On paper, Jason Bourne seems like a solid idea: bring back masterful director Paul Greengrass, the commanding lead performance of Matt Damon, and imbue it with political commentary. That recipe powered The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum to be two of the most thoughtful action-thrillers of the last 15 years. But while Jason Bourne may have all the elements, the mixture is off and what should be a winning formula instead comes off as formulaic. Jason Bourne struggles to combine what worked in past iterations, and the result is a laughable mess that tries to paper over its mistakes with set pieces.
Jason Bourne (Damon) has been living off the grid and making money in street fights that he can win with one punch. Former CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is now working for a Wikileaks-like organization, and hacks into the CIA database to uncover the not-at-all-dangerous-sounding “Ironhand”, the pet project of the devious CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones). During her hack, Nicky discovers that Bourne’s father was connected to the Treadstone program that created Bourne, and so Bourne heads back into the fray to look for answers while being hunted by Dewey, CIA cyber ops head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and a hitman known only as the “asset” (Vincent Cassel). Bourne then proceeds to punch a lot of people and wreak havoc on major cities.
Bourne has always been a badass, but the beginning of Jason Bourne opens on a promising note that views Bourne not as a superhero, but as someone who has been unrelentingly brutal. However, rather than delve into Bourne’s psyche and question his methods, Jason Bourne is content to send us back on a greatest hits of what we’ve seen in past Bourne movies but this time in a clumsier, more ham-fisted manner. In place of skillful subtext on the War on Terror, Jason Bourne is a scattershot approach at major world events but with no idea on what it wants to say.
Part of the problem is that it wants to say too much. Supremacy and Ultimatum have laser-like focus on their subtext, and both felt like they were products of a government that lied us into a war. They were movies about the value of truth in government because government lies can have devastating consequences. But Jason Bourne is all over the place. It wants to take on the collapse of Greece, privacy, and cyber security but it has nothing to say about any of these. Bourne’s journey isn’t tied up in Grecian economics, or any economics for that matter. The CIA’s ability to hack anything anywhere is supposed to come off as spooky, but it plays like a rote plot device that was stolen from seasons of 24. Greengrass isn’t confronting questions of privacy and security; he’s exploiting them so he can retell a story he already told twice and told better.
Bourne’s mission is the same mission he’s already had: find out the truth and stop the nefarious government forces. The level of his father’s involvement in Treadstone is a minor mystery in the scheme of Bourne’s identity, and its resolution is more like a footnote than a major revelation. And yet again, Bourne is facing off against the same tired antagonists: a top-tier assassin in the employ of a nefarious “patriot”. Damon and Greengrass stayed away from this franchise for almost a decade, and now that they’ve returned the best they could come up with is what they had already done before.
To his credit, Greengrass is still unmatched when it comes to choreographing and shooting handheld action scenes. While many have tried to emulate his style, Greengrass is one of the few who always maintains geography and clarity within these set pieces. And yet the design of these set pieces is more bombastic this time around. Previous Bourne movies had fistfights and car chases and Jason Bourne is no different, but none of the previous Bourne films wreaks as much destruction as Jason Bourne does in its third act. It’s like Greengrass watched the climax of Con Air and thought, “I want to do that.”
Because Jason Bourne is either rehashing what came before or a gross miscalculation of how to handle previous elements, it doesn’t move the needle forward on the character or his journey. Nothing significantly new is revealed about Bourne and his character doesn’t change in any significant manner. Damon and Greengrass may carry their prestige into this sequel, but it reeks of a moneygrab by all parties. It’s a film that’s thoughtless, lazy, and wholly unnecessary. Rather than revitalize the character for a fresh set of global crises, Jason Bourne makes us want to send the spy back into the cold.