Editor’s Notes: Jason Bourne is currently out in wide theatrical release.
Jason Bourne is entirely useless, a completely unnecessary extension of an otherwise flawless franchise that, despite a directorial change between the first and second films, was as tightly wound and cohesively mounted as a modern studio franchise could possibly be. The Bourne series was a feat of globe-hopping espionage filmmaking – filmed in real locations, shot with limited visual effects, and deftly using Robert Ludlum’s novels as the basis for a uniquely cinematic character study that deftly played with audience perspective and masterfully tweaked narrative context from film to film. The series ended with 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, one of the modern masterpieces of upscale studio popcorn for grown-ups. Now, nine years later, we have this crude addendum, which is tantamount to one of those stupid Die Hard sequels that everyone likes to pretend never existed.
. . . though Jason Bourne could’ve been released six months after The Bourne Ultimatum and it still would’ve sucked.
Most remarkable is that this crude addendum was presided over by the series’ eventual overseer, Paul Greengrass, who directed both The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, and who now both directs and co-writes Jason Bourne, though this one has the feel of fan fiction – quaint in its reference points but entirely irrelevant in the scheme of the franchise proper. Attempting a decade-later reboot of a franchise as eloquent as Bourne is sort of vulgar enough on its own, but that it came from Greengrass is a double-whammy. Even 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, directed by the franchise’s mainstay scribe Tony Gilroy, had the sense to pivot from the titular character and tell a standalone story about a tangential government program, more of an inspiration than a tacked-on puff piece. Gilroy is not involved with Jason Bourne – a wise move for him and a major detriment to the film, which is also not based on a Ludlum novel, so it’s basically just a vanity project for Greengrass, a director whose oeuvre to this point never had any use for the concept of vanity.
. . . during the film’s extended climax, a car chase of increasing preposterousness, spectacular in a manner that blends Michael Bay’s incomprehensibility with James Cameron’s sense of action sequence one-upmanship, but not remotely Bourne.
Matt Damon returns as Bourne, who as the film opens wakes up in a cold sweat en route to an underground fighting match. So, ya know, some things never change, I guess. How this poor guy has never found peace even after the endless revelations of his first three adventures and seeming clarity achieved at the ends of Supremacy and/or Ultimatum (depending on how you interpret the trilogy’s chronology) is kind of tragic. Nevertheless, here he is, awaking to cryptic dreams of his past, engaging in suspicious underground activity in foreign lands…basically, he’s just waiting to get hunted again.
Other similarities abound here, from Bourne’s engaging female sidekick – this time there’s two interchangeable helpmates, in the form of Julia Stiles’ returning ex-CIA researcher and Alicia Vikander’s current CIA researcher – to the CIA Director with Ambiguous Intentions, this time played by Tommy Lee Jones, who could – and often does – play this role in his sleep. Once again Bourne is drawn into the web of the organization that created him, piecing together fragments of his memory in an effort to topple a sinister regime. It’s all very same-y, the only difference being none of this is remotely organic, instead the contrivance of Greengrass and Christopher Rouse’s (yes, the editor) screenplay, which simultaneously bastardizes and desperately wants to replicate all that came before it (a solid alternate title might’ve been Bourne: The Last Stand). There is an attempt here to explore the limits of privacy versus increased government surveillance in the form of Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), a young tech wunderkind whose revolutionary privacy app is another of Tommy Lee’s targets, though this subplot lacks both nuance and any discernible connection to the standard Bourne material that surrounds it.
All of this comes to a crashing head – literally – during the film’s extended climax, a car chase of increasing preposterousness, spectacular in a manner that blends Michael Bay’s incomprehensibility with James Cameron’s sense of action sequence one-upmanship, but not remotely Bourne. That’s odd, since literally every other sequence seems to have been traced over a stencil of the earlier trilogy. But that’s Jason Bourne in a nutshell – a flailing entity that is always chasing after something that’s either been done better, or completely lost its relevance, or both. Oddly enough, it’s quite reminiscent to another Greengrass-Damon bomb, 2010’s Green Zone, which was several years too late to the “There Were No WMDs” Party. Here they’re nearly a decade late to the Bourne Franchise Party…though Jason Bourne could’ve been released six months after The Bourne Ultimatum and it still would’ve sucked.
Jason Bourne is entirely useless, a completely unnecessary extension of an otherwise flawless franchise that, despite a directorial change between the first and second films, was as tightly wound and cohesively mounted as a modern studio franchise could possibly be.