Jason Bourne is a serviceable Bourne franchise installment, but an uninventive and unnecessary epilogue to the original Bourne movie trilogy.
Jason Bourne picks up in the present-day, where the film’s namesake (Matt Damon) has spent more than a decade living off the grid, still haunted by the memories of his time serving as an assassin for the U.S. government. When Jason’s former handler Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) approaches him with previously-classified information that confirms a connection between his late father, Richard Webb (Gregg Henry), and the Treadstone program, Bourne sets out to determine whether this new information can shed light on aspects of his own past that he does not fully understand.
Meanwhile, the CIA and Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) learn that Bourne has emerged from the shadows and is connected to a CIA breach that leaked vital information about Treadstone as well as a mysterious new program dubbed “Iron Hand.” Dewey agrees to allow up and coming cyber-specialist Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to lead the operation to stop Bourne from the CIA headquarters situation room – with assistance from an “Asset” (Vincent Cassel) out in the field. However, as the mission progresses, Heather realizes that there might be a better solution to the CIA’s problems than simply killing Bourne.
Jason Bourne sees Matt Damon return to the role of amnesiac ex-government assassin Jason Bourne (whom he first portrayed in 2002’s The Bourne Identity) for the first time since The Bourne Ultimatum was released in 2007, with The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass back calling the shots. Jason Bourne illustrates that Damon and Greengrass are still a capable actor/director pairing, but also suggests that their efforts in the future would be better spent on non-Bourne movies – as the duo have seemingly run out of fresh ideas, when it comes to telling stories in the Jason Bourne universe.
The Jason Bourne plot, which is credited to Greengrass and his frequent editor Christopher Rouse, is very derivative of the narratives from Bourne films past (Supremacy in particular) – to the degree that specific plot beats and story twists are lifted from previous Bourne installments, but are more heavy-handed and require greater suspension of disbelief due to their execution this round. While the movie explores a previously-unexamined part of Jason Bourne’s past, this subplot comes off less as an organic continuation of the themes from the previous Bourne installments and more just an excuse to justify Bourne stepping back into the spotlight, after years of staying under the radar. Simply put: Jason Bourne fails to offer fresh insight or reveal new layers to its title character.
On the other hand, Jason Bourne‘s overarching narrative is solid enough to serve the film’s purposes, even if it does cover well-trod territory for the franchise. Moreover, Rouse and Greengrass incorporate an intriguing plot thread that involves fictional social media corporate mogul Aaron Kalloor’s (Nightcrawler and The Night Of‘s Riz Ahmed) dealings with the CIA, adding a layer of political timeliness that the film would have lacked otherwise. Indeed, at times Jason Bourne almost plays out like an original political thriller in the vein of Damon and Greengrass’ 2010 film Green Zone (here, examining issues of government surveillance, invasion of privacy and life in the “post-Snowden” world) that was re-purposed as a Bourne movie. Unfortunately, because of that, the Kalloor plot-line and Jason Bourne’s story in the film feel somewhat disconnected, save for the scenes where they (literally) collide with one another.
Greengrass, Rouse, and Greengrass’ longtime cinematographer Barry Ackroyd bring the proceedings in Jason Bourne to life using the verite visual style (read: raw handheld camerawork and frequent cutting/editing) that they are now best known for. Although this “shaky cam” approach will simply never be for everyone (no matter how well it’s carried out), Greengrass and his collaborators have mastered those techniques at this stage, as Jason Bourne further illustrates – with impressive set pieces and action sequences (taking place in scenic locations like Greece and Las Vegas) that are easily the Bourne franchise’s most intricate and complex in design to date. Still, while the set pieces and close-quarter fights in Jason Bourne are certainly the “biggest” (and/or most vicious) of the series, they’re not necessarily also better than similar sequences/spectacle in prior Bourne films and feel comparatively hollow.
Matt Damon is the sturdy anchor that keeps Jason Bourne on course, even though the character’s arc in the film simply isn’t as compelling here as those in the first three Bourne movies. Damon embodies the idea of Jason Bourne having been hardened and left worse for wear after years of living off the grid; not only in physicality and appearance, but also emotional performance. Bourne’s not a man of many words and that’s for the better, as Damon is best at communicating Bourne’s post-traumatic stress and intelligence through facial expressions and mannerisms, not scripted dialogue.
Seasoned Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Dewey in Jason Bourne isn’t as intriguing or well-crafted as similar “puppet masters” in Bourne films past (like Chris Cooper’s Conklin in Bourne Identity or David Strathairn’s Noah Vosen in Bourne Ultimatum) – making the cat-and-mouse game between Dewey and Bourne less riveting, as a result. On the opposite end is newly-minted Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), making for an intriguing addition as Heather Lee: a character who serves a similar role in Jason Bourne as Joan Allen’s Pam Landy in both The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. Nevertheless, because Heather’s true agenda is far less clear-cut (with Vikander delivering an appropriately cagey performance), she comes off as less of a stock Bourne franchise character, at least compared to Dewey.
Like in her previous Bourne film appearances, Julia Stiles does fine work as Nicky Parsons – but other than dropping hints about her own personal storyline, Jason Bourne doesn’t give Nicky much of anything new to do beyond her customary job in the Bourne series: briefly advancing the plot. Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) similarly plays the familiar role of a nameless “Asset” tasked with hunting down Bourne (following in the footsteps of actors like Clive Owen and Karl Urban before him) – and while he has more in the way of personal motivation for wanting to kill Bourne than his predecessors did, in this case, a less-is-more approach might’ve actually benefitted Cassel’s character (as it did the “Assets” before him), by making him less predictable.
Jason Bourne is a serviceable Bourne franchise installment, but an uninventive and unnecessary epilogue to the original Bourne movie trilogy. While the previous three Damon-headlined Bourne films used (and re-used) many of the same tropes and stylistic choices as Jason Bourne does, here it’s the tired execution that makes those elements feel more stale than they have previously. Similarly, whereas the original Bourne film trilogy felt relevant and of the moment during the 2000s, Jason Bourne feels somewhat dated arriving in 2016 – save for what is a mostly tangential storyline involving Riz Ahmed’s character. Even with all that said, Jason Bourne delivers enough of what some moviegoers who really enjoyed the first two Bourne films made by Damon/Greengrass would expect from another installment by the pair – but even some returning fans may be left feeling like the actor/director duo should have called it a day while they were ahead with Bourne Ultimatum.
Jason Bourne is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 123 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language.
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