Director: Paul Greengrass
Date: 26 March 2017
jamesintexas rating-- **
Jason Bourne feels soulless, like the worst kind of simplistic video game, and that's a colossal disappointment coming from stellar director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon. The film wastes its impressive cast and locations by boiling down its story to bare essentials, giving Jason Bourne very few lines and zero character development and arc. Clumsy flashbacks to an inciting incident are supposed to show his motivation and uncertainty about his origins which haunt him. But without Bourne talking to anyone, the film mostly becomes about crisp movement and fluid action set pieces, which although impressively staged and compelling, they just serve as spectacle, never substance, resulting in a glossy, unsatisfying experience.
Bourne (Matt Damon) begins the film in hiding, engaging in brutal street fights for money on an island in Greece; he's brought back into the fold by ex-operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) who has found files that she wants him to read because the plot told her to do so (ostensibly, the CIA is up to its old malfeasance, but you know what I mean). Way leads onto way, and fiery, protest-filled Greece bleeds into Iceland into Berlin into London and into Las Vegas. On the hunt for a resurgent Bourne are CIA Deputy Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Cyber Ops Head Heather Miller (Alicia Vikander) who thinks he can be turned. Also, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) plays a hubristic Mark Zuckerberg-type, the creator of Deep Dream social media platforms who figures into the C.I.A.'s work somehow in a vague attempt at social relevance. Bourne investigates his own past while an intense assassin known only as Asset (Vincent Cassell) hunts him. And, all roads lead to Vegas.
Because the film is committed to a near silent performance from Matt Damon, we get the enthralling filming of Bourne reading google searches to figure out who characters are. Bourne always just shows up exactly where he is supposed to be with weapons and passports and escape routes fully figured out inside of his head but never shared with us. C.I.A. Directors waive security and wait in darkened penthouses unguarded. And handy surveillance technology just sits in bowls at Las Vegas conferences and is easily taken, installed, and monitored. As a modern thriller, Jason Bourne is the kind of film where you can never even conceive of any of the main characters eating human food, taking a drink of water, or going to the bathroom.
I hate to be so negative. I like the character of Jason Bourne and the films (except the appalling entry with Jeremy Renner). I have read the first book by Robert Ludlum. I download every version of the Moby end song "Extreme Ways." The travelogue aspect of the films always earns my respect (part of me feels that I only know how modern Europe looks because of these films), and, to be honest, Matt Damon walking, in a hurry, occasionally looking over his shoulder, works for me. I like that, and even though it mostly reminds me of better movies (the original trilogy). I give degree of difficulty points here for the filming of a chase scene in a fiery Athens riot and the Las Vegas strip filled with cars, even though one particularly incredible sequence of cars being thrown into the air by a speeding SWAT vehicle only made me think of the untold casualties that extended crash would result in. Tommy Lee Jones is a formidable actor capable of greatness; here, whenever it seems like he is about to launch into a monologue or some speech that would shade his character a bit, Greengrass is content to show his craggy face instead. As a result, Jones is no Joan Allen or David Strathairn or Brian Cox or Chris Cooper or Clive Owen or Scott Glenn or Albert Finney when it comes to Bourne's past formidable opponents. And he could have been. Academy Award winner Vikander also seems similarly wasted in a confusing role that could have been conceived of better.
The film is curious inert despite its intense action, but I think too it suffers there in comparison to its predecessors. Greengrass himself has set the bar so high for car chases, one-on-one fights in close quarters, and hand-held camera work, that here, it just does not seem that compelling or interesting. I hate to call a film a cash grab and insult it in that way, but what we have here seems clumsily done without the care and, dare I say, the grace of its previous thrillers. The Bourne Identity ushered in a new era of spy techno-thrillers, leaving its fingerprints on the James Bond franchise as well as Batman in our post 9-11 world. Jason Bourne deserves to be relegated to The Bourne Legacy as two offshoots that never fully pay off.