Jason Bourne Review

Posted: August 3, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

jason-bourne-movie-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

After almost ten years, I think it’s safe to say the original Bourne films are modern action movie classics. These were serious, smart movies made with the utmost conviction that actually made some effort to explore issues of government and surveillance while also exploring its characters with some degree of poignancy. This became especially true when director Paul Greengrass took over the franchise starting with The Bourne Supremacy and in the process added a very specific style of shaky cam (used way more effectively than most other filmmakers) and some aggressive editing. To cap things off, anyone looking for basic action thrills left the trilogy more than satisfied. The action scenes throughout have been really strong and seemed to hit a level of transcendent awesomeness with The Bourne Ultimatum. Since that film, it’s been radio silence from Jason Bourne. 2012 did see the spin-off effort, The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner as a similar spy, and while that film wasn’t exactly terrible, it is by no means memorable and is pretty easy to disregard. Four years later and we finally have a proper continuation of the series, with Matt Damon returning as the now iconic Jason Bourne and Paul Greengrass back in the director’s chair.

It has been ten years since former government agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) exposed the CIA’s Operation Blackbriar program and subsequently disappeared. As the film opens, former Bourne ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks private CIA fails in order to expose corruption and illegal black ops programs. In the process, Nicky uncovers new information about Bourne’s past and recruitment. She seeks out Bourne in Greece and puts him on a quest for answers. However the pair’s actions make them an enemy to the CIA and its current head; Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). Seeking the two eliminated and the data stolen to be recovered, Dewey enlists a former Blackbriar assassin known as The Asset (Vincent Cassel) and the ambitious head of CIA cyber-ops Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to aid him. As Bourne alludes attacks and fights his way to the truth, he also finds himself involved in another of Dewey’s ventures; an effort to spy thoroughly on civilians through a social media website called “Deep Dream”.

Plot wise, this is largely “business as usual” for the Bourne series. Once again, Jason Bourne is drawn out to discover secrets of his past while sinister CIA agents conspire against him and once again the conflict plays itself out in a sort of cat and mouse way where the roles of hunted and hunter repeatedly switch. Anyone who was hoping for a new, bolder plotline after an almost ten year absence will likely be disappointed, but I do think there are some details to the plotting which work here rather well. The hook into Bourne’s past proves to still be engaging and while the eventual reveals do lean dangerously close to clichés, they are rewarding and play into the series’ cynical view and themes well. The subplot involving internet surveillance, though not integrated perfectly with Bourne’s own story, is also a nice touch and feels fairly authentic, particularly in the way it depicts governments bullying websites and owners for more information.

Finally, Jason Bourne also makes some efforts to explore new aspects of the man’s character, specifically suggesting that deep down Bourne is the violent assassin he tried to walk away from. It’s not a coincidence that the film opens with Bourne engaged in highly violent fistfights for no real reason and the film’s characters even tell Bourne that he won’t find peace until he accepts who he really is. That isn’t the most subtle handling of theme, nor is it all that an original idea, but what’s interesting is that Greengrass seems to agree with that thesis. There is no forced redemption storyline or hypocritical moment of anti-violence moralization after two hours of violent action scenes. Bourne is depicted to be a violent and largely drained person and Damon’s performance plays up these aspects well. That’s not to say Bourne over becomes an outright villain, but he’s also a little more unsavoury than most of our blockbuster heroes seem to be these days.

Stylistically, Paul Greengrass and company seem to be picking up right where they left off with The Bourne Ultimatum. The documentary-esque video aesthetic remains intact and works well, while Christopher Rouse (who also co-wrote the screenplay) edits the film with a sense of urgency and a frenetic pace. Greengrass has also continued to cast world class actors in major roles. Vincent Cassel and Alicia Vikander work really here, but the real treat is Tommy Lee Jones who is just the perfect guy to play a Bourne villain. He’s certainly a threatening presence, but he also brings the right sense of gravitas and respect to the part. Though the style and cast have always been strong in these movies, the real treat has always been the action sequences and in that sense Jason Bourne delivers in a big way. The movie opens and closes on two amazing car chases, the first set amidst riots in Greece which evolves from a tense cat and mouse game to a full on motorcycle chase with a sniper in tow, and the final an absolutely brutal chase involving a car and a S.W.A.T. truck through the Vegas strip complete with some inspired vehicular destruction. There’s also a really down and dirty fistfight between Bourne and the Asset and a couple other strong action bits sprinkled throughout. In a purely visceral level, this is a really thrilling movie and its best action scenes are among the year’s best thus far.

Jason Bourne is a movie that does a lot right, but I also do get why a lot of critics are down on it. There is a definite feeling of “been there, done that” which permeates throughout the film in almost every aspect. The story feels like a retread, the exploration of Bourne’s character was more thorough in the previous trilogy, Greengrass’ style isn’t as fresh as it used to be, and the action scenes, though largely excellent, don’t manage to top the action from The Bourne Ultimatum. Even the notion of using an action movie as a coded attack on modern surveillance states is a little old. Last year’s James Bond adventure Spectre also featured a villain attempting to use online surveillance and both of these films were beat to the punch by Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Jason Bourne might be the most accurate of the three films, but it lacks a timely punch. And yet, in spite of all of this, I still really enjoyed Jason Bourne. Part of it might just be that I miss the series, and another part because in an era of snarky, self-referential, joke fuelled superhero cinema, a no-nonsense action film unambiguously made for adults is highly appealing. However I think the real reason is simply that Jason Bourne is an intelligently made movie and it features a handful of really great set-pieces. Say what you will about Greengrass’ style no longer feeling new, the man is still an excellent filmmaker and he executes here with style, skill, and conviction.


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