Bourne Again? Re-Bourne? The Bourne Renaissance (or would that be Bourne Born Again)? So many pun options missed, and the series’ titling structure of The Bourne ___ broken. Seriously though, it was good to see a Bourne film actually starring the character, and while not as good as the original three, Jason Bourne is a good addition – after the nonsense of the main character-less The Bourne Legacy.
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has lived ‘off-the-grid’ in Europe since discovering who he really was 10 years ago in Ultimatum. However, a face from his past – former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) – gets in touch to let him know there’s more to learn about the CIA’s shady spy initiatives. Bourne decides to pit himself against the agency, led by Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and cyber-ops head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), while Dewey enlists the help of an asset (Vincent Cassel) to take Bourne out once and for all.
Writer-director Paul Greengrass returns to the series with Damon, and alongside co-writer Christopher Rouse, crafts a plot that cleverly brings Bourne back into a vastly-changed world of cyber-espionage, social networks and privacy concerns. Edward Snowdon is prominently mentioned and a Mark Zuckerberg cypher in Riz Ahmed’s social networking boss Aaron Kalloor, and the movie manages to (fairly well) balance the modern day methods for spying with our action expectations for a Bourne film; which is to say bone-crunching fistfights and car chases, as well as intrigue and espionage. While the reason for Bourne coming out of hiding was a bit much for me, it did form the nucleus of a good story, which ended in a satisfyingly abrupt fashion that both negates and encourages another sequel.
The globe-trotting narrative is also refreshingly ground-level and gritty – I loved how the earlier films’ city scenes felt more real, with city life carrying on as normal around the action – though it loses that a little with scenes in Las Vegas. However, that’s Vegas – it feels like a megablockbuster film set when you’re there in real life! The shooting and editing by Rouse brings us back to the shaky-cam of Supremacy and Ultimatum, which I know can be an acquired taste, but I have to say I didn’t notice it as much here as before, and it really gives an urgent, tangible and real-life feel to the action scenes. You feel like you’re being dragged along with the chases or punched around during the fights.
Musically, John Powell’s earlier themes resurface, but I didn’t find the soundtrack as memorable – you’ll get your Moby fix in the closing credits as per usual though! We once again get bruising action that doesn’t rely on CGI here too, with the action not quite meeting Supremacy or Ultimatum‘s highs, but still providing more excitement than most blockbusters. A huge car chase in Las Vegas could have been over-the-top, but instead feels like the shinier brother of those in Identity and Supremacy, and the final fistfight feels incredibly brutal as well, rather than the weightless punches of many a superhero barney.
Matt Damon has very little to say as Bourne, but since when has that mattered? We enjoy the films because Bourne is a more ground-level assassin/spy who uses his surroundings and sheer brutality to get out of situations, and Damon plays him as lost, burnt out and damaged, more so than ever before. I liked that despite having few lines, Damon still creates a strong, flawed character that you’re interested to watch, whether he’s using a household item in a fight (in this case, a saucepan) or ever-so-implausibly sneaking around under the noses of the CIA.
Vikander is definitely the second lead, but was surprisingly weak compared to her usual performances, though when have any Bourne films depended on astounding acting ability? She does give us a twist on the sympathetic CIA character, because we’re supposed to trust her, but can’t completely, so at the very least she can play both sides. I felt it was a missed opportunity for her given she’s such a great actress, though her scenes with Tommy Lee Jones are excellent. The craggy actor excels again in a murky leadership role (it’s like his character from The Fugitive got a promotion), bringing his usual grumpy, brusque manner in all his scenes – it’s almost as if he were made to be in this sort of role.
Cassel has a strange job in that he needs to play the nemesis in spy ability to Bourne, but receives no name – I know that in other films we had this with Clive Owen’s character, as well as others, but it was strange hearing people refer constantly to him as ‘The Asset’ when he has so many speaking scenes. Again, like Vikander, his performance felt like we’re wasting good actors who aren’t really getting to do that much, but the French actor is able to convey his usual menace and ruthlessness when he can, especially given that his character actually has a reason to want Bourne dead beyond work. Finally, both Ahmed and Stiles have much lesser roles, with Ahmed’s far more interesting, developed performance as the tech entrepreneur compromised by his dirty deals, while Stiles serves as a bridge to the other movies and is unfortunately not given much time to have an impact.
All told, I’m glad that Greengrass and Damon came back for another sequel. While it definitely ranks fourth in my list of the series, that’s not a suggestion that it shouldn’t have been made or was terrible. It’s just that the other three were such definitive, excellent films that I felt this lost out a little in comparison. If you enjoyed the series at all, definitely see this – it’s more worthy of the Bourne name than Legacy.