Jason Bourne (2016)
I am a fan of the Jason Bourne franchise. I have enjoyed all the Jason Bourne movies so far, with the possible exception of the last one, "The Bourne Legacy", mainly because Jason Bourne wasn't in it. However, Jason Bourne, with Matt Damon playing him once again, is back in the new movie, so I went along with high expectations. The superb originality (!) of giving it the title "Jason Bourne", should have prepared me for the worst.
It's not that the new film is unspectacular. Far from it. With Paul Greengrass at the helm again – this is his third "Bourne" movie as director – you can expect riveting action sequences. With action films like the 1st-rate “United 93", “Green Zone" and "Captain Phillips" also under his belt, a Greengrass-directed car chase will be something to behold. The two in this film, one set in Athens, the other in downtown Las Vegas, are cracking good action pieces. Very realistic, very exciting.
But at the end of the day, a movie needs more than car chases. We've seen them all before. At the end of the day, even an action film needs an original story. This is where "Jason Bourne" falls down badly.
We know the Bourne back-story pretty well by now: ex-CIA agent, amnesiac survivor of operation “Treadstone", on the run from his ex-employers who now see him as a security risk and will stop at nothing to rub him out, Bourne trying to recover or even remember his former identity (his real name is David Webb) – Bourne, as played by the usually excellent Matt Damon, is a trained and deadly (former) Black-Ops assassin and operative. He knows how to take care of himself, but not his glamorous female assistants/girlfriends/collaborators: an alarmingly high percentage of them seem to wind up 6 feet under.
Nothing changes much from that basic scenario in this new film. Matt Damon is still on the run from a vengeful CIA, now headed by rascally Robert Dewey, played by Tommy Lee Jones. I like Jones as an actor, particularly when he plays law-enforcement types; he basically reprises his role as the pursuing officer in "The Fugitive". So too here. The CIA is still trying to implement dastardly schemes to surveil/control the general public, ostensibly in the interests of national security: this time it's a plot to infiltrate a Facebook-style social media network and keep tabs on everyone. There is a CIA "heavy" a.k.a. "The Asset" pursuing Bourne, seeking his own personal revenge against Our Hero. Once again, Bourne's beautiful assistant, this time ex-CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), meets a sticky end – pity, I rather liked her from earlier Bourne movies. And a replacement Chief Female Character – the CIA's director of cyber operations, Heather Lee – played by the delectable Alicia Vikander, is introduced. She survives this movie – but for how long?
It's all very déjà vu and unoriginal. Although we do learn Bourne's father, Richard, was involved in "Treadstone". That's relatively small beer. At the end of the film, Bourne is still on the run and the CIA is still chasing him. He has sorta/kinda/maybe found an ally of sorts in Heather Lee, but she's playing her own double game. It's about time Bourne's status as ex-agent out in the cold was changed, or modified in some way.. Maybe, also, it is about time the CIA, or at least a part of it, was portrayed as something other than a mob of black-hearted killers. The viewer, (well, this one anyway), cries out for Bourne's character to develop beyond the point it reached three movies ago. The viewer cries out for Bourne (or the screenwriters) to look after his female associates better. Above all else, the viewer asks for an original plot that is not basically a re-run of what's taken place in the earlier movies.
Don't get me wrong. If this was a first time, stand-alone film, with no predecessors, I'd rate it much more highly. A Paul Greengrass thriller is, almost by definition, a very good movie. However, it's not a stand-alone; it's the latest in a continuing Bourne franchise, so must be judged in context. Sadly, its context reduces its impact.
The loose ends left untied at the end of "Jason Bourne" telegraph an inevitable "Jason Bourne VI". Memo to producers: hire some inventive screenwriters before you make it.
Come on, Mr Greengrass. You are a very, very good movie maker. You can do it.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * 1/4