UK Release Date – 27th July 2016
Jason Bourne is an uninspired re-tread buoyed by an almost incessant supply of tense, well-executed action sequences.
The fifth entry in the Bourne franchise includes the much-vaunted return of Matt Damon, having been absent for the tepid fourth film, The Bourne Legacy. Damon brings his typical hard-edged physicality to the role – a good job, given that the Jason Bourne we now see is practically mute. The star has stated in interviews he only speaks 25 lines in the whole film; while the sheer density of action serves as an ample distraction, the character progression inevitably fails to ring true.
Picking up years after the events of the previous films, Jason Bourne’s plot is kicked off when the Department of Defense’s computer system is hacked. The culprit, Nicki Parsons (played, as in previous films, by Julia Stiles) seeks the help of a reclusive Bourne, who, having fled the C.I.A., and seemingly society as well, is found deploying his kick-ass fighting prowess on the amateur bare-knuckle fighting circuit. It isn’t long before Bourne becomes embroiled in the usual cat-and-mouse rigmarole with the secret services, headed up by a semi-present Tommy Lee Jones. It is silly stuff at best. At worst, it is tiresome, derivative, and lays bare the artifice the originals kept so tightly hidden.
“It is all done differently enough as to avoid any real criticism, but the series has sadly lost its ability to surprise”
The acting is a mixed bag for sure. Damon himself is fine, but is kept at an emotional arm’s length by the lack of dialogue. To convincingly leap from muteness to the emotional extremes demanded of him by the script’s silly twists, is a task Damon is understandingly unable to pull off. Alicia Vikander is perfectly fine as Jones’ second-in-command, but for the fact she looks decades too young for the job. Hence, from the start, even before the various unconvincing twists lurch the plot from left to right, the film’s feasibility is hampered by inappropriate casting. Tommy Lee Jones, an actor capable of delivering great performances even as recently as 2012’s Lincoln, is desperately uninterested here, affording his character little in the way of charisma, or even apparent motivation. Riz Ahmed (best known from Four Lions or Nightcrawler) plays a technology kingpin with suspicious links to the counter-terrorism forces. Wearing his best deer-in-the-headlights look throughout, Ahmed is a talented character actor whose efforts here feel flat.
Admittedly, part of the film’s problem is the high bar set by its predecessors. The original, The Bourne Identity, revolutionised how popular action thrillers were shot. The narrative arc lent itself to a trilogy in a way that didn’t feel forced – indeed, the third entry The Bourne Ultimatum was arguably the best of the three, maintaining a desire for invention in its set-pieces that ensured a freshness of execution even as the premise grew old.
Unfortunately, while Jason Bourne can boast an impressive number of well thought-out action sequences, there is a sense of familiarity that is impossible to shake. An effectively elaborate, tense scene in Paddington Square never escapes the shadow of its very evident influence, the Waterloo station scene in Ultimatum. There are echoes of its predecessors ringing throughout every beat in its script. It is all done differently enough as to avoid any real criticism, but the series has sadly lost its ability to surprise.
There are other, more specific grievances – an ill-conceived and implausible villain, sudden shifts in motivation, a final car chase that long overstays its welcome – but its problems are all accentuated simply by the stellar precedent set by the originals. In truth, Jason Bourne is a fine movie. There probably won’t be many better action scenes all year. The film knows its strengths, and hopes the adrenaline will coast you over the weaknesses. Much like Jason Bourne, Jason Bourne knows the only approach is to carry on fighting. Sadly, also much like Jason Bourne, it really has nothing otherwise to say.
Image: Universal Pictures 2016