It is with a heavy and conflicted heart that I write this review. Matt Damon’s The Bourne trilogy has always occupied a prominent and influential place in my heart. A series of films that before last weekend and 2012’s quickly forgotten The Bourne Legacy, I held in the highest regard, feeling nothing but affection, admiration and inspiration from what was, one of the tightest, most consistent and thrilling cinematic trilogies in film history.
The Bourne Identity exploded onto our screens in 2002, setting in motion a series of films that would change not only the way modern Hollywood action films were made but how filmmakers and audiences across the world would approach the genre for years to come.
Telling the story of CIA black ops assassin Jason Bourne who, during a bad case of the Mondays, finds himself floating in the middle of the Mediterranean sea with two bullet shaped bullets lodge in his back and waking to discover he’s got a memory like Swiss cheese. Bourne (AKA David Webb, AKA John Michael Kane, AKA Will Hunting) then embarks on an epic journey of self-discovery, conspiracy and revenge, as his troubled and enigmatic past begins to reveal itself.
This enthralling and globe trotting action thrillride was laid out perfectly over the course of three films with each instalment acting as the beginning, middle and end of the Jason Bourne story. Having blown the CIA’s corrupt and sinister dark secrets out of the water and pulling down the curtain around them for the world to see, Jason swam off into the blackness of the East River in New York. A heroic gunslinger riding off into the sunset, to live out the rest of his days, neatly closing the book on the Jason Bourne saga. A beautiful conclusion to a stunning story…
…or so we thought. Fast forward nine years and Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass are back to apparently do the honourable thing and restore the world audience’s faith in the beloved Bourne name, after Jeremy Renner’s lacklustre turn in The Bourne Legacy. Upon hearing the news, the sceptic in me, however, always wondered if it wasn’t so much honour and creative passion that brought the dynamic duo back to this seemingly closed tale, but more Universal Studios water boarding the two into submission, but instead of a cloth and buckets of water, it was incessant child-like begging and endless cash, cash, cash!
It was only two days ago that I went into the screening of Jason Bourne, praying the film wouldn’t be as unimaginative and as cynical as its very title and trailers might suggest. Well, unfortunately, my gravest fears where realised.
Jason Bourne sees the world weary ex-spy getting thrown back into the heart of the action and that of further international conspiracies, data leaks and bike/car/foot chases because… well, you know, reasons. I would go more in depth regarding the plot and themes of this film but seeing as this script was not so much written by screenwriters invested in telling a new and inventive story and rather someone copying and pasting the abridged screenplays of the prior films and simply autocorrecting new character names, locations and catchy sound government operation names, I won’t bother.
In short, there’s not much new or surprising on offer here and anything fresh that is brought to the table, is never really developed, fully realised and never grabs you by the throat like its predecessors often did. Many of these additions amounts to nothing more than a mumbled reaction of ‘meh… okay’. Questions and issues of Internet security and privacy in the age of social media feel somewhat tacked on and loosely interwoven with Bourne’s revenge arc. All you have to know is that a huge data hack on the verge of being leaked to the world offers more answers to questions Jason (or the audience) was never really asking. These secrets bring Bourne full circle, questioning whether a normal life is even an option for him and finding out that just because he remembers everything, doesn’t mean he knows everything.
Put simply: Bourne Good. CIA Bad.
For a film that features wall-to-wall fistfights, gun battles and car chases, Jason Bourne doesn’t pack any sort of punch. Whilst the action on display is adequate and Greengrass’, one of the finest filmmakers working in Hollywood today, still hasn’t lost his touch for effective action directing, these sequences always seem to be fighting against the story. The film may offer infrequent thrills but the action has no real tension or weight because the stakes have not been earned. Retro-manufactured character rivalries, clichéd revenge plots and unexciting villains offer little in terms of emotional connection or investment in the narrative. If the original films proved anything it’s that the action scenes weren’t just spellbinding because of the stunning choreography and random stationery wielding fight scenes (still evident in this film). They worked because the story was riveting and utterly compelling (not evident here). The Bourne films laid down the mantra of action elevating story, in which either only worked if the other was running at full capacity. 2016’s entry seems to view action as either a substitute for the action or a 5-minute break from it.
This film isn’t terrible. It’s not all doom and gloom. The performances across the board are all adequate and reliable. Paul Greengrass offers no concerns that he has lost his knack for visceral, arresting filmmaking. The sound design on offer is stellar. The visuals are strong. The music is a serviceable rendition of Jon Powell’s far superior previous soundtracks. Across the board this is a well-made film, just not a good one. It’s a sufficient, run of the mill summer action flick. However, as the Bourne trilogy set the bar so high and set a standard for future action thrillers, it’s only fair this film is held to that same standard and judged on that platform. With Jason Bourne, this franchise has disconcertingly become the very thing it set out to destroy. A series that was founded of the basis of being the anti-Bond, an intelligent spy film that focused on tight character driven story telling, grounded realistic action and bursts of incredible ingenuity and moments of sheer surprise.
However, with both this and the Bourne Legacy, this once revered IP has become as clichéd, lazy and derivative as many of 007’s outings, making you query just long it will be before we see Jason himself, surfing down a Tsunami with a parachute, in attempts to offer new thrills and something different. The film ultimately felt the way Tommy Lee Jones and his wrinkled, aged wooden Oak skin looked throughout the course of proceedings. Tired, worn and dated. The passion and drive that was evident in previous films is nowhere in sight. For an “action thriller” this was more often than not, a flatline affair, which for many in attendance, including myself, left far more yawns than gasps.
Leaving each of Matt Damon’s previous instalments, I left the cinema feeling captivated, roused and elated. Having been taken on an emotional rollercoaster of visceral action and gripping stories, Moby’s Extreme Ways soaring in my heart and the unremitting naive sensation to kick ass. This weekend, leaving the screening room, the only thing I came away from Jason Bourne doing was shrugging my shoulders, uttering the words ‘what was the point in that?’ and feeling a little dumbfounded at what I had just seen and wondering how my natural cynical self had just gotten even more cynical.
One of the most innovative, absorbing and adored film series of the last few decades has found itself being infected by the unstoppable studio zombie virus and has mutated into another run of the mill shameless cash grab. Moments of eyebrow raising action, a handful of hopeful moments that never come into fruition and a monotonous story, will leave you relating to the infamous former amnesia-ridden super spy: forgetting much of what you had seen.
Verdict: He may have finally regained his memories but Jason Bourne, it appears, has lost his heart. An extremely disappointing, uninspired and pointless entry into this once great and revolutionary franchise. Bourne’s only successful mission this time around, is just cementing belief in the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.
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