Jason Bourne begins his latest film with a simple voiceover that states ‘I know who I am. I remember everything.’ It’s ironic, considering the screenwriters seem to have forgotten that we audience members do to. We remember how clean cut The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) ended. We remember how neatly it tied up the loose ends as David Webb came full circle on his memory loss, confronting those responsible before disappearing into oblivion. And we remember how the saga made a name for itself with its signature taut and tense action, as well as its creative and complex narrative. Sadly, hardly any of these elements remain in Universal’s fifth franchise film Jason Bourne (2016), which sheds its identity, loses its supremacy and delivers little in the way of ultimatums.
Picking up almost ten years after Bourne leapt to his ‘presumed’ death, our heroic amnesiac assassin is now living on the fringes in Greece, using his spare time to make money from bare-knuckle boxing. That is until rogue ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons returns to disrupt his life, having hacked into the organisations database to take their secret programs public. What she didn’t count on finding out however was that Treadstone was actually started by Jason’s father. Lied to by the agency once again and spurned on by a very personal revenge, Bourne decides to go after the men who killed his father to keep him quiet. The convoluted and chaotic story begins to wear thin by act three though, as the chase crosses continents to Las Vegas, where a side-plot about a new program and an associated social media platform titled Deep Dream take centre stage. Double-crosses and deaths aplenty fill up the film’s two-hour-runtime, as does as a revolving door of new government officials looking to take Bourne down. For an agency so hell bent on keeping its programs a secret, there sure seems to be a growing list of people that know about them.
There is little to like though with this more emotional Bourne, one no longer built upon vengeance but grounded in revenge. Despite finally regaining his memory, the new film paints our protagonist as more lost than ever. He no longer feels four steps ahead of his foes and it’s a hard concept to become accustomed to. Even Damon’s trademark stoic facial expressions begin to verge on bored at times. Jason Bourne’s most annoying point though is the constant questioning over whether the series’ main man has truly left the program behind him. While it’s the obvious next step in his story, it’s practically a punch-in-the-gut to see someone who has strived for three movies to put such stupidity behind him, to then even consider re-joining the conspiracy. Mostly though, it’s a shame on the studio and the screenwriters for suggesting such a storyline in the first place.
That being said, there are a number of positives about our return outing to the Bourne universe, including the intense and iconic shaky cam and the strong focus on the formulas of old. Whether it’s the first or the fourth time, there’s something genuinely thrilling about seeing Bourne battle baddies. Greengrass takes his action auteur status to new heights here, with a raft of manic motorbike feats and violent hand-on-hand punch-ups. While it will never beat the third film’s genre-defining rooftop run sequence, where the super spy soared weightlessly through a window, the final car chase scene of Jason Bourne adds some much needed adrenaline to proceedings. The scene piques our interests as an armoured SWAT vehicle rampages through traffic, the director destroying more than 170 cars in the process. Unfortunately it also brings to mind the recent events in Nice, making us think twice about how easily casual violence can also be wrought in the real-world. One other important element the film does touch on however is the new age of technologically-based weapons. Foes can no longer be simply struck down with a fast blow, a pen, or a rolled-up magazine. They are the unseen and unheard in a string of binary, revelling in removing people’s privacy. The politics poignantly playing on today’s Apple versus FBI drama and Facebook’s monumental reach, providing a refreshing side to a somewhat dated saga.
On the acting front Damon delivers a more subdued version of the heroic character we’ve all come to know and love. There are sparks of the original super spy, but sadly they seem are few and far between. The government officials meanwhile are bland, predictable fiends. So much so, it’s hard to say whether Tommy Lee Jones gives one of the best performances of his career to make us hate him, or instead was simply so annoyed with the script he wasn’t really acting at all. For what it’s worth, my money’s on the latter. Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander also suffers, as her character selfishly switches allegiances left, right and centre. Vincent Cassel’s unnamed asset is one of the more intriguing characters, but at the end of the day even he is a one-dimensional recycled caricature of previous incarnations like Clive Owen’s The Professor or Karl Urban’s Kirill.
While there is little substance to the story, the fifth instalment in the franchise and the fourth film from Damon and Greengrass does hold fast to the original saga’s slick style. There’s fun, frivolity and fast-paced action to keep audiences interested. However, one can’t help but think that despite reuniting the dynamic duo, Jason Bourne boils down to little more than another unnecessary studio sequel. You may know his name, but by the time your through you’ll kind of wish it wasn’t attached to this film.
