Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed
Run Time: 1 hr 58 mins
Opens: 28 July 2016
Rating: PG13 (Violence)
It’s been nine years since his last appearance onscreen, and Jason Bourne (Damon) slips out of the shadows and back into cinemas in the fifth instalment in the Bourne franchise. Nicky Parsons (Stiles), Bourne’s former contact, hacks into the CIA, discovering documents detailing a family connection that Bourne has to the Treadstone project. CIA director Robert Dewey (Jones) makes hunting Bourne down a top priority, as Heather Lee (Vikander), the head of the CIA’s cyber division, contains the damage done by the hack. Ironhand, a black ops project run by Dewey, is at risk of being exposed. Dewey assigns an assassin known only as the Asset (Cassel) to kill Bourne. In the meantime, tech billionaire Aaron Kalloor (Ahmed) is having second thoughts as Dewey demands access to the private information of the 1.5 billion users that Kalloor’s social network Deep Dream has accumulated. Bourne finds himself caught up in the shifting intelligence landscape, where even his resourcefulness and wits might not be enough for him to stay ahead of the curve.
Jason Bourne sees Damon reprise the character he has become most closely associated with, bringing The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass back with him. Greengrass co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Rouse (also the film’s editor), with the story straining for timeliness by tackling topics including the U.S. government infringing on private digital data in the name of security. The Bourne Identity revitalised the spy movie genre with its realistic approach, but years later, Jason Bourne seems like it’s struggling to keep up. The story never becomes outright ridiculous and there is a degree of joy in seeing Damon play Bourne again, but a sense of going through the motions pervades Jason Bourne.
Greengrass is somewhat notorious for his use of shaky-cam, which rears its jittery head again in Jason Bourne. There’s a trade-off between coherence and visceral thrills. In several scenes, the approach yields results: a riot in Athens feels authentically chaotic, with Greengrass’ direction placing the audience in the thick of the mayhem. The big action set pieces however suffer noticeably – the climactic car chase down the Las Vegas strip would’ve looked downright spectacular if we could make head or tail of what’s going on. That said, Greengrass sustains a healthy level of tension throughout, and there’s enough for audiences to grab on to such that we want to find out where the story takes Bourne next.
The first Bourne film made an unlikely action hero out of Damon, and while he doesn’t seem particularly excited to return here, he isn’t phoning it in either. One does get a kick out of seeing Bourne outwit his pursuers and devise diversions so as to slip by unnoticed. The bit of personal history that’s revealed here does seem rather convenient and clichéd, but this revelation doesn’t overwrite or undo the events of the previous instalments. Jones is a great casting choice for the head of the CIA, unscrupulous and insidious yet ill-equipped to deal with the new frontiers which crop up in the digital realm on a daily basis.
Vikander is believable as an ambitious, savvy intelligence agent adept at employing technology to confound her targets, but she gets precious little to do and for the bulk of the film, stays a distance away from the action. Cassel’s ice-cold, ruthless contract killer isn’t too much of a departure from the operatives Bourne often finds himself eluding. He does come off as a credible, sinister threat to Bourne, but the Asset’s personal vendetta against Bourne is formulaic and underdeveloped. Stiles’ Nicky is the only other character from the original Bourne trilogy to return, and serves as a catalyst in drawing Bourne out. For this reviewer, the subplot involving Ahmed’s Mark Zuckerberg-esque tech darling was the most intriguing, with the connection between Silicon Valley and Langley, Virginia as depicted in the film ringing eerily true.
The events of The Bourne Legacy are not alluded to, apart from a folder titled ‘Outcome’, the black ops project central to the plot of that film, being glimpsed on a computer monitor. Oddly enough, that spinoff was more entertaining and felt like less of a cash grab than Jason Bourne does. There are plenty of talented people involved and this is far from being a mess. Greengrass and Rouse demonstrate a decent understanding of a brave new world fraught with paranoia, a sentiment echoed by Oliver Stone when he warned against “surveillance capitalism” during a panel for his upcoming film Snowden (the whistle-blower is name-dropped twice in Jason Bourne for extra zeitgeist-y effect). Jason Bourne is competent, but the character’s return to the big screen should’ve been more – it should’ve been triumphant.
Summary: While Jason Bourne is a serviceable spy thriller, it’s tackling of timely themes feels like a desperate bid to prove the franchise’s relevance and staying power, which is flagging here.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars