We thought Greengrass and Damon could avoid 2016’s sequel curse. We were wrong.
The Bourne Identity is a highly entertaining, self-contained thriller. It plus The Bourne Supremacy gives fans a terrific two-parter with a killer final beat. Both plus The Bourne Ultimatum offer the rare, near-perfect action trilogy complete with character arc and closure.
It’s been nine years since that final outing, and a fourth film is hitting theaters. We thought we wanted it. Against our better judgement we wanted it even knowing the existing trilogy left Bourne with his memories, his files, and (to some degree anyway) his life. So the question became, what could a fourth film offer?
Very little it turns out.
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is wandering the world, staying off the grid, and engaging in fist fights for cash. When Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) catches up to him in Greece she comes bearing gifts in the form of more top secret files – side note for covert government agencies, maybe don’t keep your top secret files in folders labeled Black Operations? – revealing more truths from his past. Before the two old friends can swap stories an assassin (Vincent Cassel) offs the analyst on orders from CIA Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) forcing Bourne back into action in pursuit of revenge and, as usual, more answers.
One of the reasons – purportedly the main one – why it took Damon and director/co-writer Paul Greengrass so damn long to return to the Bourne universe was their pursuit of a worthwhile script. They wanted and needed a compelling reason for Bourne’s story to continue, but it’s difficult to find even a moment in Jason Bourne that meets that criteria.
When we last left him Bourne had recovered his memories and was in possession of the Treadstone program documents – and that’s after three films seeing him regain memories and discover secret documentation. So what’s he doing here? He’s reading more Treadstone secrets and recalling more memories, obviously. The focus this time involves his father, a character who had no bearing on previous films but now is revealed to have played a central role, but instead of giving Bourne’s journey weight it only adds air of laziness. Add in an unsurprising reveal from the past that conveniently ties into his present predicament, and you have a script that feels like it was banged out over lunch.
The previous films’ storylines were simple and linear, but their narrative and action beats found strength in that simplicity to deliver exciting, forward-moving thrills. Fight scenes and car chases were crafted for maximum and memorable effect, but here the action blurs into a monotonous and bland litany of jarring edits and broken glass. Nothing stands out here – no fight with a rolled-up magazine, no roof leap through a closed window, no stylish and intense car chase through tight streets. The much-ballyhooed Las Vegas car chase mistakes impact and the crunching of metal for excitement and thrills, and it simply caps off two hours of tedious motion.
There’s some minor effort here to be topical with a Wikileaks-like provocateur and a popular social media founder whose product might be a threat to civilian privacy, but even they feel like characters out of a direct-to-DVD picture starring Steven Seagal. There’s no real thought behind the characters here resulting in some head-scratching behavior. Nicky’s smart and capable, but she doesn’t think to cover her long blonde hair that’s making her stand out in the middle of a Greek crowd? The CIA uses hacked security cameras and facial recognition programs to quickly find someone early on, but they can’t find Bourne in London or Vegas, two of the most heavily-surveilled cities on Earth? And where the hell is Pamela Landy?!
There are two bright spots here, and both come from supporting players making their debut in the Bourne franchise. Jones can play this role in his sleep, but his deadpan delivery of threats and malicious asides makes for an entertaining diversion from the rest of this slog. The introduction of Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a top CIA cyber spook, teases a compelling figure with secrets of her own, and while they don’t amount to as much as the film thinks she remains an interesting addition. And not for nothing, but seeing Vikander and Jones side by side – her impossibly smooth and wrinkle-less face contrasting his which is essentially one never-ending wrinkle – is a minor joy in its own right.
Jason Bourne is a disappointment in every area where the previous films succeeded. The story is unnecessary, the action is flat, and the only one more tired-looking than the constantly on-the-run Bourne is Damon himself. Maybe it’s time to send him back into retirement, because honestly, at this point I’d almost rather see a sequel to The Bourne Legacy than another lifeless cash-grab like this.