Rating: 2 Over the shoulder shots out of 5
Released just in time for the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s iconic television series, Star Trek Beyond (2016) is a fantastic example of how a film can pay homage to its predecessor’s fun and familiar formula, while still delivering newcomers a blockbuster that beats their boredom blues. Staying true to its source material while catering to a 21st century audience, the third instalment in the rebooted universe soars triumphantly with stunning visuals, ironically ‘down to earth’ characters and a strong sense of humour and heart. Despite a simpler, character driven narrative that lowers the stakes somewhat, the tension has never been higher and the universe never so much fun to explore.
The film picks up three years into the USS Enterprise’s five year voyage to travel to strange new worlds, seek out new civilisations and boldly go where no one has gone before. However what was once an exciting escapade has grown to become ‘episodic’, with the crew’s courageous captain beginning to wonder about his next step and second-in-charge spaceman Spock (Zachary Quinto) set to call it quits to continue the legacy left to him by his dearly departed older self. When an alien appears at the nearby Federation base seeking help though, the team answer the call, speeding through the nearby nebula and straight into a deadly ambush awaiting them. As an unknown enemy engages the beloved starship, the tables turn and despite the USS Enterprise’s most valiant efforts, the command is given to abandon ship. With majority of his crew now held hostage by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba), Kirk (Chris Pine) and his rag-tag team must join with spunky newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to rescue what’s theirs and stop havoc being wrought on the final frontier.
Star Trek Beyond is perhaps not as heavy or as heartfelt as the first two instalments in the rebooted universe, but the smart and stylish sequel certainly knows how to set the phasers to stun. Action auteur Justin Lin carries the legacy of his three Fast & Furious (2009) films with him, giving viewers the best bang for their buck as a swarm of ships engulf everything in their path and a long-lost relic surfs in on the sweet sounds of The Beastie Boy’s song ‘Sabotage’. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to cover such seamless sequences. Trust me when I say it’s incredible what a good dose of bass and a long-awaited comeuppance can elicit in an audience. Adding to the appeal, we finally say goodbye to the days of JJ Abrams laughable lens flares, with a chaotic control to Lin’s camera movements. We flip, roll, rotate and fly from the comfort of our seats, totally engrossed in the extensive universe he builds before us.
What carries the film from one sci fi spectacle to the next is a wonderfully witty and innately human screenplay, crafted by dynamic duo Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. They balance the action and aesthetics to keep us thoroughly engaged throughout. If there is one element the boys could have put more emphasis on however, it is the theme of Kirk feeling lost in space. Although touched upon at the beginning, there are few stepping stones to his journey until the final third act and even then the dénouement feels a little cheap. Although there is no denying the character’s growth from the first film’s hot-headed Starfleet recruit to this one’s more mature and responsible captain, his arc is central to the film and would have benefited from a bit bigger progression. We get glimpses of it as he mirrors his father’s actions, prepared to do whatever he can for his crew, but sadly these are faint and fleeting.
A starship would be nothing without its crew however and Star Trek Beyond utilises its charismatic ensemble with aplomb. The group once again do their original series counterparts proud, paired off in odd groupings for majority of the film to challenge the dynamics we are accustomed to. Uhura and Sulu work together to escape Krall’s prison, Chekov assists Kirk, while Scotty teams up with exciting new addition Jaylah, to create one of the most genuine friendships of the franchise. Spock and Bones partnership steals the movie though, as the logical Vulcan presses the doctor’s buttons, elicits snappy quips and unleashes his emotional side. It is beautiful to note that the film does acknowledge those actors who were lost during production too, with a touching tribute to them in the final credits. Anton Yelchin will be sorely missed, with a tragic beauty hanging over the movie in the wake of the 27-year-old's untimely passing. It’s bittersweet to see him deliver us one more corny but charming Chekov performance. He is not the only one to leave a void either, with the loss of Leonard Nimoy hovering in the shadows to play a pivotal part in young Spock’s emotional journey.
What resonates most about Star Trek Beyond is the effortless way it sweeps you up in its simple yet stunning story. Challenging the legacy tacked onto its title, it proves franchise films can stand on their own feet, while retaining the essence of its ancestors. There is no bigger compliment to afford it than to say it finally stops trying so hard. More movies should take heed. From here it will be interesting to see how the recently announced fourth film will play out though, delving deeper into Kirk’s relationship with his father and the legacy he left him. The only question that remains to be seen is just how they will resurrect the very dead Captain of the USS Kelvin. No matter what though, we’ll be ready to beam aboard.
