October 2023

Jason Bourne (2016)

jasonDIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass

CAST: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles



With the total box office gross for Universal’s Bourne trilogy reaching nearly $1 billion, it was inevitable that the studio would want more, even when director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon were uninterested in returning, but their misfired attempt at expanding the Bourne “universe”, 2012’s The Bourne Legacy (starring Jeremy Renner as someone not named Jason Bourne), was a superfluous side tangent to nowhere.  A Matt Damon-sized hole was left in the franchise, a hole that has finally been filled, nearly a decade after he last played the part, with he and Greengrass returning to the popular action series.  Was it worth the wait (and the undoubtedly hefty paychecks involved in drawing both men back into the fold)?  Questionable.  Among long-awaited sequels to popular franchises, the simply-titled Jason Bourne is better than this summer’s unneeded sequels London Has Fallen or Independence Day: Resurgence, but it feels like a “greatest hits” cover of the original series, reheated and served for leftovers.  It doesn’t break any new ground; in fact, it rehashes various plot elements, to the extent that it comes across as an adequately engaging but ultimately superfluous sequel whose existence is unessential.

In the years since the events of the original trilogy, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been living off the grid and taking part in underground fights.  He’s drawn back into the CIA’s crosshairs by old acquaintance Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), now involved with a Wikileaks-esque organization, hacking the agency and dumping classified files about its various black ops and their ethically dubious activities onto the internet.  Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who tasks bright but inexperienced up-and-coming cyber expert Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) with spearheading a surveillance team to track Nicky down.  When they find out Bourne is also involved, Dewey dispatches “The Asset” (Vincent Cassel), a nameless, shadowy assassin with a personal grudge against Bourne and a connection to his past.

Jason Bourne hits most of the same beats of the original films in “greatest hits” fashion.  It’s like a satisfying dinner warmed over that’s not quite as enjoyable because you’re eating it all over again.  Tommy Lee Jones’ Robert Dewey is almost the same person as Brian Cox’s Ward Abbott from the first two films.  The only returning series veteran besides Bourne himself, Julia Stiles’ Nicky, is disposed of in short order, and in the exact same way that The Bourne Supremacy killed off Franka Potente’s Marie (who left a void which has never been filled).  It’s getting repetitive that just when Treadstone, Blackbriar, etc., have been dismantled, uh-oh, turns out the Machiavellian Dewey is cooking up another black ops program, the portentously-titled Ironhand (aka Treadstone 3.0).  Bourne has figured out his whole past?  Well, here comes another, previously unmentioned mystery involving his late father (Gregg Henry, appearing fleetingly in a flashback).  The original story told a self-contained continuous story.  Jason Bourne feels like it’s struggling to justify its existence.

Like the series’ forgotten bastard child The Bourne Legacy, Jason Bourne is not as tightly-plotted as the original trilogy, which had the good sense to keep things simple and straightforward and economical.  The movie tries to delve into political commentary with hacks and cyber warfare (Edward Snowden is explicitly name-dropped several times), the thinly-veiled Wikileaks stand-in, and a subplot involving the CIA’s uneasy alliance with a Silicon Valley young tech billionaire (Riz Ahmed), whose new social media app they’re trying to use as a backdoor for mass surveillance, but all the technobabble is a little hard to follow, and the political commentary feels laid on heavy-handed, as if part of their reason for making this movie was because Greengrass and Damon wanted to make a political statement about government wiretapping and Snowden-style whistleblowing.  It’s also a bit contrived that the “asset” sent after Bourne here just so happens to be the man responsible for the death of Bourne’s father, who in turn also has his own personal grudge against Bourne.

It’s possible I’m making the movie sound worse than it is (jaded by this summer’s depressingly unmemorable crop of superfluous sequels and misfired reboots?).  Fans of the series will be able to tick off a checklist of things they enjoy.  A buffed-up Matt Damon beating people up.  CIA honchos standing around staring at monitors looking stressed and intense and saying things like “my God!  That’s Jason Bourne!” and “call in The Asset”.  Globetrotting—this time we visit Iceland, Athens, Berlin, London, and Las Vegas.  The action lacks the crackling energy of the original trilogy until the climactic road war in Vegas, with Bourne commandeering a Porsche in pursuit of a SWAT armored car hijacked by The Asset, at which point it serves up some nice stunts and vehicular carnage, wrapping up with a hand-to-hand throwdown.  The ending leaves things open ended for a possible next installment.

jason2The cast is fine.  Middle age is finally catching up with the eternally boyish Matt Damon, as evidenced by his more grizzled features and graying hair, but he hits the ground running like he never stopped, again donning a bulked-up physique almost a decade after the last time he played the part.  Tommy Lee Jones—looking more craggy and leathery than ever—fills the Chris Cooper/Brian Cox/David Strathairn role of the shady black ops director who’s done some bad things and is willing to do even worse things to cover them up (the climactic face-to-face encounter between he and Bourne is an awful lot like the one between Damon and Brian Cox in The Bourne Supremacy).  Alicia Vikander’s inscrutable Heather Lee is a model of ruthless efficiency (at one point she somehow manages to delete files on a laptop by hacking a phone in the same room….is this possible?) but an inexperienced field agent with ambiguous motives, who might be following in the footsteps of Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy (who neither appears nor is ever mentioned here) as an enemy-turned-ally, or might only be pretending to have a change of heart.  Vincent Cassel is the requisite dogged assassin (isn’t it slightly counterproductive to have supposedly inconspicuous assets who always seem to be cast with sinister-looking actors?), and Julia Stiles briefly reprises her role.  There are bit parts for Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp (one of those character actors whose face might be vaguely familiar even if you don’t know his name), and Gregg Henry.

Despite its flaws, Jason Bourne is perfectly adequate summer diversion.  As sequels go, it’s easily a better theatrical option than London Has Fallen or Independence Day: Resurgence.  But it’s enjoyable in the way reheated leftovers are enjoyable, or a competent but uninspired cover of a favorite song.  It’s more of the same, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Jason Bourne feels perfunctory and a little hollow.  It doesn’t damage the popular original trilogy, but nor does its addition to the franchise really add anything.

* * 1/2