Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, and Tommy Lee Jones
Back in the early 2000s, Matt Damon and company launched the Bourne franchise and it felt like a breathe of fresh air. In an era with very lackluster action movies that didn’t take themselves too seriously, lacking any weight, Bourne came out and showed us what can be done. Especially in a time when James Bond flamed out pretty hard with the worst movie in the entire franchise, leaving the spy genre open for the takers in the 4 year gap. But with that first movie, helmed Doug Liman set the stage and then left. The next two sequels and the real iconic entries that would shake Hollywood to it’s core for a good long while. Bringing in Paul Greengrass to add a docu style grittiness to the spy game was truly revolutionary and caused pretty much every action movie in their wake to follow their lead. But it seemed like they were done with the third entry, going out on a high note and seemingly ending the story of Jason Bourne. Despite a weird digression into semi sci fi territory with a Jeremy Renner led spinoff, the series seemed like it was over. But alas, time (and money) can change everything. Greengrass and Damon have returned to bring Bourne back to life with some of the more insane things that have happened in the years since he left us with an Ultimatum being woven into the narrative of this new entry. Did the return of the series master craftsmen bring the series roaring back to life, or was it too little too late? For a series that worked as a flipside to the Bond series, it manages to weirdly follow an early trend of that series.
Years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne has his memories back and is hiding out in Europe. Living his days bare knuckle fighting for money, he is punishing himself for the sins he committed while he was a brain washed CIA assassin. But when Julia Stiles come back into his life with some Julian Assange type info leaks, most importantly to this movie regarding Bourne’s backstory, Bourne is thrown back into the CIA chase and fight game of the first 3 movies. But unlike those first 3 movies, the reasoning for the plot in this movie is really not that interesting. It honestly plays way too conveniently and with too much easy answers for Bourne’s enrollment into the Treadstone program, that it plays like a prequel in some regards. Answering questions we don’t really need in some very unsatisfactory ways. When the entire movie essentially boils down to daddy issues, it makes the series way too clean when the entire series has been predicated on moral ambiguity. It also doesn’t help that the movie is kinda split into two narratives for the majority of the run time that converge by the end, but they aren’t very interesting this time. We have Bourne trying to figure out why his Daddy died, and we have Tommy Lee Jones doing some back dealing nonsense with a Steve Jobs type character to try and get a backdoor into all of this mans phones to make it much easier to spy on everyone. Which could have been interesting, especially in the times we live in. And it is the more interesting of the two because it helps bring some of the trademark realistic murkiness to movie, it is hindered by the need to tie Bourne into this. The movie isn’t as crisp and well oiled as one would like, just kinda jumping from point to point. Maybe if the Bourne side of the equation was good, we could forgive some of the lack of precision. But as is, it’s very weak. Which may come down to the very character of Bourne himself. Or lack thereof.
Matt Damon is great as Jason Bourne. Has been since 2002 when he debuted the character. And even in this one, it doesn’t feel like he’s missing a beat. It’s like slipping on an old pair of slippers for him. He even changes things up a little bit by giving this older Bourne a bit of rage motivating him. But the biggest problem this time out is that Bourne isn’t a character. He’s still the same, empty cypher he was in the first 3 movies. But it worked and made sense in those 3 movies because the whole point was that he was trying to find himself and regain his humanity. And by the end of 3, he had it. Yet he’s still an empty, sad man who is sad about violence. Instead of giving him anything resembling a life or a personality that grew since the first 3, they just still keep him a stoic guilt trip. Which is a shame.
Paul Greengrass returning to the series is what made me hopeful for this new entry, as he is one of the best directors we have working today. But I have to say, this feels very much like a work for hire job for him. He got paid and threw something together. The visuals just feel like him going through the motions, not putting any real energy into the thing. For a new entry in a series that redefined propulsive action, this movie is very slack and lifeless. The action is fine, but just overly familiar. The action also feels a lot more Hollywood this time out. So big, crazy and stupid things occur during these bursts of action that feel more at home in a Bond movie than this series. So much so that by the time of the big Las Vegas car chase, we have a SWAT truck plowing though gridlocked traffic and sending cars flying through the air like weightless toys and the whole suspension of belief is gone. The moment that made me throw my hands up in the air was when Bourne falls from a building and manages to grab a wire, get tangled up in it, and still fall with an absurd amount of momentum into a building and get up with a few scratches. Did not feel right to me. Greengrass’ lack of interest is apparent in the performances as well. Tommy Lee Jones does his Tommy Lee Jones thing, but with no real attempts to make his character interesting. You coulda just switched him out with Chris Cooper, Albert Finney or Brian Cox with no difference in the bad guys from the first three. Same could be said for Vincent Cassel, the requisite assassin trying to kill Bourne. The only thing that distinguishes him between Karl Urban or Clive Owen or Edgar Ramirez is that he has a backstory with Bourne and a desire for revenge. It’s the same thing with Jones. Just half heartedly tying them to Bourne’s past does not automatically make them interesting. No work is put in to make this feel any weightier than simply being evil CIA men. The only character with anything interesting going on is Alicia Vikander, portraying a character with a very interesting murkiness to her motives. It isn’t until the end where we get a sense of her goals, and even then there’s still some ambiguity. But her performance is hindered by a really odd accent, straining to sound American. Also a bit lifeless too, but that could be handwaved away as her being a cold hearted bureaucrat. It’s just a lackluster performance. Also in her brief appearance, Julia Styles delivers not a single believable line reading. It’s so bizarre. The lack of interest permeates this entire thing and sinks what should have been a glorious return to the series.
Earlier in this writeup, I said this followed a trend from the early Bond movies. What I meant by that was the earlier entries in the series with the original spy redefined cinema and made some iconic movies. But then there was a new guy taking over for one movie and not succeeding too well, prompting a desperate return of the original spy. But in that return, the return is not so gracious and leaves a lot lacking. Also oddly enough, a long detour into Las Vegas. This movie is the Diamonds Are Forever of the Bourne series. It may be better than The Bourne Legacy, but that’s only because that doesn’t match up qualitywise to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Having Damon back is good enough to make this movie not a complete abortion and a slight uptick in the series, but so much more disappointing after the high point being left off with The Bourne Ultimatum. If there’s a return to this world with Damon, hopefully the script is much better and everyone wants to be there. Otherwise, we get another lifeless redux of the series’ greatest hits where Damon only has 25 lines.