After an intriguing spin-off that eventually went utterly nowhere, the powers that be decided that instead of offering up Jeremy Renner-shaped alternatives, maybe it was time to bring back the CIA’s least favorite amnesiac agent in the form of Matt Damon’s returning Jason Bourne.
However, securing Damon wouldn’t be enough on his own and so, also making a (hopefully) triumphant return to the franchise, was director Paul Greengrass who’s political leanings massively helped make the series as warmly regarded as it is and so with these two titans back on board, surely this is a franchise that was due to be… Bourne again.
Well, not so fast, because having a star and a director is all very well and good, but after Bourne had recovered his memory, brought down numerous shady organizations and finally confronted his demons, was there any actual, honest to god, story left to tell or would Jason Bourne been better off being more accurately titled The Bourne Redundancy?
We rejoin with Jason Bourne (aka. David Webb) as he’s taken part of the Rambo III route to retirement and is beating the shit out of various, hapless thugs for money in bare knuckle fights while eschewing the bit where he chills in a Tibetan temple and fixes wheels. However, he’s dragged back into the murky world of espionage when he’s approached out of the blue by Nicky Parsons, an employee back from his days working for off-the-books assassination programmes who, since going off-grid back in The Bourne Ultimatum, has resurfaced to recruit Jason to her cause. It seems that during her time trying to expose all the questionable dirt the CIA is sitting on, she’s found out that they’re trying to institute yet another blackops program under the codename of Ironhand (the CIA and their code names, honestly, its adorable) and in order to convince Bourne to join her, she teases him about aspects of his past he still isn’t aware of than concerns his father and the role he had to play in the formation of this entire mess.
Of course, this means a whole new army of screen gazing suits and monosyllabic assets are once again on their trail, this time led by the grizzled CIA director Robert Dewey and hungry and ambitious cybersecurity head Heather Lee, but it turns out that Dewey has some extra special plans for Ironhand. It seems he’s in league with social media giant Aaron Kalloor and intends to use his online platform, Deep Dream to aid in illegal real-time surveillance that flies in the face of anything every remotely resembling privacy laws. Emerging from a riot in Athens and ricocheting around the globe to get the answers he seeks, Bourne is not the only one who has to watch their back as animosity between Dewey and Lee involves some professional (and non-professional) back stabbing.
Kind of like a band insisting on an encore that no one’s cheering for, this fourth appearance of Bourne reeks of not having enough material to actually justify its existence. Back when Jason first burst on the scene way back in 2002, he was a refreshing change from the ever more irritating pair of clown shoes that Pierce Brosnan’s Bond had become and the endless televised panic attack 24 was about to descend into. However, while his stripped back, no nonsense spy work once eventually inspired 007 to get with the times and follow suit, it ironically feels that he now could used a few pointers from his suave rival in turn as Jason Bourne’s much trumpeted return feels like a hollow greatest hits package.
It’s a shame, because the team of Damon and Greengrass once took the character to greatness, but now seem to be all out of ideas and instead hold up tired cliches in front of modern, political and social issues (riots in Athens, corrupt social media empires) in order to hopefully bait and switch the audience into think they’re watching something new.
Utilising well worn tropes that frankly should be beneath a talent like Greengrass, first the movie “fridges” Julia Stiles’ Nicky Parsons in order to get Bourne back into the game (ok, she’s not his girlfriend, but her taking two sniper bullets and a face full of brick wall in order to further the plot is still fridging no matter how many ways you slice it) and then plays the “the bad guys killed my father” card on top of it. It doesn’t stop there as they even fast track Vincent Cassel’s villainous asset to arch-bad guy status but having him be the one who blew up Bounre’s dad despite the fact it doesn’t really make that much sense – if he truly hates Bourne as much as he says, why hasn’t he taken a shot at him already during all the other times he’s surfaced in the last fourteen years. You may think I’m just picking holes here, but one of the great things about the Bourne franchise was that once upon a time, hole picking simply wasn’t that easy a thing to do with it and the whole thing just reeks of casual laziness and a noticable lack of ideas.
Still, at least the action still bangs and the movie is book ended by extended set pieces that show more imagination and care than anything else in the story. The first sequence, that sees Bourne and Nicky try to negotiate his way through a fierce riot on a motorbike while molotov cocktails rain down around them is legitimately gripping and the final, car crunching chase in Vegas sees Cassel juggernauting through traffic like a battering ram as he ruins a SWAT van’s chances of a decent M.O.T..
The actors do their best, despite some awkwardly on the nose dialogue (“We both want to take down corrupt institutions that control society!”), but Bourne’s now missing that vunerable streak that endeared him in the first place and has now regressed into a generically gruff face breaker who might as well be as invulnerable as an 80’s Arnold Schwarzenegger character. Tommy Lee Jones is yet another in a long line of paranoid white dudes who has kick started yet another morally devoid assassin programme (but apparently worse, like always), but the one original note here proves to be Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee, who seems to initially seems to be filling in for Joan Allen’s honorable but put upon Pamela Landy, but instead she morphs into a woman who is sick of the boys club she’s surrounded by and will aim a target at anyone – including Bourne – who could further her career.
Ditching the political complexity of the unfairly derided The Bourne Legacy in favor of a by-the-numbers actioner, Jason Bourne can still bring the pain when it needs to but it seems that it’s IQ has taken something of a beating. Consider this The Bourne Apathy.