I realize that I wanted this new Bourne movie, but now I wish that they’d left the franchise alone. With Matt Damon back to reprise the role, and director Paul Greengrass returning too, I expected a wonderful return to form (helping us fans forget about the detour into Aaron Cross/Jeremy Renner territory). At first, things were looking pretty good. Nicky Parsons (played by Julia Stiles) was back, hacking her way into trouble. Poor Jason Bourne was just trying to stay off the grid, preferring a Batman Begins style foray into bare-knuckle fighting, but Nicky dragged him back into the CIA’s cross-hairs. What followed was classic Bourne: a scene set in a European crowd, with Bourne helping Nicky escape while being chased on a motorcycle. I was so pumped! But as the rest of the movie played out, the story-line, villains, and action all felt sub-par and “phoned-in”.
Apparently this all kicks off because Nicky hacks some files about all the CIA’s black-ops projects (Yes, those same darned projects with names like “Treadstone”, and “Blackbriar”). Since everything always points to Jason Bourne, the CIA come after him in order to make sure that he doesn’t leak all the classified info and ruin everything. Current It-Girl, Alicia Vikander (with an indeterminate, maybe Irish, accent) as Heather Lee, and Tommy Lee Jones as CIA director Dewey (whose character represents the mythical “old guard” who are so entrenched that they will do anything to maintain their own power) target all their efforts on Bourne. They also bring in “the asset” (played by Vincent Cassel), an assassin who blames Bourne for having previously exposed the black ops and gotten him held captive for years. To this already uninspired setup, the filmmakers add a tech billionaire (a la Mark Zuckerberg), who’s in cahoots with the CIA’s baddies–I guess it was meant to make the storyline relevant and current. Finally, the cherry on top is that somewhere in the hacked files, is information about Bourne’s father, and whether he was secretly complicit in recruiting and training his son to be a killer.
The rest of the movie unfolds pretty much as expected, as Bourne tries to find out the truth and the CIA try to capture him. It all seems not only repetitive, but like a faint echo of previous Bourne movies. What’s worse is that the bad-guys are so obviously evil. The Asset is supposed to be a former agent, but he kills other agents without a second glance and clearly no remorse, just to get at Bourne (Where’s Clive Owen when you need him?). At one point he accuses Bourne of being a traitor to his country, which was such an odd thing for me to hear. Given that he seems to be French, why is he so bothered by thinking that Bourne is un-American? Tommy Lee Jones’s Director Dewey is even worse. He is also willing to kill any number of his own agents to get what he wants (which is apparently some kind of end-all-privacy surveillance program). His evil is so blatant and his defeat so obviously-deserved that it’s cartoonish and tedious.
Now all this may have been redeemed if the action had been good. One of the things that have made Bourne an action star are his clever and innovative ways of dispatching the bad guys (my favourite is still the magazines and textbooks). The fight choreography is frenetic and flawless. Sadly, this time there were no magazines or anything special used to fight. When the film ended up in Las Vegas, and the showdown with the Asset took them both to a garbage-filled underpass, my heart sank. When two CIA black-ops trained killers are reduced to B-movie fist fighting I find myself wondering whether Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was truly needed for this. Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross would have been fine (while we’re at it, I think even Jason Statham’s The Transporter could have done just as well (and even given you a lift to wherever you needed to go!)).
The Bourne series was such a polished and innovative take on the action hero genre that I really came to enjoy all the pieces that made it so special. It was like each film would take its standard elements, rejig, and improve upon them. I was really hoping that was going to happen this time too. I don’t know if it’s bad that I feel so invested in this franchise. In the end, I was so disappointed in this instalment that it felt somewhat gratifying when a new, rougher version of the Bourne theme music (Moby’s Extreme Ways) — one that I did not like as much — played over the credits. (3.5 out of 5)