-The Bourne formula is present with this one, both the film’s biggest success and largest flaw.
If you read my quick excerpts about the prior Bourne films starring Matt Damon, you’d be aware of the “Bourne checklist,” a grouping of 5 or so things that repeatedly happen within this universe that act as call backs to the original. The Bourne Ultimatum in particular was loaded with them, so it’s not surprising that the formula is followed again here.
The film opens up with Bourne (Matt Damon) stating that he finally remembers everything after the conclusion of the last film. However, this does not mean that he’s at peace. He continues to live on the run from the United States government, and has consistently been chased from any place he tries to settle. When an old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finds out that the CIA plans to open another illegal black ops program, she aligns herself with a German hacker (Vinzenz Kiefer) to leak the stuff online. When the CIA’s cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) snuffs out that plan (along with help from the big bad government/director of the CIA Robert Dewey, played by Tommy Lee Jones), Bourne must make a choice to reenter the ring, this time for justice. He also may stumble upon some answers about his father and have the epic Bourne fistfight with an assassin played by Vincent Cassel.
The film’s subplot, and more interesting storyline, involves the CIA’s arrangement with social media mogul Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) who wants to come clean about his spying arrangement and take his company completely private.
I think what happens with this film is that director Paul Greengrass was too afraid to completely alienate the fans from the Bourne formula. He mentions in the opening that he “remembers everything” but then spends a large amount of time trying to remember more about his father and his initial arrangement with the CIA’s program Treadstone. There then is the Bourne process of him being chased by the CIA because he has information, while he’s out for revenge and answers from the people who want to kill him, so occasionally, fragile alliances are made. In this film, there’s a “new” program, that’s never mentioned, and there’s a needless subplot about CIA corruption.
What would’ve worked for me is that Parsons should’ve been trying to expose the nasty arrangement between the social media and CIA surveillance, and when she is compromised, Bourne takes revenge by trying to leak this information to the American people in a very collected post-Snowden plot. It seems that character motivations and relationships should now motivate Bourne since he knows most of the things about his past. Then, when factioning occurs between Dewey and Heather Lee about how to proceed, we could get those fragile alliances that we received back with Joan Allen in the previous installments.
Instead, we have a fractured plot partly following the Bourne “I must find out my past and escape the CIA” and part of a very obvious 4th Amendment surveillance issue. So, when the film opens, and spends the first 45 minutes going through very dated “hacking” sequences and underusing great actors like Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander, we crave for something new, and we get it partially through this social media subplot that could’ve been handled so much better if it functioned as the overplot of the film, and Bourne was put in the “I’m for the people and they deserve to know what’s happening” role.
The awesome scenes where Bourne helps people navigate crowds, has massive car chase sequences, and brutal fist fights remain, and there’s an hour segment in the middle of this movie that is as good as the other Bourne films. Once we get the down-trodden Vikander character playing out in the field (she really is a terrific actress), we get a sense of legitimacy to what’s going on. Vikander’s character distrusts Jones’s character, and Bourne is caught somewhere in the middle of this power struggle. Those scenes, I really enjoyed, and this leads all the way up to a finale that I did enjoy a decent amount.
As I stated in my Bourne recap earlier this week, the shaky camera doesn’t bother me, and I think the frantic nature of the action works again here. Add in a wonderful (but underused) Vikander and Matt Damon easily returning to the Bourne role, we get what I would describe as “Bourne-lite.” It follows the formula and sadly doesn’t quite stretch out with the good ideas it could’ve perpetrated. Instead, it keeps the parts from the originals that feel dated, and random pixel enhancements on camera footage and techno mumbo-jumbo in the opening certainly don’t help things, but if, as an audience member, you don’t completely check out after the really dreadful opening, there’s still some old-fashioned espionage enjoyment.
Jason Bourne (2016)
Director: Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, United 93, Captain Phillips)
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, and Vincent Cassel
with: Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepard, Bill Camp, and Vinzenz Kiefer
RT Score: 57%