This decent but familiar return to the thrilling action of the original Bourne trilogy delivers what it sets out to, even if that is not really ambitious

Jason Bourne (film)

Jason Bourne (2016)

Di­rect­ed by Paul Green­grass. Writ­ten by Paul Green­grass and Christo­pher Rouse. Based on char­ac­ters by Robert Lud­lum. Star­ring Matt Da­mon, Tom­my Lee Jones, Ali­cia Vikan­der, Vin­cent Cas­sel, Ju­lia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Es­san­doh, Scott Shep­herd, Bill Camp, Vinzenz Kiefer, Gregg Hen­ry and Stephen Kunken.

The first thing we see when Ja­son Bourne be­gins is flash­backs from The Bourne Ul­ti­ma­tum (2007), which marked the last time the ti­tle char­ac­ter played by Matt Da­mon was seen alive. “I re­mem­ber every­thing,” we hear him say, as we rec­ol­lect the cli­mac­tic events that led him to learn ap­par­ent­ly every­thing he need­ed to know about his past life. And so, this fifth in­stall­ment of the film se­ries ini­ti­at­ed with The Bourne Iden­ti­ty (2002) makes it clear right away that this is not a re­set in­tent on plung­ing the char­ac­ter into some­thing new af­ter nine years. Any­one with hopes that this movie is meant for a broad­er au­di­ence only be­cause it isn’t ti­tled “The Bourne …” is so wrong. To put it blunt­ly, Ja­son Bourne is not for the unini­ti­at­ed.

Bring­ing back Paul Green­grass and Matt Da­mon (who wouldn’t reprise the role un­less Green­grass was also at­tached to the project), the movie takes place a decade af­ter Bourne ex­posed Op­er­a­tion Black­bri­ar and dis­ap­peared, pre­sumed dead. He has since re­cov­ered from his am­ne­sia and now lives off the win­nings from il­le­gal fights in Tsaman­tas, at the Greek-Al­ban­ian bor­der. In Reyk­javik, Ice­land, Nicky Par­sons (Ju­lia Stiles) hacks into the main­frame serv­er of the CIA to ex­pose its black ops, but her sys­tem breach alerts the head of the CIA’s cy­ber ops di­vi­sion Heather Lee (Ali­cia Vikan­der) and CIA Di­rec­tor Robert Dewey (Tom­my Lee Jones). Par­sons finds Tread­stone files con­cern­ing Bourne’s re­cruit­ment and de­cides to go to Greece and tell him about them, not know­ing that Dewey is send­ing an As­set (Vin­cent Cas­sel) to take care of both.

Us­ing a se­cret from Bourne’s past in­volv­ing his fa­ther as a plot de­vice, Ja­son Bourne picks up right where The Bourne Ul­ti­ma­tum left off in a clear at­tempt to cre­ate dra­ma from new rev­e­la­tions — a move that in turn makes the film seem like more of the same, es­pe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing how many plot points are re­hashed from The Bourne Su­prema­cy (2004). There is a new pro­gram called “Iron Hand,” a death that echoes an­oth­er one from that movie, Bourne end­ing up in Berlin, a CIA di­rec­tor work­ing se­cret­ly with an op­er­a­tive to kill Bourne and even a car chase in the end. It is as if Green­grass loved what he did in that film so much that he want­ed to re­peat it — but since Star Wars: Episode VII (2015) this sort of thing is be­com­ing re­al­ly tiring.

Green­grass’ edgy di­rect­ing style is the same we have grown used to in the se­ries, with its fast zooms and prac­ti­cal ef­fects us­ing real stunt work. Backed by that fa­mil­iar score, he shows us again his tal­ent for con­duct­ing thrilling chase scenes and ex­plor­ing cru­cial mo­ments of wait­ing, like in the tense scene of the anti-gov­ern­ment protest at Syn­tag­ma Square. On the oth­er hand, even as Green­grass com­ments on the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion of Greece, his at­tempt to dis­cuss sur­veil­lance is heavy-hand­ed, in­clud­ing clum­sy ref­er­ences to Ed­ward Snow­den and a scene in which every­body claps en­thu­si­as­ti­cal­ly when Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) guar­an­tees at a pub­lic con­ven­tion that with his so­cial me­dia en­ter­prise Deep Dream “no one will be watch­ing you.

Like­wise, the om­nipresent awe when­ev­er some­one men­tions Bourne some­times bor­ders on ridicu­lous. The many vari­a­tions of “Oh my God, that’s Bourne!” get tired fast, and his su­per­hero aura can be fun­ny in its ab­sur­di­ty, like when he man­ages to sur­vive af­ter a high fall and dis­ap­pears in the best Michael Mey­ers style. Not to men­tion how he still man­ages to eas­i­ly go from one coun­try to an­oth­er as if cross­ing a street. Da­mon, by the way, looks more buff and in bet­ter shape now than when he had to per­form those stunts a decade ago — and all the more com­fort­able in his role. I love the con­fi­dent way he once again em­bod­ies this trag­ic, an­gry char­ac­ter who nev­er smiles and can nev­er find peace as long as he lives.

But while the movie works on many lev­els (those pre­vi­ous­ly test­ed, that is), it fails on oth­ers. Let me dis­cuss some plot points here, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, I sug­gest you skip this para­graph and the next lest you see some spoil­ers. First of all, giv­en the mys­tery sur­round­ing the se­cret about Bourne’s fa­ther, it is im­pos­si­ble not to feel frus­trat­ed and think, “That’s it?” when it is fi­nal­ly re­vealed. It only makes us won­der why the hell it was so im­por­tant for the men be­hind the cur­tain to have him in the pro­gram in the first place. Be­sides, it is sil­ly and com­plete­ly un­nec­es­sary to make the man who seeks per­son­al re­venge against Bourne be the same per­son re­spon­si­ble for the death of his fa­ther. It doesn’t change anything.

And what can be said about the fact that Dewey comes off as an in­sane id­iot with his idea to ex­e­cute Kalloor and Lee in a con­ven­tion full of peo­ple when he had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to get rid of both a few mo­ments be­fore in pri­vate? I won’t even go deep into how inane it is that Lee kills a CIA di­rec­tor to save Bourne and no­body seems to care about it. Even so, it is a great thing that the ac­tors em­brace their roles so well that we end up over­look­ing some of those prob­lems. Tom­my Lee Jones, whose char­ac­ter is an­oth­er vari­a­tion of Ward Ab­bott, Alexan­der Con­klin and Noah Vosen from pre­vi­ous films (don’t they look all the same?), makes his char­ac­ter sound threat­en­ing even as he speaks calm­ly and sounds amiable.

When it comes to ac­tion, Ja­son Bourne de­liv­ers. Af­ter the rev­e­la­tion come the nec­es­sary car chas­es, this time to the point of hav­ing hun­dreds of ve­hi­cles thrown in the air as two cars wreck Las Ve­gas up­side down. It is all very ex­cit­ing, like the well-edit­ed hand fight in the end that of­fers an el­e­gant rhyme with a fight scene in the be­gin­ning. All of that leads to a smart end­ing that leaves the door open for more. It is a re­turn to the sta­tus quo, a promise for more se­quels. I hon­est­ly wish they had giv­en it a de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sion, though. As it is, I only hope any sub­se­quent films are more orig­i­nal and don’t rely so much on fa­mil­iar tropes like this one did.


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