Does it matter how Bourne is back if we think he needed to be back?
Bringing the Bourne band back together with director Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon and some great session players in Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Vincent Cassel is great; but it feels like déjà vu.
It's been nine years since Bourne leaked the CIA's black-ops programs and essentially crippled the agency. After sponsoring some quantum leaps in technological advancement (essentially all the things that Edward Snowden warned us about) it's an all new agency. Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), member of an international hacking organisation, sees that her former employer has covertly reopened their assassination program; she tracks down the one man who can stop them.
Formally, Greengrass hasn't lost a step. His "shaky" cam style doesn't feel nearly as shaky as his imitators. Especially in the fight scenes, the camera moves feel much more attuned to the movement of the blows that are being exchanged. The motorcycle chase through an Athens riot, especially as Bourne narrowly avoids police blockades and Molotov cocktails in equal measure, is as thrilling as the very best the series has showcased so far. The echoes of imagery from the other films and the coincidences that haunt Bourne, are unfortunately a little stale. While the Bourne formula may be muscle memory for Greengrass we hoped that his return to Bourne would bring some ‘freshness.’
At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum (and Supremacy because they're essentially one giant film), Jason had uncovered his identity, his past hits and the mechanism that forged him. And he tore it down. Jason Bourne wants the audience to believe that there's more excavation required but it's a big stretch. The more that writers Greengrass and Christopher Rouse explore the device, the more tedious it becomes. More flashbacks fuel basic desires and add meaning to characters that otherwise have you scratching your head. How much friggen deeper does this Treadstone stuff go guys; it’s now our fifth movie?! The far more interesting dramatic conceit; “what if Jason Bourne is ready to come back and fight for the U.S.A?” is kept on the sidelines.
Alicia Vikander's cyber wunderkind Heather Lee is on deck to ask that very question. The Bourne series differentiates itself from other films in the espionage genre because the villains are almost exclusively domestic. Bourne became the post 9/11 instrument of morality for U.S foreign policy. Post-Snowden, Mid-Trump it feels the right time to see Bourne back. Greengrass and Rouse also integrate the prescient Facebook/FBI “back door” controversy with Riz Ahmed ‘s Aaron Kalloor (a hybrid of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook) as a social media CEO who publicly positions that privacy is sacred; while privately serving his sponsor Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA Director Robert Dewey with unfettered access to his 1.5 Billion users. This subplot is the passenger when it should be in the driver’s seat.
Matt Damon fits backs into the nondescript clothes of the forgetful super-spy like a second skin. For a performance that's reportedly 25 dialogue lines in total, he's able to convey so much of his psychological anguish and turmoil through his gaze. Those exclusively fierce stares of Supremacy that started to break in Ultimatum are now fractured. Knowing who you are without purpose has been taking a psychological toll. Vikander's Heather Lee isn't simply a younger, hotter, substitute for Pam Landy (the amazing Joan Allen); she's an ambitious as hell Silicon Valley type that's tackling the CIA hierarchy by networking like a boss (I mean you don't see her hack LinkedIn but it’s assumed). Ahmed shows some great genuine conflict about his manipulation of the public and is on the edge about using his tech power for good and not evil; if that’s even possible to distinguish. Stiles’ portrayal feels like time out of acting has giving her an improved roughness. Jones, Cassel, and Ato Essandoh are all equally reliable as the latest additions to the Bourne roster without having the impacts of the like of Allen, Brian Cox and Chris Cooper before them.
It’s good to see you Jason, but for good and bad, you haven’t changed.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Paul Greengrass & Christopher Rouse
Matt Damon ... Jason Bourne
Tommy Lee Jones ... CIA Director Robert Dewey
Alicia Vikander ... Heather Lee
Vincent Cassel ... Asset
Julia Stiles ... Nicky Parsons
Riz Ahmed ... Aaron Kalloor
Ato Essandoh ... Craig Jeffers