Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones
Before there were superheroes there was Jason Bourne, the one-man army exposing conspiracies and his own past in a series of action thrillers that resonated with the social landscape of the early noughties. Fourteen years after Bourne (Damon) first graced our screens in The Bourne Identity, he’s back to expose more conspiracies and uncover whatever secrets are somehow left about his past.
Back in 2002 when Identity was released, and subsequently with The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum, each film was crafted to tap into fears and suspicions of the audience- we feared shady government groups creating mysterious soldiers or surveillance states. But in 2016, when political fears have shifted from the unknown to the very well known, Jason Bourne seems redundant- mainly like the titular character’s role in the plot.
The plot begins when Julia Stile’s character from the previous three films steals copious amounts of secret data from the CIA. She locates a retired Bourne who has some family secrets hidden in the files, all the while escaping the CIA and the Cyber Ops Division Head (Vikander). At the same time, the Director of the CIA (Jones) must prepare for the data being posted online, and what it could do to his operations.
As that plot synopsis suggests, there is no real story being told here. Our hero, Bourne, seems to do very little beyond being a plot device for the CIA to avoid or pursue, and no characters seem to have any arcs, progressions or changes. The idea of this CIA data is dropped half way through for some new CIA secret program, whilst the climax of the film serves only as an ending to Jones’ subplot. This questionably connected series of events seems fragmentary and poorly crafted.
If the plot and story leaves a lot to be desired, the action is always a reliable staple of the Bourne franchise and it is just as good as you’d expect. A fun chase through Las Vegas at the end is the highlight by far, harkening back to the likes of Con Air and Diamonds are Forever in its goofiness rather than being serious as you’d expect- but it’s still fun to watch. Other moments throughout work well, however the majority have been covered by the trailers to the degree that you feel like you’ve seen them before. The only drawback is Greengrass’ signature shakey-cam, which frequently gets sickening to watch as the camera ducks and weaves about.
If there’s one real issue with the film, it’s not the plot- from the mid-point of Supremacy, Bourne plots have been weak at best- it’s the sheer redundancy of it. Greengrass himself stated an initial lack of desire to make the film, and at no point does the film actually justify its existence. Many scenes and plot points are taken from other Bourne films- such as directing a civilian through a CIA ambush, or a female side-character getting killed by sniper fire in a moving vehicle with Bourne. The themes elicited by the film seem several years too old- as does Damon, for that matter. Perhaps it is his character, as he has been in several other great films over the past few years, but his performance seems too weary and bored.
Technically, the film is great. Cinematography out of action scenes is perfect, the tone retains the right amount of tension throughout, and the music is as good as ever. It’s just a shame that this footage is used for such a mediocre film.
It’s curious to speculate why this film was made. The Bourne trilogy is beloved- especially as a modern spy thriller. With the portrayal of outdated themes, and a plot that seems more like Bond-esque location-hopping than an actual intelligible string of story details, Bourne’s name suffers from this film.
The film isn’t by any means a bad film- it maintains a sufficient level of excitement throughout, and there are much worse films out at the moment. But there are also much better films out at the moment- ones that aren’t helmed by such a well-known name, and ones that deserve to do much better than this well-disguised cash-in. It’s likely this film will go down in history alongside The Bourne Legacy as an extraneous side-film to the otherwise great franchise.
Review by Tom Bedford