Jason Bourne was done.
After three movies and earning hundreds of millions of dollars in at box office, the one-man killing machine had certainly earned his rest. But Universal Pictures knows good global brands never die, they just slumber waiting to be revived. So nine years after Matt Damon’s last appearance, Bourne is back.
With his unique set of skills you’d think Bourne would have retired to some sun-kissed villa by now. But instead we catch up with Bourne in a back-alley brawl, earning money in street fights. Also bounding back into action is director Paul “Shaky-Cam” Greengrass, whose cinema vérité shooting style complemented the original series’ sense of urgency.
As opposed to the postcard-perfect world of James Bond, the world of Bourne is dark and dismal, fraying at the edges. We begin on the streets of Greece where austerity riots provide cover for a meeting between Bourne and long time collaborator Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles).
Parsons has uncovered new details on the program that created the amnesiac assassin. While Bourne struggles with personal implications, Tommy Lee Jones appears as the CIA director determined to retire Bourne permanently.
With a conspiracy set in the corridors of power and a new chapter of Bourne’s backstory it would seem all the elements were there for another pulse-pounding instalment. But Jason Bourne is a plodding joyless affair that will have many wondering why Damon bothered.
As before, Greengrass relies on flashbacks and shots of computer monitors to propel the story forward. As CIA director Robert Dewey, Jones’ main function appears to be growling obvious directives to his minions. That, and the fact his haggard hound dog expression makes a nice counterpoint to Alicia Vikander as cyber ops specialist Heather Lee.
With an uneasy truce between Bourne and Lee, the platonic partnership replaces the original dynamic between Damon and Stiles. While Vikanders can glower and scheme as well as the rest, the movie gives her little to do except for a master class of staring intensely at blinking cursors.
Even the overriding themes of the Bourne universe seem increasingly passé in the Apple Pay Fitbit world of 2016. The surveillance society the CIA relies on is so all-encompassing it makes George Orwell’s 1984 look like an underachiever.
The new movie attempts to up the stakes by employing Riz Ahmed as creator of a social network with a hidden agenda. But the film wastes the rising star on a distracting subplot, while the fracturing fault lines of Europe and threats of terrorism barely merit a mention.
Thankfully the addition of Vincent Cassel as a rival hitman provides Bourne some much needed opposition. It also leads to a chase between a tactical SWAT vehicle and a Dodge Charger. It’s a good five solid minutes of vehicular carnage and chaos with the van carving a path through the Las Vegas traffic like a snow plow in a blizzard.
When Bourne began over a decade ago he was different kind of hero: an everyman with a blank slate who would use whatever was available to win. It wasn’t just Damon’s fighting style that sealed the deal, but the way he carried the burden — the weight of what he’d become.
The problem with the new film is he’s less and less the everyman and more and more a Superman. Not only is there this feeling about invincibility about him (at one point a dumbbell literally bounces off him), but there’s also a self-obsessed quality to the story.
It’s right there in the title: we’ve gone from The Bourne Ultimatum to simply Jason Bourne. He’s not fighting for some greater good, he’s just a reason to keep us watching. And after a while, it gets exhausting.