Despite formerly amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne reclaiming his identity and taking out his pursuers across a riveting trilogy of action movies, the specter of Treadstone apparently lives on in the Bourne universe, now leading to yet more excitement for Matt Damon’s action man. After an attempt to re-position the franchise under Jeremy Renner with 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, which most audiences and critics seemed to meet with general apathy, Matt Damon and director, Paul Greengrass have reunited for a proper new Bourne sequel this year, this one simply, and rather drably, being titled, ‘Jason Bourne‘.
The straightforward title makes the movie’s intentions immediately clear; Making a proper Bourne movie, and not fussing about the details. If you’re a big fan of the Bourne movies, that will probably suit you just fine, and heck, even action movie enthusiasts in general will find plenty to like about Jason Bourne. What’s more disappointing however is that, when it comes down to it, Jason Bourne really doesn’t need to exist. The series’ core trilogy ended on a perfectly satisfying note with 2007’s excellent The Bourne Ultimatum, and at worst, it does seem like Jason Bourne is another unwelcome effort to dig up the movie series’ corpse and parade it around for some easy box office dollars.
Fortunately, that lingering feeling of dragging out the Bourne movies in this follow-up isn’t one that you’ll constantly dwell on, since the movie’s action is still great, and it certainly pulls out all the stops with its lead cast to boot! As unnecessary as this sequel is, it does succeed at being a solid Bourne movie, and definitely an improvement over The Bourne Legacy. If you really like the original trilogy of Bourne movies though, it’s also impossible to deny that Jason Bourne is easily the weakest of the Matt Damon-led Bourne offerings, so you should still come into it with slightly lowered expectations.
Matt Damon is back in the lead role of Jason Bourne, a man who is no longer concerning himself with who he is or where he came from, after the events of the initial trilogy. Naturally, Damon is as enjoyable as ever in this part, still being an exceptional ass-kicker with unflinching skills in the field. Seeing Damon return to this role is like seeing a beloved musician perform for a sold-out venue after a long hiatus. It’s satisfying, it’s cool, and it’s very comforting to those who enjoy the man’s work.
That’s why it’s genuinely baffling that Jason Bourne really doesn’t feel like it’s truly about its title character. That’s actually one of the major things working against this movie from the get-go; Rather than a story that is very much about exploring Bourne and making Bourne the center of the high stakes, as the former Bourne trilogy did, Bourne just feels like he’s along for the ride this time, dealing with an issue that has little to no relation to his current station in life. As cool as it is to see Bourne kicking ass and taking names again, it doesn’t change the fact that he comes off as a bystander in his own movie here, sticking his nose into an incident that ultimately doesn’t concern him, for the half-hearted reason of finding answers to something related to his past, when, logically, he should probably just let sleeping dogs lie.
To be fair, there is an incident early in the movie that somewhat logically motivates Bourne to resolve what’s going on, and that relates to the one other returning personality from the previous movies, Julia Stiles’ Nicky Parsons, but it still makes Bourne’s character arc feel kind of forced in the main conflict, since his persistence can be easily questioned. Even as one of the movie’s main villains, Vincent Cassel’s character, who is simply called, “The Asset”, hunts Bourne relentlessly out of some desire for revenge (it’s elaborated upon later in the movie), it largely fails to give Bourne a true sense of organic relation to what’s going on. He’s clearly shoehorned into a tale that, frankly, could have been used in any action movie, Bourne or otherwise.
Damon still owns every action scene, and Jason Bourne still isn’t wanting for some great ones, but when it comes to performances, even Damon is pretty clearly upstaged by the movie’s best performer, Alicia Vikander, portraying Heather Lee, the young upstart head of the CIA’s Cyber Division. Vikander’s performance engages more than anyone else in the cast, even though everyone still does a fine job with whatever thin character traits they’ve been given. It’s Vikander that has real depth and meat to work with though, portraying an effectively morally ambiguous character that effectively keeps the audience guessing, and she single-handedly adds all of the intrigue into what’s, sadly, a pretty pedestrian modern spy story.
The movie’s villains manage to menace Bourne nicely, but they’re also dragged down by the boilerplate storyline. Tommy Lee Jones portrays the CIA’s director, and the movie’s lead antagonist, Robert Dewey, and he’s fine, without really straying from the villain role that one would come to expect from Tommy Lee Jones. Jones and Cassel are worthy foes to Damon’s Bourne to be sure, though they don’t really throw any real curveballs into proceedings. Cassel’s unnamed assassin is a revenge-obsessed loose cannon (in fact, he’s hilariously conspicuous and unprofessional for a CIA assassin in many scenes!), and Jones’ Dewey is an ass-covering government dick, and that’s all there is to their personalities when it comes down to it. These baddies get the job done, but you’ll probably long for the more complex and unpredictable thugs from the Treadstone incidents in the initial Bourne trilogy.
Like I said, when Jason Bourne purely focuses on being an action movie, it’s worthy of the franchise’s pedigree. The action beats are still very tightly executed and very enjoyable to watch, and the character of Bourne himself is still as cool as he ever was. Sadly though, even Bourne’s huge array of skills and coolness can’t totally save the dull, tedious core incident that’s unfolding around them, especially when the movie doesn’t ultimately do that great of a job of justifying Bourne taking part in the action.