Rating: 4 Starships out of 5
The days of classic popcorn munching movies seem to be behind us, giving way to action extravaganzas and heavy-handed historical dramas. It’s arguably a hard line to tread, finding the necessary amount of action, drama, romance and comedy that made the genres 80's and 90's counterparts so rewarding. While Warner Bros new film The Legend of Tarzan (2016) doesn’t quite reach this, it is the closest we’ve seen in years. Delivering on its tagline ‘Human. Nature’, it is hard not to feel compelled by the greater moral plight of the film and despite being a complex CGI jumble, it must be commended on providing pure escapism fun.
The film deviates from the beloved Disney classic most viewers would know, instead following Tarzan’s (Alexander Skarsgard) journey back to the African Congo eight years after he has acclimatised to life in London as the Lord of Greystoke manor, John Clayton III. King Leopold of Belgium needs funds to finance his new army and so sends his confidant Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to acquire the diamonds of Opar. With the native tribes fiercely protecting the lands, Rom strikes a deal with their leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to bring Tarzan to him so he might exact his revenge for the death of his son. Convinced by American freeman and human rights activist George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to help him obtain proof of the areas slavery, Tarzan heads back ‘home’ with wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in tow, unbeknownst to the set-up awaiting him by Rom. As the devilish villain kidnaps Jane, Tarzan sets aside his civility to get her back, becoming the King of the jungle once more.
Director David Yates infuses his piece with authenticity and atmosphere, the scope overflowing from the moment we set eyes on the mist-filled jungle. The soundtrack adds to this, the drums and chorus of voices building and accentuating the untameable setting. The action increases in scale and magnitude the further into the film we go, as Tarzan slowly loses himself to the jungle. Car chases might be cool, but The Legend of Tarzan reminds us that so are wildebeest stampedes through African towns. Sadly, cliché carves its way into the film at times though, especially as Tarzan’s renowned cry resonated through the third act. While he may be the legend of a ghost in the trees, in the age of Marvel and DC, a mortal man will never be quite as cool as superheroes.
Samuel L Jackson’s George Washington Williams, an American who fought in the civil war and the man who persuades Tarzan to head back to the Congo out of his desire to end slavery, is perhaps the best character in the film. While Alexander Skarsgard spends half the movie shirtless, delivering us one of the best bodies ever put to film, and Margot Robbie is completely enthralling as the ‘damsel in distress’ Jane, Jackson is the one that represents us all. He is the average guy who can’t keep up, the one who gets tired after running flat-track throughout the forest and the third wheel to the whole situation. He’s riveting, bringing his iconic quirky charm to what could easily have been a run-of-the-mill sidekick. In contrast, if any of the actors seem like they are suffering it would be Christoph Waltz, who plays his villain so two-dimensionally he could have fallen asleep half-way through and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The Academy Award winner suffers from villain fatigue, having played a similar role in Spectre (2015), Water for Elephants (2011) and Inglorious Basterds (2009).
There are flaws to the film though, notably the heavy dependence on CGI that was clearly not the ‘all expenses paid’ version utilised in this year’s similarly themed The Jungle Book (2016). Instead, the film was shot almost entirely on a soundstage in England and despite cinematographer Henry Braham’s best efforts to intersperse these scenes with the real-life stunning scenery of Africa, we always feel somewhat disjointed. That being said, when Tarzan takes flight among the jungles vines, there is a grace and fluidity to his motions. He is pure, unadulterated, animalistic energy surging through the wild and that’s pretty special to see. There is a gravitas to this version that you don’t get from the camp and musically-infused predecessors and despite what critics have been saying it’s a fresh and fun change.
The film’s biggest victory is in the fact it dares to acknowledge so many crucial social issues. Colonialism and conservation ideals are abundant throughout, symbolised by a group of Africans chained at the neck and within the soulful connection between mythical man and brutish beast. Feminism and anti-greed sentiments are also paraded about, albeit to less effect. Such heavy topics have a trade-off however, with the ideals going over the heads of the many younger audience members who have been drawn to the film based off Disney’s 1999 production. There is a deeper and darker narrative here, which deserves a more mature audience and there’s nothing wrong with that. At its core, The Legend of Tarzan is a romance built upon the endearing relationship between the King of the Jungle and his American girl. And as Jane remarks, even an ordinary man can do extraordinary things for the one he loves.
Rating: 3.5 Shirtless Skarsgards out of 5
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