Jason Bourne (2016)

Ok, Bourne…if the time has come for you to walk into the sunset for the last time…I’m going to let ya. Hell, truth be told, I would’ve been perfectly satisfied with Matt Damon capping off the now-iconic role with his last turn in 2007’s kick-ass ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’…much as I would’ve been happy with the Indiana Jones franchise ending solidly with the pleasing 3rd film, ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’. But Nooooooooo!…certain personalities in Tinseltown just can’t leave well enough alone, and they overextend themselves and essentially outstay their welcome and good-will. The questionable, years-later follow up to Indy 3 was the painful ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, which pretty much everybody, Spielberg included, acknowledges simply doesn’t NEED to exist. The situation is much the same with ‘Jason Bourne’. Now for the sake of context, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the original 3 Matt Damon-starring spy / action flicks. I can even accept the unneeded and lesser quality Jeremy Renner ‘off-shoot’, ‘The Bourne Legacy’ (2012). Not the best flick ever but, in my humble opinion, entertaining and unembarrassing to the others in the franchise. For a good while, Universal kept trying to sweet talk Damon back into the role, as the flicks had all done some sweet ‘bank’ on their initial releases, and then again in the Home Media market. Damon openly stated that he’d only consider accepting their dump truck of cash if director Paul Greengrass (‘The Bourne Supremacy’, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’) was offered the directors chair again. Eventually, enough dump trucks of ‘scratch’ were located, and the actor / director team signed on the dotted line. Even as this was coming to light, and footage and stills from the production began circulating, I wasn’t finding myself getting too hyped up about it. It felt like what it unfortunately turned out to be…extraneous, and I simply couldn’t be bothered. I did appreciate what looked like a comparable number of practical effects and gnarly stunts to the first 3 flicks, and on that level, I was curious. But I just couldn’t wrap my head around where else could they go with the ‘world’ and the character that would still play as ‘fresh’ and ‘interesting’ on The Big Screen. So here we are on a sunny August Sunday, and due to a pleasant lack of responsibility for today, I decided that I’d give My Fair Lady a break from my incessant ‘nerding’ and headed to the nearby multi-plex for a show…any show. That show turned out to be ‘Jason Bourne’.
‘Jason Bourne’ takes place now, in 2016…apparently in our current ‘universe’; an idea that announced itself via the very obvious ( and kind of cheap) mentions of controversial NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. So into this new, paranoid government atmosphere we enter. We catch up with former CIA assassin / amnesia victim ‘Jason Bourne’ as he maintains a low-level existence on the Greece / Albania border as a bare-knuckle pit fighter, using his fighting skills to lay his opponents on their asses for cash. While he starts grappling with a fresh batch of traumatic flashbacks dealing with his deceased government agent father, things are happening in Iceland. We then meet up with former ‘Treadstone’ operative ‘Nikki Parsons’ (Julia Stiles) as she uses an underground hackers club to break into the CIA mainframe to make off with a bunch of clandestine and sensitive files, ‘Bourne’s original training program ‘Treadstone’ among them. This comes to the attention of CIA officer ‘Heather Lee’ (Alicia Vikander) and CIA Director ‘Dewey’ (a tired and craggy-looking Tommy Lee Jones). Naturally, the CIA sees some connection to Bourne in all this and it’s determined that, yet again, he’s a threat of some kind to the U.S. government and must be dealt with…with extreme prejudice! Once more, a deadly covert ‘asset’, creatively named ‘Asset’ (Vincent Cassel), is brought into the fold to fuck shit up for ‘Bourne’ and ‘Nikki’ as they try to find out what’s going on, while also staying alive.
Honestly, if you’ve seen any of the other Matt Damon ‘Bourne’ films…you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get here. ALL the tropes are present and accounted for. Gritty, ‘shakey’-cam, documentary-style aesthetic? Check. Angry-looking people in technology-laden Operation Centres glaring at screens and barking out cool-sounding Spy Talk? Check. Convenient use of ‘Bourne’s environments and props to think or fight his way out of a perilous situation? Check. Seemingly endless numbers of faceless goons stalking through streets, stores, and transit stations while pressing fingers up to ear bud mics and brandishing weapons? Check. How about at least one kick-ass car chase that results in MANY other vehicles being smashed to pieces at high speed? Check. Or the use of a single, high-profile ‘asset’ tasked with bringing ‘Bourne’ in or killing him? Check. Or shots of Matt Damon looking constipated as ‘Bourne’ struggles to remember important, plot-relevant details in the inconvenient flash-backs that pop up? Check. Check. Check. ALL of these points come directly from the other flicks in the franchise and are again featured prominently here. It feels like the script was merely a collection of everything else they’d done…just slightly different. There is nearly nothing new being brought to the story of ‘Bourne’, with this movie. The only thing that is really affected, and even then, not really is (*SPOILER*) the lazy and useless death of ‘Nikki’. It’s a ‘beat’ in the flick that plays out exactly like the murder of ‘Bourne’s fellow fugitive and girlfriend ‘Marie’ (Franka Potente), in ‘The Bourne Supremacy’. I actually groaned out loud when it happened here, as I could see exactly what they were doing…and it was lazy and uninspired. ‘Nikki’s even killed the same way…shot in the back from long distance by the ‘Featured Asset’ while fleeing assailants…again. It felt like such a shaft for Julia Stiles who, despite now starting to look her age, was still pleasing to the eyeballs and had the potential to add a lot to the narrative. In my opinion, it was a cheap and insulting way to end the character.She was a connection to the other movies, and even though her ‘control’ agent never really got any development, this could’ve been a great chance to explore her a bit and build on her relationship with ‘Bourne’, but nope. She’s just used as a catalyst to kick off ‘Bourne’s latest bout of vengeance-fueled globe-trotting, who gets about 15 minutes of screen-time before taking a rifle round to the spine on the back of a fleeing motor bike.