Most of the plot of Jason Bourne revolves around an irrelevant character trying to launch a brand new social media platform that promises complete and total privacy, despite the CIA wanting to have exclusive and top secret access to its users. Yeah, it’s as dry as it sounds, and every time the movie devotes what’s honestly a huge amount of time to fleshing out this flaccid conflict that Bourne is forcibly shoehorned into, the pacing and momentum slam on the brakes and come to a very unwelcome halt. The consistent, simmering excitement of Damon’s prior three Bourne movies just isn’t as consistent or reliable in this storyline, which is just too uninteresting to fully justify prolonging the Bourne franchise again.
The action and pockets of thrilling fun do manage to prevent the storyline in Jason Bourne from feeling like a total misfire, especially when Alicia Vikander’s personality is able to add a bit of much-needed intrigue to the largely straightforward story progression, but considering the great work that went into the original three Bourne movies, it’s really disappointing that this new movie just can’t measure up with its storytelling. The plot itself is too generic and boring in Jason Bourne, and feels like an aborted concept for some other failed action movie pitch that Universal recycled and slapped into the Bourne franchise, simply because they wanted an excuse to make another Bourne movie. For fans who don’t care about the excuse, this isn’t an issue, but if you’re looking for something else in the story to get invested in beyond Bourne’s ass-kicking skills, you’re going to be pretty disappointed.
One major element adding more authenticity to Jason Bourne than what was present in The Bourne Legacy is the return of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director, Paul Greengrass, and as you can imagine, Greengrass’ familiar style is alive and well in Jason Bourne, especially when Greengrass co-wrote the script himself. There’s still quite a bit of shaky cam in the movie, so those who suffer from motion sickness should still be advised of that, but the fact remains that Greengrass is very skilled at high-quality action. Jason Bourne manages some especially cool action sequences that Greengrass realizes beautifully as well, namely an opening act sequence that takes place during a riot, which is incredibly thrilling throughout, and a climactic chase that is both very exciting and gleefully destructive.
With a less interesting story and script to work with this time though, even if it’s partially his own script, Greengrass is hamstrung by a lot of dry scenes that are difficult to truly elevate. Greengrass is definitely most passionate about the action and thrills in Jason Bourne, and it shows, since those are the moments that actively strive to grab the audience and wow them. Likewise, Damon and Greengrass are a well-oiled machine, and Bourne himself remains a cool, charismatic hero under Greengrass’ helm, even when saddled with a script that is full of dispassionate, unengaging dialogue, and a rather flimsy reason to involve Bourne in the plot at all. Nonetheless, Greengrass does his best with what he has to work with, even if he doesn’t seem to care about the movie’s over-arching incident any more than the audience likely will, resulting in solid, if slightly inconsistent direction that is clearly focused on excitement over depth.
John Powell returns once again to compose the soundtrack to Jason Bourne, after scoring the soundtracks of the initial trilogy, this time joined by a secondary composer, David Buckley. Powell’s familiar touches in the score are very noticeable, namely the familiar Bourne themes and orchestra being worked in at key points in the compositions, though Buckley appears to provide a bit of a different spin than the former Bourne trilogy’s compositions, cranking up the outward action and tempo, even if it sometimes feels like the movie’s music suite is trying harder to grab audiences as a means of compensating for the largely uninteresting storyline. It doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the better Bourne movie soundtracks though, for what that’s worth.
As you can expect, the rest of the audio work in Jason Bourne packs quite a bit of punch too, and also works overtime to grab the audience in the action scenes. Experiencing Jason Bourne on the big screen is just as thrilling as it was in the case of the prior Bourne trilogy that Matt Damon headlined, and if you’re just going for the handful of standout action scenes, you’ll definitely be satisfied by them. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie couldn’t be as exciting as the action or the audio.
Jason Bourne is enjoyable enough for action movie buffs and Bourne fans, but even to them, the movie will probably ultimately be a disappointment, at least compared to the previous Bourne trilogy. As an action movie on its own merits, Jason Bourne is satisfactory, though considering the pedigree of its franchise, it also feels like a forced, unnecessary sequel that, while inoffensive, doesn’t truly need to exist. Those hungering to see Damon’s Bourne knock a few more heads around will definitely get that, and those people may not find the movie’s flaws to be worth dwelling on, but everyone else won’t find much reason to reunite with Bourne after nearly a decade.
Jason Bourne even ends on a note of foreshadowing more potential returns for Bourne in the future, which seems rather arrogant, considering how much this movie still isn’t really cracking how to keep the Bourne movies going in a way that fully measures up to the original trilogy, though maybe a potential sixth Bourne movie, should Damon and Greengrass be interested in reuniting again for one, could succeed where Jason Bourne struggles. For now though, it still feels too much like Universal is chasing a ghost with trying to keep the Bourne movies alive beyond the initial trilogy that so effectively wrapped them up, even if they certainly came closer to that classic quality here than they did in The Bourne Legacy.
Whether ‘close’ fully counts however, is up to the audience. If you’re coming for the action, then you’ll find enough to be worth the ticket price in Jason Bourne. Anything beyond the scattering of impressive action sequences though is probably not worth the trip to the theatre. Bourne’s still got it, sure, but if Universal is going to call the man to action again, maybe they should make sure that the CIA’s latest mess is actually worth his attention next time.
- Damon still kicks ass as Bourne
- Greengrass still realizes some awesome action sequences
- Soundtrack's added punch is great
- Most personalities and dialogue fail to engage
- Storyline is boilerplate and uninteresting
- Doesn't justify prolonging the Bourne franchise further