Bourne Again

In many trilogies, there is at least one entry which stands out as being not quite as good as the rest. The black sheep of the family, so to speak. The original Bourne trilogy is an exception to this. The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum are all excellent films and it’s hard to pick a favorite among the three.

Now, nearly ten years after Matt Damon’s previous Bourne film, we have a new one. And no, I am not forgetting about The Bourne Legacy from 2012. The Bourne Legacy is a decent movie, but it feels aimless and doesn’t really justify its own existence. Bourne without Bourne just doesn’t work.

Fortunately, the real Bourne is back, and his latest film is directed by Paul Greengrass, who also made The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Greengrass is a kinetic action director whose handheld camera style creates riveting and immersive action films. Other directors tend to misuse the handheld camera techniques and create action sequences that are hard for viewers to follow. But Greengrass knows how to make it work, and the action sequences he’s crafted in his Bourne films are among some of my all-time favorites.

His latest film, simply titled Jason Bourne, delivers on the white-knuckle action but noticeably struggles in other departments. The movie’s biggest problem is that the story, which Greengrass himself co-wrote, is frankly not very interesting.

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Part of it once again has to do with an incident from Bourne’s past, which involves his reasons for joining the original Treadstone program which turned him into a super-assassin. This aspect of the plot is intriguing, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t stick with it. Instead, it devotes far too much screentime to a boring subplot involving a young social media tycoon (and obvious Mark Zuckerberg clone) and the CIA’s attempts to get him to let the CIA use his social media platform to spy on people.

That’s all well and good, but why the hell is it in this movie? The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve wondered what it has to do with the story, since it is only tangentially connected to Bourne himself. As far as I can tell, the only thing the whole boring subplot accomplishes is getting the major players in the same location for the climactic showdown. That’s fine, but why spend so much time on it? It kills the pacing of the movie, and every time the movie cuts back to the boring Zuckerberg clone, I found myself wondering if I was watching a badass spy flick or The Social Network.

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What the hell, Paul Greengrass? The stuff about Bourne is what the audience wants to see. And the part of the story that actually does involve Bourne is compelling. Not quite as compelling as the first three films, but intriguing nonetheless, especially considering that Damon and Greengrass’ previous Bourne flick came out nearly a decade ago. The social media subplot feels like padding the film just doesn’t need. Did the studio demand a two-hour running time or something? What’s wrong with an hour and forty-five minutes?

But enough about that. I don’t want to talk about it anymore because it ticks me off that it stands out so much, since the rest of the movie is solid across the board.

Matt Damon is in his early forties now but still brings the raw physicality that Jason Bourne is known for, as well as making him a character the audience can root for. Tommy Lee Jones plays the crusty director of the CIA, and it’s hard to imagine an actor better suited to the role of a crusty CIA director than Tommy Lee Jones, except for maybe Clint Eastwood.

Also new to the series is recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who plays Jones’ character’s protégé, Heather Lee. I liked Vikander as an actress, she’s clearly very talented, but her character is frustrating. Very little background is given for her and I was left wondering what her motivation was for most of the movie. She flip-flops allegiances several times without much explanation given as to why she does so, which is kind of baffling.

As with most Bourne movies, there’s a badass assassin out to kill Bourne, this time played by French actor Vincent Cassel, taking over from the likes of Clive Owen and Karl Urban, who played some of the assassins on Bourne’s tail in the previous movies. Cassel’s character has a vendetta against Bourne that makes things between them personal, and proves to be a strong nemesis.

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Despite the shaky plot, Greengrass delivers on the action. The Bourne series has always been known for its car chases, and the latest entry delivers two epic chase sequences that bookend the film. The first is set in Athens during a political demonstration that quickly escalates into a full-fledged riot. The second takes place on the Las Vegas strip. Both sequences are every bit as exhilarating as any of the excellent action sequences from the previous films.

There’s also a nice bit of schadenfreude at play, since in the opening set piece Bourne and Nikki (played by Julia Stiles, reprising her role from the earlier movies) are pursued relentlessly by Cassel’s character, but in the climactic Vegas chase the hunter has become the hunted as it is Bourne who relentlessly pursues Cassel. Unfortunately for Bourne, Cassel has hijacked an armored police vehicle and uses it to plow through other cars as if they were made of cardboard.

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I enjoyed Jason Bourne, it delivers on the white-knuckle car chases and brutal hand-to-hand combat the series is known for, and the acting is solid. Sadly, it’s let down by unnecessary subplots and shaky characterization. It’s my least favorite of Damon’s Bourne films (again, I’m not counting The Bourne Legacy here, my feelings about that film will be the subject of their own write-up). Here’s hoping that, if they decide to make more Bourne films, they tighten up the story a bit. But despite its flaws it’s still a solid action flick and as far as belated sequels go it’s a damn sight better than, say, Independence Day: Resurgence, and is well worth seeing for fans of the Bourne franchise.

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