Back in 2007, in an interview promoting The Bourne Ultimatum, Matt Damon reported that director Paul Greengrass had joked if they ever made another one “it could be called The Bourne Redundancy”. A decade later, along with Damon, Greengrass has returned to the franchise for another instalment as if to try and prove his initial, albeit jovial assessment wrong, but winds-up more-or-less proving it correct.
The series had wrapped up pretty neatly with Ultimatum, and if the attempt to spin the franchise off with the utterly forgettable, Jason Bourne-free The Bourne Legacy had succeeded, it’s unlikely we’d be getting this film at all (it doesn’t even acknowledge Legacy’s existence). This desire to inject a new vitality to the property however ends up feeling like neither a fresh start nor a definitive final word on the story. Instead it’s just a basic re-tread of the previous two Greengrass movies (Supremacy and Ultimatum).
I’m not a massive fan of the Bourne series, they’re fine enough films (Legacy aside) and I’ve enjoyed watching them a few times but I feel they were vastly overpraised in their time and their influence has been somewhat overstated, often by people who omit the fact that Greengrass didn’t direct the first one (Doug Liman, who’s still a producer here, did). I’ve long since wearied of the tedious ‘Bond versus Bourne’ discussions that would appear; they’re very different types of characters, Bourne was just telling the one story and, on the evidence of this, perhaps that’s all there is to him.
Jason Bourne is still on the run as this film begins; now etching out an off-grid living as a bareknuckle boxer in Eastern Europe. But he’s still not sure on all the details of his past and an appearance from old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) provides him with new information regarding his recruitment into the Treadstone program. This also leads CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and CIA Cyber Ops Division head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander – doing some kind of unplaceable accent)to learn of his location, sending them after him. Accent aside, Vikander is a decent addition here, with her loyalties never being entirely certain. Jones is such an obvious choice for a grumpy but efficient CIA chief but with good reason, as he’s dependably solid here.
While the film’s opening act isn’t initially all that compelling, it kicks into gear after Bourne and Nicky’s awkward reunion as Greengrass stages a very impressive chase sequence set amongst a riot in Greece, as Bourne and Nicky attempt to evade the CIA and an assassin known only as “The Asset” (an underwhelming Vincent Cassel). Unfortunately, this is the highlight of the movie, it only becomes more muddled and less interesting from there. The sequence immediately following it in fact features a character who appears as if he’s supposed to be someone we’re already familiar with from the series but actually isn’t.
The film relies on state-of-the-art technology for a great deal of its chase sequences, as Vikander is able to hack into seemingly any remote device and then try to track Bourne further. This touch helps to add a bit of spark to the now more familiar pursuit scenes, but this fancy spy tech, and all the talk of shadowy organizations and such generally seem to be there to distract away from the fact that beneath all this, the plot is fairly simplistic. The relationship between Bourne and the Asset, which is one of the film’s driving forces, is spectacularly unoriginal.
The film also seeks to add to the series’ mythology by slotting in new details regarding Bourne’s father (appearing in a few flashbacks) and his relationship to Treadstone which sounds like a bad idea from the start and proves to be so, ultimately rendering Bourne a less complex character by result.
There’s also a secondary plot involving the CIA working with a young tech superstar called Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) and his Facebook-esque social media company Deep Dream that barely relates to Jason Bourne at all, mainly just leading to a location for Greengrass to stage the big finale; Las Vegas. The ensuing car-chase finale falls victim to Greengrass’s once-lauded, now more tiresome “shaky cam” technique, by turns coming across as incoherent or overblown, and then leading to an anticlimactic showdown for Bourne. (I don’t know whether the film itself is to blame but the sound mix for this sequence was terrible in my theatre too, with deafening bangs distractingly overshadowing all the other sound effects)
With Jason Bourne, this once more risk-taking series has opted for the supposed safe bet; just repeat what everybody liked the last time round. This means it’s not a terrible film; it’s mostly a well-made, watchable spy thriller, as one would expect from Greengrass, but it’s still a big disappointment. What’s more, it’s quite clear that this movie wants to set up yet more Bourne movies. If they’re going to insist on keeping this franchise and character going, they’ll need to come up with something a bit more exciting for him to do next time round.