The Bourne trilogy has always been a special one for me, not just because of the stellar car chases, brutal hand to hand combat, or shootouts it never ceased to deliver, but the grounded realistic nature and the inner turmoil of its main protagonist gave each of those films a greater depth that I think we sadly rarely get these days from the action genre. So, it’s safe to say when the announcement of director Paul Greengrass (who directed both Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum) and Matt Damon were both returning to this franchise after a 9 year hiatus, I’m going to have reasonably high expectations for a new Bourne installment to be nothing short of pretty spectacular. After all, both Damon and Greengrass have been on record on how they would only return if it was for a story that deserved to be told. In other words, they wouldn’t actually dare to make a sequel that feels nothing more than an obligatory cash grab, right?
Well that phrase was unfortunately the exact words going on in my head during an ultimately entertaining, yet disappointingly rather rehashed reunion that does hardly little in taking this character in what I’d exactly call a new direction.
Jason Bourne is set about ten years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. Since that time, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has gone off the grid and in isolation until he reunites with former CIA colleague, Nicky Parsons (Julie Stiles) who has tracked him down as she has found new mysterious information for him regarding his unknown past. This obviously brings Bourne out of hiding, leading him back on the path to find the truth. In the meantime, Bourne’s reappearance puts CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), and CIA agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) hot pursuit on his trail.
As a pure spectacle, there is absolutely plenty to purely enjoy here. For those that have criticized director Paul Greengrass’s use of shaky cam in the past that were very apparent in the action sequences of both Supremacy and Ultimatum will probably be glad to know he has toned down that technique a bit. It’s still apparent particularly very much so in the film’s terrifically shot opening chase sequence set in the middle of a riot occurring in Greece that you saw in the trailers, but Greengrass is one of the few action directors I believe is able to use this normally overbearing directing technique efficiently. By far, the best and most impressive set piece here is the Las Vegas S.W.A.T car chase sequence that is thrilling and just exactly you’d want to see from a Bourne movie. It’s unfortunate each trailer that has been released up to this point has spoiled much of this fantastic sequence kind of taking away the surprise of it all, but nonetheless it is one that by itself arguably makes this worth the price of admission.
In his return of the most iconic character he’s played in his career thus far, Matt Damon doesn’t seem as if he’s lost a single step. He’s as bulk as he’s ever been, and still maintains to be the engaging action star he has always been as Jason Bourne. Julie Stiles is in fine form with her return as Nicky, but there’s not particularly a whole lot for her to do. For the newcomers, there’s quite an outstanding load of gifted talent on display here, but not all of them are put to the greatest use. The great Tommy Lee Jones does effective work as the new CIA director that for whatever reasons is desperately determined to find and take out Bourne, but the character lacks much of a strong motivation to standout as a particularly memorable antagonist for Bourne to be put up against. Vincent Cassel is really great as the new assassin hired to kill Bourne, but aside from a excellent choreographed showdown he has with Bourne, it’s a underutilized role. While seemingly being on the young side to be a CIA Head, Alicia Vikander fares the best of the new additions as the fierce Heather Lee, and it only further solidifies herself as one of the best young actresses working today. I only wish the script had focused a lot more on the dynamic she forms with Bourne. The biggest waste of the cast is without a doubt Riz Ahmed whose entire subplot is utterly silly and so contrived in the way it so desperately tries to have a socially relevant thing to say about privacy regarding social media, but instead it just feels very out of place for this series, really taking away from the realism of previous entires, as well as completely derails any of the tension whenever the movie shifts right back to this story which is far too often.
Something that I feel really drove those original three Bourne films into being so much more than your standard generic action film was the more political intrigue and the engaging dialogue exchanges that were occurring in the CIA headquarters where the tracking down of Bourne was taking place managed to be just as thrilling to watch unfold as Jason Bourne beating the living daylights of 5 men all at once. In those scenes, I didn’t find myself begging for the movie to go back to Jason Bourne kicking more ass, I was just as throughly invested in what was going on there. Here, these scenes are riddle with some rather very uninteresting dialogue, and feel really devoid of much suspense. There are a few good moments between Lee Jones and Vikander’s two characters, but I never really got the sense of what’s really at stake here during these scenes. They do manage to dive deeper into Bourne’s past, and it makes for some potentially interesting ways to continue in exploring this character, but the reason they have in bringing him out of retirement frankly feels a bit shoehorned in.
With all of the criticisms I have with this film, I did find myself enjoying the ride more than I’m sure it sounds like I did. If I’m looking past the fact that this is a sequel to three movies that are not only in my opinion stellar action films, but on their own simply terrific films that offered much more than just amazing car chases and brutal fist fights, I do feel this is a film that works just fine on its own merits. The action here itself very much does frequently satisfy as expected in the hands of Greengrass, and watching Damon back in this role I can’t deny was a simply refreshing treat to me. For any huge Bourne fan that maybe just only cares to see Damon knocking out dudes with one punch, or a truck slamming through a Las Vegas casino, then you will sorely be satisfied with what you’ll see here. But if you’re looking for the mystery and character driven story of Identity, the thrilling vengeful story of Bourne Supremacy or the sheer intensity of Ultimatum, you may just be better off rewatching one of those movies instead. This is by default the weakest installment of all the Damon movies thus far, but I think the best praise I can give it is that it ends on just enough of a satisfying note that I still would pay to see for another go around with this franchise. I just hope next time Damon and Greengrass stick to their own words about taking this character in a different direction, because I certainly didn’t see much of that here. Maybe next time, he could finally remember everything? I sure hope so.