Dropping the cryptic name practices of it’s predecessors, Jason Bourne is the newest installment in the Bourne franchise. And while it certainly isn’t the highest high of the series, it’s certainly fun.
(Warning: Spoilers abound)
I can’t imagine that if you’re reading this, you aren’t familiar with the titular Jason Bourne. Pop culture always loves a good super spy, and Jason Bourne came onto the scene in a pretty spectacular, if initially low key fashion. If you haven’t somehow found yourself on the edge of your seat, watching Matt Damon stealth his way through various locations at some point over the last 15 years, here’s a refresher.
Jason Bourne is a new breed of government super assassin who finds himself without a memory. On the run from the organization that created him, he looks for any information that will help him piece back together the life he lost. Think of him as the anti-James Bond. No fancy cars (though plenty of car chases), few fancy gadgets, no parade of women being seduced. Just a guy on the run. In fact, one of the biggest initial draws to what would become the Bourne franchise was how it bucked the expected tropes of a spy movie, and in the process, created some of its own.
And that leads us to the word of the day that summarizes this movie: Formula.
I feel like that word can turn people off, and admittedly, it’s not often used in a positive way. But in the context of storytelling, especially film making, it has a valid place. Especially when your movie is a serialized action/thriller film. Don’t get me wrong, subverting expectation, and spinning off of old worn tropes is important, but there is something to be said about following a successful playbook. Especially when going off book leads to weird sequels (or sidequel? Is that a thing?) like the Jeremy Renner led Bourne Legacy. That movie took what was a somewhat topical action thriller series and stepped firmly into science fiction. Honestly, the less said about that movie, the better…
Thankfully, this movie is a pretty solid return to form for the series, thanks in large part to the return of the successful combination of director Paul Greengrass and Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon. They both have a pretty clear understanding of what this series is supposed to be, and take full advantage of that, by delivering on the cool things we expect to see. Shaky but yet still somehow gratifying fight scenes? check. Clever evasive maneuvering around surveillance? check. Great, well utilized locations? check. Sweet car/bike chases? Double check. But where it uses formula to find it’s legs and get the momentum going, it unfortunately also ends up stumbling do it’s strict adherence to it.
We spent the first 3 movies with Jason Bourne, uncovering the mystery of him. And that worked, because there was always enough still left unknown to the audience to validate a return trip to mine some more information on this character’s history. But by the triumphant end of the third film (the series high point, in my eyes), we had learned all the important and relevant information. We know who Bourne is, why he is, and the circumstances of his rebirth as Jason Bourne. This movie had an opportunity to step away from the “revelations of the past” format, and it really should have tried. It had a pretty solid plot regarding the privacy issues of the day, but Jason Bourne’s motivations, the momentum moving the story forward, is more revelations. As soon as it’s mentioned that there is more that Bourne doesn’t know, I almost felt my eyes glaze over, then roll when they decided to throw in Bourne’s until-now-unheard of father into the mix. In a movie that is overall tightly executed in terms of tone and pace, this part of the plot felt sloppy and underdeveloped. Which is unfortunate, because Nikki (played by Julia Stiles), a mainstay of the series thus far, is wasted by only being the messenger to deliver this plot point to Bourne, after which she summarily disappears from the rest of the movie. It’s when we’re focused on Bourne’s quest of discovery that the movie loses it’s momentum, and brings you out of it enough to think about how silly the whole thing is, somehow trying to make Jason more special even before he was an unstoppable super assassin.
But none of this torpedoes the film as a whole. Tommy Lee Jones gets to play antagonist this go around, and these kind of roles are really suited to his dry delivery style. The spy sent to go against Jason this time around, played by Vincent Cassel, benefits from being the most developed of the bunch thus far. Alicia Vikander is especially good getting to play a CIA computer specialist whose motivations and allegiances are never quite clear, and she plays that ambiguity so well that you really want to know more about her. Also of note is a Mark Zuckerberg/Bill Gates-esque software developer played by Riz Ahmed, who, in a less well put together movie, could have been a throwaway character with a few scenes to move the plot forward, but got a chance to have a well executed character arc in relatively few scenes. The only character other than Julia Stiles who really suffers in terms of development in this movie is Jason himself. In the intervening years, with a fully returned memory, it just seems odd that Jason seems to have stayed exactly the same as when we last left him, and is exactly the same when we leave him again.
While the finale leaves the door open for more adventures, I’m thinking maybe it’s time to retire Jason Bourne, so as not to fall so far backwards that the series (not counting the Jeremy Renner fiasco mentioned above) takes a genuine misstep. But that’s a conversation for another day. As it is, Jason Bourne is a very fun action film, if only a bit underwhelming. But none the less, it certainly has a deserved place in the series, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you’ve enjoyed the ones that came before.