MOVIE REVIEW: Jason Bourne



Here’s one word this writer never thought he would use to describe a Paul Greengrass-directed Jason Bourne film starring Matt Damon: FORMULAIC.  After a tremendously successful trilogy (and not-so-successful spin-off) that had the right ending nine years ago, Greengrass and Damon were coaxed back into another cat-and-mouse spy game.  Its rote construction and stakes that always feel like an arm-length away from stronger impact, “Jason Bourne” may be questionable enough to make us wonder if we’ve been seeing the same film four times now.

As an example to this train of though, the creative video folks at Screen Junkies nailed a “same movie” theory to the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy in their “Honest Trailers” series.  Unfortunately, a similar vibe is brewing here.  Hear me out and let me know if this sounds familiar.  Leave out “The Bourne Legacy,” and try this formula on for size:

Recovering amnesiac and former government assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) struggles with visions of his past.  Past mistakes come back as clues that drive him to learn the whole truth.  Wanted for his past indiscretions and kills, he is pursued immediately when re-entering the grid by the CIA.  The intelligence organization employs every surveillance measure possible that can be shouted as orders laced with techno-spy-babble to pursue Jason, while he plays the provoked, and eavesdropping detective.  The CIA is commonly led by one ambitious and benevolent suit (Joan Allen) surrounded by veteran corrupt suits in charge, always played by a heavyweight aging actor with screen presence (Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Scott Glenn, William Strathairn, Albert Finney). 
Those in charge are constantly covering up a new or old black ops program with a scary name (Treadstone, Blackbriar).  Their chase trots the globe with a minimum of three vehicular set pieces and three hand-to-hand brawls with random objects as Jason dodges dozens of easily dispensable lower agents, with some occasional inside help (Julia Stiles).  All the while, a highly-respected foreign actor (Clive Owen, Karl Urban, Edgar Ramirez) plays the headhunting asset assassin end boss that won’t go away until a mano-a-mano finale.  Double and triple crosses occur, truths get exposed, Jason walks off, and Moby collects another royalty check for “Extreme Ways” while the credits roll. 

Does that, all of a sudden, other than small differences, sound repetitious across “The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum?”  Yeah?  Disappointed?  I didn’t want to realize it too, but it’s true and the new film, “Jason Bourne” follows the exact same path only with different performers, different labels, and different locations.  Trade Alicia Vikander as the benevolent suit, Tommy Lee Jones as the corrupt suit, Iron Hand for Treadstone, and Vincent Cassel as the foreign actor end boss.  Align those pawns and pieces in Athens, Berlin, London, and Las Vegas and you have “Jason Bourne.”

The predictable and flat-out boring formula is made worse by the fact that Jason Bourne is not the central conflict magnet of his own movie this time around.  His old co-worker, Nicky Parsons (Stiles), comes out of hiding to find Jason in his own “Rambo III” arc of dominant underground prize fighting to make ends meet.  She tips him off to a shady backdoor data mining agreement occurring between a social media billionaire (Riz Ahmed) and the CIA.  What does Jason Bourne have to do with that?  Nothing.  What can he do about it?  Very little.  His only motivation is a tie to his previously unmentioned late father (Gregg Henry).  In the meantime, he, his graying temples, and his 25 lines of dialogue are relegated to fly-in-the-ointment status to the bigger non-violent threat. 

That is where this franchise has now derailed and it’s a damn shame.  If Jason is not the focal point, the sympathetic prime target, or the creator of all mayhem then what is the point?  Sure, this formula has been proven to work as action-packed entertainment, but things have changed since 2007.  This is a post-Edward Snowden real world where whistleblowing is stronger than pulling the trigger.  Even fictionally during the last nine years, cinema’s top spy, James Bond, has returned from campiness to reclaim his mantle with four dramatic films of powerful peril, grand adventures, and eye-popping style that make “Jason Bourne” look like a disgruntled postal worker.  Nine years is all it took to turn a superior trilogy into a dated time capsule.

LESSON #1: EVEN THE EXPERIENCED PERSON WHO SAYS “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH?” DOESN’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT RHETORICAL QUESTION—This is a movie law.  The person who barks that question is the one that gets the worst comeuppance, not the listener.

LESSON #2: ANY OBJECT CAN BE DEADLY IN THE RIGHT HANDS—Jason Bourne is an absolute whiz at close quarters melee combat.  Highly trained in multiple disciplines of martial arts, he lets his fists and feet do the talking.  The fun part is when he gets a hold of something and his hands start to shout instead of just chit-chat.  For four films now, one of the largest elements of thrill has been watching Jason take advantage of a plethora of improvised weapons.  There’s nothing he can’t beat you up or kill you with.

LESSON #3: THE VALUES OF A PATRIOT—The simplest definition of “patriot” reads “a person who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country.” Many people claim that.  Few really put up the fight.  Despite looking for answers and preferring to be alone, Jason Bourne started as a devoted American serving his country to fight oppressors.  Deep down, he still has carries that code.