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
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