The belated Bourne sequel is an exciting romp, but it just doesn’t feel particularly necessary. Worth a watch, but don’t expect an equal to its hallowed forbears.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the original Bourne trilogy was revolutionary for its time. Their directors, Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, pioneered a fierce new style of action filmmaking that left their rivals humiliated. In response, the Bond films would entirely reinvent themselves in a more realistic mould, while the phenomenon of shaky-cam would come to dominate much of the action genre. Now, nine years since our last proper Bourne film, does the return of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass recapture that old magic?
In short, it’s a mixed bag. The lazily titled Jason Bourne delivers much of what fans have come to expect; action sequences, from sprawling set pieces to intimate fisticuffs, are executed with Greengrass’ trademark panache. An early scene of cat-and-mouse within an Athenian riot is an exhilarating highlight, as the mobile cinematography adds intensity without crossing into incoherence. Admittedly, the action follows many of the same beats as the original films, but there’s just enough innovation to keep things feeling fresh.
Furthermore, Matt Damon’s long-awaited return as the eponymous assassin is every bit a delight. With just a handful of lines, and lot more punches, Damon is able to communicate immense pathos and authority amidst the carnage. Despite the passage of time, seeing Jason Bourne on screen again just feels right. Of the rest of the cast, Vincent Cassel deserves particular mention as a brutal CIA “asset” on Bourne’s trial. It’s a familiar role for the series, but Cassel’s agent is given more exploration than we’ve seen from such a character in the past, putting him on a personal vendetta against our hero. It doesn’t always work, but he nevertheless provides one of Bourne’s more intriguing foils.
Considering the satisfying conclusion to 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, any direct sequel needed a strong story that feels worth telling. Unfortunately, Jason Bourne isn’t that. The fundamental issue if that the film’s plot is largely unable to justify its own existence. Bourne’s motivation for returning to the fray is flimsy, while his enemies are poorly drawn and are given too little time to establish themselves. Most of the script feels like a lightweight excuse to move Bourne from one foot-chase to another, meaning that the incessant combat never feels properly provoked. Meanwhile, the stakes are too contrived and personal to be believable. In this regard the story echoes last year’s Bond film, Spectre, delving into Bourne’s past in a way that feels more tacked on than absorbing. Perhaps such a shallow level of writing could be excused in a lesser action franchise, but the Bourne brand is so steeped in authenticity that this latest entry rings hollow in comparison.
Further adding to the script’s woes, Jason Bourne’s structure feels all too familiar. Much of the film’s supporting cast, including Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander, feel like pale regurgitations of what we’ve seen before, as does the movie’s central conflict. Our villain still takes the form of a crooked CIA chief, and the American intelligence service continues to spend more time cleaning up after itself than it does fighting actual bad guys.
Any real effort by Jason Bourne to distinguish itself feels mostly half-hearted; a subplot concerning online surveillance and a fictionalised social media platform attempts to place the film within a modern, post-Snowden context, but it’s an avenue that feels like an incongruous afterthought. At the film’s denouement, Bourne is more or less in the position that we found him, leaving the previous two hours as more of a trivial distraction than a meaningful progression.
As a piece of action packed entertainment, Jason Bourne succeeds tremendously. Where it fails, however, is as a satisfying new chapter in Bourne’s story. One is left with the impression that the script started with a number of disparate action sequences, and a threadbare plot was assembled later. Perhaps expectations were too high for the return of Bourne’s dream team – there’s plenty of thrills and enjoyment to be found within Jason Bourne, and Greengrass has done a competent enough job of delivering on cinematic spectacle. Nonetheless, I can’t escape a nagging disappointment that it isn’t accompanied by a story of palpable significance. It’s competent, but Bourne deserves better.