Back in 2007, on the press trail stumping for The Bourne Ultimatum, the third in the then-trilogy of espionage actioners, Matt Damon appeared on The Daily Show. In the course of the conversation, the actor said he and director Paul Greengrass, who also helmed The Bourne Supremacy, joked that the next movie would be called The Bourne Redundancy. It’s been nine years, with an attempted franchise reboot sandwiched in the middle (2012’s lackluster The Bourne Legacy), but with the simply titled Jason Bourne, Damon and Greengrass finally delivered on that promise, in spirit if not in name.
Jason Bourne isn’t terrible, it’s not a travesty, and it’s frequently watchable. It is, however, completely unnecessary. Overly long and repetitive—and packed with far too many meandering cat-and-mouse scenes—the filmmakers run through the list of traits that work in the first three movies and check them off a list. And the result is an empty shell that resembles the earlier installments with none of the upside.
Greengrass’ signature shaky, verite-style camera work is once again front and center. Instead of infusing even quiet moments with an energy and urgency, it veers too often into visual incoherence. There’s much intense, man-faced stalking down hallways and analysts gawking at computer screens in blue-lit rooms as something happens literally on the other side of the world. Coupled with a pulsing, throbbing score, this creates a sensation of false momentum. Nothing particularly dramatic happens, but the sensory overload tries to say otherwise. This strategy worked well in the past, but the diminished returns are readily apparent in Jason Bourne.
A truly world-class cast of supporting players has little more to do than scowl their way through a convoluted plot that boils down to a spy version of, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” The titular Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been living off the grid for the last ten years, pit-fighting for money, keeping his head down, trying to cope with the things he’s done. When former CIA analyst and occasional Bourne ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) resurfaces with new intel on the amnesiac super agent’s personal history, it kicks off a globe-trotting spider-web of deception, deceit, and daddy issues.
Tommy Lee Jones plays the CIA director, making use of his ever-glacially-shifting features to cast withering stares and talk on the phone. Alicia Vikander’s Heather Lee is an ambitious young hot-shot cyber-security specialist with her own shadowy end-game. Riz Ahmed’s Aaron Kalloor heads a Google-esque tech behemoth. He’s made shady back-room deals with the devil in a dark suit and now pays the price. And Vincent Cassel plays a CIA asset known only as Asset, who has a personal score to settle with Bourne, not to mention an additional, tacked-on-late-in-the-game connection.
There is, of course, yet another iteration of the CIA program that created Jason Bourne to be exposed, but Jason Bourne desperately wants to be relevant in the current world. But for all the bluster and buzzwords, it says nothing. Just in case the metaphor isn’t clear, the name Snowden is tossed around liberally, and there’s even a dickish, proto-Julian Assange knockoff. The script from Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse attempts to use the backdrop of increasing global political unrest and public concerns about privacy as a platform. But they try to play both sides, and instead of presenting a portrait of a complex problem, they paint an indistinct portrait of nothing.
Not egregious, Jason Bourne delivers precisely what’s expected, but it’s a pale imitation of its predecessors. The action is muddy and uninspired; once the primary narrative thrust is handled, there’s a massive chase scene stapled to the back end for shits and giggles; Matt Damon barely says anything, though he has copious flashbacks and inarticulate motivations. Jason Bourne is okay, nothing more. [Grade: C]