By Clinton Yost
Repetition: the action of repeating something. This is the best way to describe the fifth film in the Bourne franchise. While neither “great” nor “terrible,” it comes off as flat and rote, exploring avenues we’ve already experienced in previous entries of the series.
The Bourne franchise has cast new light upon the spy/action-thriller genre in recent years. The first film, The Bourne Identity (2002), introduced us to Star Matt Damon and director Doug Liman, whose inventive use of the “shaky-cam” effect within the action scenes forged an undeniable following of imitators. However, the film’s sense of style helped its frantic and claustrophobic themes. The original three Bourne films were entertaining and interesting because they had something to say and their style was itself an ancillary element that never distracted from the story. They may have popularized the frenetic camera work, but it worked because the characters and situations required that intensity. Everybody remembers the scene where Bourne defeats a fellow agent with a pen, right? It was believable, necessary. The first three films flowed into each without a hitch, expanding on the material that was already present, feeling like necessary chapters in a novel.
Here in 2016, Jason Bourne is nothing more than an “okay” action film tinged with elements of nostalgia. The film’s plot involves Jason Bourne uncovering new information about the Treadstone program and his father’s untimely involvement. As he uncovers these things from his past, the current director of the CIA (played faithfully by Tommy Lee Jones) engages his team in a manhunt once again to bring Bourne in for fear of potentially exposing a new operation.
As viewers, we want to see director Paul Greengrass and Damon team up again, especially after The Bourne Legacy (2012). Unfortunately, the film quickly carries itself into an exercise of “being like a Bourne film” rather than simply “being.” The ingredients are all there: you have a room packed full of tech-savvy people trying to locate Bourne, a CIA director and leader of a secret program (Jones) action-packed chases with bikes and cars, and the usual spy-friendly drama. This should be a fun, bone-crunching romp of a time. The problem is that the film wants these scenes to be a culmination of everything beforehand, but they end up playing like your older uncle trying to demonstrate a stunt he used to perform flawlessly. In the first thirty minutes of the film, there’s a bike chase with Bourne and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). What should be exciting comes off as dull and confusing; half the time I couldn’t understand what was happening due to the jumbled camera work and the rapid cuts in editing. Greengrass’s sense of intensity with the camera worked in the original trilogy, but here, the editing is an awful mess, with shots rarely lasting more than a second or two. As a result, it’s difficult to see what’s going on during the chase, and it left me wanting more clarity.
The story ambles on in typical Bourne-is-being-pursued fashion, with characters that feel a bit stiff. Tommy Lee Jones is reliable in his role but his character is a shallow imitation of Conklin (Chris Cooper) from the first film. There’s a rogue assassin played by Vincent Cassel who serves as the film’s main antagonist. Ultimately, his character is wasted because his motivations remain semi-unclear. Why exactly does he hate Bourne? It has something to do with his capture and torture during the Treadstone program, but I was a bit unclear about the details. The film launches him into action to pursue Bourne and it ends with a fight sequence between the two that, while being paced well, ends up disjointed due to the editing and camera work. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, the leader of the cyber operations division. She plays the character well and lends a bit of cadence to the step of the movie. It’s unfortunate that in the progress of the story her character becomes a bit of a moot point.
So, what’s the real problem with Jason Bourne? Is it character, plot, execution? The short story is that it’s a bit of everything, though it’s not abysmal. Matt Damon’s performance is okay but terse; he’s short (ever shorter!) of words and seems genuinely bored by the role. It’s a bit exciting to see him in the opening scenes besting muscle bound opponents with hurricane punches, but beyond the initial shock of, “Hey, it’s Bourne again!” Damon doesn’t offer much else. He slips back into familiar territory, but his performance feels less than inspired. The supporting cast is okay but nothing better. Vikander’s character ends up on lesser footing than where she started; spoilers aside, the ending of the film positions her somewhere in the ranks for a sequel that’s absolutely unnecessary. The story often carries itself well enough during the scenes when it’s imitating the original trilogy, which left me feeling a slight hint of the old Bourne formula. It gets muddied when the social media subplot interjects itself into the middle. It prompts the viewer to request, “Can I get more Bourne please?” Finally, the substance of the film is decent enough but nothing astounding. The action scenes are competent but haphazardly edited; shaky camera work and quick cuts, while used tastefully in the original trilogy, feel forced and imitative rather than innovative.
Therein rests the ultimate flaw with Jason Bourne. The first three films shared a cohesion that visibly resonated with the characters and the story. 2016’s Bourne feels more like a spin-off rather than a true sequel. It’s a film loaded with nostalgia and decent intentions that ends up looking like a Bourne film rather than being a Bourne film, propelling the audience into an experience that we’ve seen done before (and better). That being said, this isn’t a terrible film nor is it unwatchable. It’s a competently made action film but it never stretches its boundaries or feels dangerous. The stakes feel lower than they did in previous entries, and the additional information about Bourne’s past feels like something the deleted scenes could have covered in The Bourne Ultimatum.
By itself this film would hold up well enough without comparing it to the first three. However, I think I enjoyed The Bourne Legacy for the same reasons that I don’t enjoy Jason Bourne. Legacy took a step and tried to establish parameters outside the Bourne universe, expanding it with different characters and ideas. It was far from perfect, and it wasn’t up to par with the originals, but I liked the unique approach. Jason Bourne attempts to revisit the old stomping grounds, hoping to resurrect the ghost of the original trilogy. The action is there, but the execution is a pale and unnecessary imitation. The spirit may be willing, but Jason Bourne is weak.
Rating: 2/5BEST QUOTES