‘Jason Bourne’ Review

From contributing film critic Andrew Gaudion  

The Bourne trilogy can easily stand alongside The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight trilogy as one of the most influential film series of the 21st century. Its down-and-gritty approach to action and incredibly well-crafted stunt work set a new precedence for action in cinema, having an almost cinema verité style to proceedings. While the opening chapter of the trilogy, Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity (2002), was a bit more conventional in its approach, it had a brilliant European sensibility that felt decidedly un-Hollywood. Then, Paul Greengrass entered the fold with the break-neck Bourne Supremacy (2004), and the bone-crushing Bourne Ultimatum (2007). The approach to action suited the intensity of a post-9/11 audience, and left such an impression on the spy genre, it forced the granddaddy of the genre, one Mr. Bond, to change its own rulebook.

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Matt Damon’s amnesiac spy seemed to come somewhat full circle by the end of Ultimatum¸ but that hasn’t stopped Universal from doing their best to attempt to keep Robert Ludlum’s character/world in the multiplex. The ill-advised Damon-less spin-off The Bourne Legacy failed to have much of an impact upon release, so the studio must have been pretty ecstatic when Damon and Greengrass agreed to come back for this, the ‘proper fourth’ film. Still, for filmgoers, many must have been left wondering why there was any need to revisit this seemingly closed-off tale. This instalment, Jason Bourne, had a struggle, the greatest struggle a film can ever have – justifying its own existence. It is with disappointment, then, that the film fails with a resounding, blunt thud.

Jason Bourne (Damon) has been living quietly in solitude since uncovering the Treadstone program nearly a decade ago, but he is still at a loss for a purpose in life. He is soon thrown back into the world of espionage as new details emerge about his past, causing him to re-enter the crosshairs of the CIA, led by director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his upcoming protégé Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

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The main problem with Jason Bourne is in its desperate attempts to provide Jason with a reason to once again be on the run, breaking bones, and taking names. The plot ends up revealing more about his clouded past, and its attempts to make it more personal fall flat by having too many twists piled on top of each other. These numerous twists seem to imply that the writers (Greengrass and his editor Christopher Rouse) are a little too desperate to ensure their idea is one worth telling. The dialogue and the proceedings lack the real world grounding of the trilogy, with some terribly exposition-heavy dialogue and embarrassing depictions of ‘hacking’ and surveillance.

There is a sense of desperation in trying to make this character relevant for a 2016 audience, an audience that is starting to move away from the shaky-cam post-9/11 aesthetic. A subplot involving a new social media app feels tacked-on and does little for the lot except allow it to have a bombastic finale in Vegas.

What is more obvious though is the lack of propulsion throughout the proceedings. The story simply doesn’t provide enough reason to grab your attention, particularly because it feels a great deal more Hollywood than any of the previous three (Legacy not withstanding). The action scenes, while still capable of packing a wallop, feel more by-the-numbers than ever, with Greengrass’ aesthetic proving more frustrating than all that innovative any more. This is particularly evident in the final act. As a spectacle, it simply does not work because the audience hasn’t been won over, with the overall feeling being one of fatigue rather than suspense.

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The cast are a mixed bag as well. Damon could play this role in his sleep, yet resists the urge, turning in a stoic, committed performance, as well as remaining a formidable physical presence. Tommy Lee Jones is lumbered with the role we’ve already seen Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and David Strathairn play in the trilogy, while Riz Ahmed is a pleasure to watch in a role that under-utilises his obvious talent. The two biggest disappointments come in the form of Vincent Cassel and Alicia Vikander. Cassel is given a clichéd assassin role, yet another character in this franchise just constantly being referred to as ‘The Asset’, while Vikander delivers a performance that can never settle on an accent, and as a result, barely registers as being present.

Jason Bourne is a franchise entry that has made me question how good the trilogy actually was. It has inspired a re-visit, but for the worst possible reason. This new Bourne film re-hashes a lot of the tropes of the trilogy without providing any reason or new lease of life to them and has ended up being a lumbering, dumb-downed, flat-footed cousin that really should be a lot better considering the talent involved. Extreme Ways may be back again, but there is little here to understand why.

2 Stars (2 / 5)

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(Photos copyright: Universal Pictures, Kennedy/Marshall, Double Negative, Pearl Street Films, Sur-Film )

 
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