Continuing a film franchise without your star and/or stars is almost a death sentence. What once tethered the plot and the audience’s investment simply vanishes, to be granted an undignified off-screen death or replaced by whatever young star Hollywood is trying to make happen. This summer’s sci-fi blockbuster, Independence Day: Resurgence, learned the hard way – it was panned by critics and fans alike for not having Will Smith return, among its other abundant issues. Even a larger and more well received movie series like the Bourne franchise stumbled when their star left, leaving The Bourne Legacy the ugly stepchild of the far better original trilogy. Following up 2007’s Bourne Ultimatum was an ungodly difficult task, leaving Legacy with mixed reviews and the world screaming for Matt Damon’s return to the role that cemented him a Hollywood action star. Well the world’s prayers have been answered, with director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon returning to bring new adventures to the super-spy Jason Bourne in this self-titled outing. Can the series remedy the loss of will brought about by Legacy, or are the masses over the jump cut actions of cinema’s most amnesia plagued spy?
Jason Bourne is the jump cut back into the whereabouts of the titular character, one of the most dangerous operatives the CIA has ever created, as he dives back into espionage and intrigue to further decipher the mystery of his past. Matt Damon returns in the title role, with Julia Stiles also returning as Nicky Parsons. Making up the ranks of Bourne’s former CIA handlers as well as new assets are Tommy Lee Jones as Director Robert Dewey, Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, Vincent Cassel as Asset and Ato Essandoh as Craig Jeffers. The murky boundaries of Bourne’s newest adventure hold another mysterious character, social media guru Aaron Kallor played by Riz Ahmed.
The fifth Bourne movie is a return to the core elements that made the franchise so famous, and it’s all anchored by the return of the original Jason Bourne. Damon brings another solid performance of a man seeking truth, slamming a handful of faces into walls on his warpath to figure out the beginnings of ‘Operation Treadstone’. The gut feeling of apprehension, anxiety and retribution you feel for Bourne once the CIA begin chase never leaves, something felt during Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum that just wasn’t there in the previous outing. Just like the latter two films, Paul Greengrass manufactures environments and situations that are equal parts claustrophobic and exposed, flourishing every frame with a sense of being predatorily watched from afar. The tone and general feel of a great Bourne film is definitely recaptured, which is what hardcore fans and everyone else demanded following Legacy. The set pieces this go around are noticeably larger in scale, with prominent moments during a riot in Greece at the beginning of the film and the finale in Las Vegas, showcasing Bourne’s capabilities in a much bigger sandbox. All you need to know is that Jason Bourne is back – kicking ass, taking names and pulling back the curtains on another shady government cover-up.
While it’s amazing to witness the duo of Greengrass and Damon right the franchise back into familiar waters, it’s unfortunately just as boring to see them do it. Jason Bourne is greatest hits of all the Bourne movies, snatching and mashing together exhilarating moments from the original trilogy and then setting the movie to auto-pilot for the rest of its run time. Whereas this concept of re-purposing the best moments from past movies worked for 2009’s Friday the 13th reboot, it doesn’t here, simply because this is Jason Bourne we’re taking about, not busty co-eds getting hacked to pieces in the woods. The plot and the beats that surround it are pretty much the same as all the other films; something drags Bourne back into the spotlight of the CIA, who send a cold-blooded assassin to kill him and whoever else is working for him, except this time a plot thread about social media and its privacy is tossed on top of the heap. It all comes off as lazy, on the part of the progression of the story, the motivation of Bourne himself and the manic CIA that is trying to stop him, and especially the social media plot thread that hangs loosely from the rest of the movie. The forces and subsequent motivations that drive Bourne to jump back on the grid are only mildly interesting, feeling more like a redundant side quest in a video game, barely holding a candle to the original mystery of discovering his identity or scouring for clues about Treadstone like in the other movies. Another factor that made the original movies stand above the crowd of generic action flicks was the attention to cinematic realism, which is tossed out the window in this film and replaced with three back to back moments where Bourne should be absolutely dead and indestructible cars that only ever falter when the plot needs them to.
Outside of Bourne and those indestructible cars, the supporting cast is painfully terrible; a mixed bag of the rogue old men that are the mustache twirling villains of these movies, the inept punching bags that Bourne knocks around and the same clichés you’ve seen from the Bourne movies a thousand times. There are characters in this film whose only purpose is to look at a screen, notice that it’s Jason Bourne and confoundedly say: “Oh my god it’s Jason Bourne.” Lead villain Tommy Lee Jones sleepwalks through the role, joining Mel Gibson and Michael Caine on the Mt. Rushmore of ageing actors simply going through the motions. As magnificent as she was in Ex Machina, Alicia Vikander’s character and performance here are heavily lopsided. Her American accent is extremely strained and nasally and her character is not defined enough for the audience to put any stakes in her well-being. The rest of the cast fall into the crevices of their clichés and play them till the credits roll, neither being memorable or that entertaining.
The world demanded Jason Bourne return and they got him, still wrapped in the same package as before, unchanged and unchallenged since his last film. Yet that isn’t the Bourne we needed. Bourne still discovering elements of his past has not only been done to death but done a zillion times better, so why not push ahead to new avenues? While the atmosphere, jumpy fight sequences and general paranoia are present, the plot and cast aren’t up to snuff, thus resulting in the one of the year’s most boring action flicks.