Now most of what I’ve spewed so far sounds pretty negative, and deservedly so, but there are some things that I thought were cool. While she seemed a little young for the status she held in the CIA, I thought that Alicia Vikander (‘Ex Machina’) actually brought a little ‘something’ to the cookie-cutter role of ‘Heather Lee’; the agent tasked with finding ‘Bourne’. While the performance was solid, there was an abrupt shift in the character’s loyalties that I just didn’t buy. But that’s not on her…it’s on the lazy script. Her natural Swedish accent also tried to creep through a few times…but I let it go because she’s cute. I also liked Riz Ahmed (‘Nightcrawler’) as a social media guru named ‘Aaron Kalloor’ who’s in bed with the CIA and is having reservations about it before a brand new platform hits the market. Matt Damon was just fine as the energetic secret agent while Tommy Lee Jones and his Grand Canyon-looking visage looked like they needed a nap. He did what he needed to do to play the umpteenth Old White Man Antagonist that ALL these movies seem to come with but damn that man is looking elderly!. Some of the action scenes were admittedly cool, with an extended escape through a riot in the 1st Act being well done while the ‘Charger vs armoured SWAT truck’ car chase through Las Vegas at the climax worked for me…despite there being a couple times where Bourne should’ve easily ended up like a splash of pasta sauce all over the street…but didn’t. When it comes to action, particularly with hand-to-hand combat scenes, Paul Greengrass’ approach is an interesting one…usually. For the most part, I find the use of ‘shakey cam’ to be irritating or lazy, depending on how it’s used. Greengrass, in his previous two Bourne films, really handled the lightning-fast edits and ‘shakey’ cam to his advantage…and it paid off. The fight scenes in those movies are pretty kick-ass, especially in ‘Ultimatum’ (the fight with ‘Desh’ is one of my all-time favorites). Here, it was like he couldn’t be bothered to set up the shots properly and then fine-tune the edits. It’s a lazy shadow of the method he’s employed far better, in previous films. There were times here where I legitimately couldn’t make out the geography of a fight or what was happening from move to move. It felt like someone was trying to emulate Greengrass’ style…and not quite landing it…despite being Greengrass himself behind the camera again. Damn, despite my best efforts to hone in on the Positives, I’ve come full circle and am now back to bitching about it.
All in all, ‘Jason Bourne’ is an often boring, occasionally exciting but overall ho-hum sequel to what should’ve remained a solid trilogy, that doesn’t bring ANYTHING new to the franchise as a whole, and truthfully didn’t actually need to be made. As I said earlier, if you’re familiar with the previous movies, you know exactly what you’re going to get with this one…just not as well done. The script just isn’t all that interesting, and I found the attempt to tie it into a contemporary ‘real life’ issue (Snowden) to be ham-fisted and somehow desperate in it’s attempt to feign relevance (?). There hasn’t been a whole lot released this summer that’s left me doing cart-wheels around the theatre lobby…and this is just another one of those let-downs. Here’s hoping that next summer has a better crop of movies ready in the pipe for us. Matt Damon…I love ya, dude…but it’s time to put this baby to sleep. ‘Bourne’ is allowed to go. It’s getting redundant, tiresome and, dare I day it again…boring. A film with this pedigree and budget should never be accused of being boring…but that’s what I did as I found myself nodding off during the 2nd Act. If you’re a fan of the other films, you MAY get something out of this entry…but you certainly don’t need to hit the theatre. ‘Jason Bourne’ definitely qualifies as a lazy Sunday Netflix find…and that’s about it. This movie should’ve been either much, MUCH more engaging and exciting…or shouldn’t have been made in the first place.


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