s not the case in Jason Bourne. You know he’s doing his thing, but you couldn’t take notes on it. Or, you couldn’t say more than “punches, kicks, gunshots, car chase.” That’s frustrating and disappointing, and it gets worse as the movie progresses.
Jason Bourne’s most promising storyline involves tech guru Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who is basically the movie’s version of a forward thinking Silicon Valley type, who created a platform called Deep Dream. He’s becoming a Steve Jobs-like figure, and unlike Google, Deep Dream never tracks its users and is independent of the government. There’s more to it, some good, some bad, but there’s something interesting in there, though the film doesn’t get into it nearly as much as it could have. Kalloor has a history with Dewey and the CIA, which makes him dangerous to the agency, though they would love to work with him on a larger level.
Kalloor’s character is intriguing, and Ahmed (The Night Of) is having quite a summer as an actor. However, the movie is called Jason Bourne, and the tech storyline is mainly there to put all the film’s characters in the same place at the same time. There’s also a new motivation, as Bourne is trying to fully understand his father’s role in the Treadstone program, which led to Blackbriar and the government’s newest ominous sounding security and black ops project, Ironhand.
Provided you’re going to the movies to be entertained, you should find what you seek with Jason Bourne. Just don’t go in for story, because of the four Damon installments, this one comes in dead last relative to plot. It also probably comes in fourth…overall. It’s exciting, even though the climax features a car chase so filled with destruction that it reminded me of Man of Steel, which isn’t a good thing.
As for the performances, Damon is always good in this role, and he doesn’t disappoint in Jason Bourne. He also barely speaks, which makes sense, as he’s basically a man without a country. Alicia Vikander is rather wooden, but it may be a flaw of the character, which is a woman who rarely cracks a smile and wouldn’t know a joke if it were attached to her face. Her artificial intelligence role in Ex Machina was more human than Heather Lee appeared to be through much of her screen-time here. It kept us at a distance from her, but not for any particularly good reason. Tommy Lee Jones does a solid enough job of playing the CIA villain, and Riz Ahmed is well cast as Aaron Kappoor.
The problem with Jason Bourne is that it doesn’t really go anywhere, other than to change the names and faces of the hero’s adversaries. When it’s over, you feel like you just took a ride, but if someone asks you what it’s about, you just hope they’ve seen the other films. I liked it, because I didn’t enter the proceedings expecting War and Peace, but even I hoped for more in the plot area, especially with Matt and Paul both helming their portions of the ship. Had the Deep Dream angle been more fleshed out, it would have helped. And, of course, Damon is a great actor, and this character has been much more than the sum of his victims and their broken necks in the past.
Again, it’s incredibly cool to watch Matt Damon be Jason Bourne. That hasn’t changed. But, when you look under the hood, you’ll find fewer working parts, and maybe even a few essentials that are missing. It’s a little too empty, though it’s certainly entertaining.
Unlike Legacy, it isn’t slow. But, it never feels essential or memorable. Most people will enjoy it, as long as they shut off their brains and don’t look too far into the somewhat non-existent story. The magic isn’t completely gone in Jason Bourne, but you’ll walk out wishing for more of something you didn’t get, and maybe a little less of what you did.
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