Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Scott Shepherd, Rhiz Ahmed
“We’re still trying to come up with a narrative for what happened,” says CIA director Scott Shepherd in the super-soldier franchise’s fifth flimsy but fun film, Jason Bourne.
Wow… Screenwriters should know better than to script lines like that. Are they just waiting for critics to call them out?
It’s especially easy when the film is a loud, entertaining – but ultimately pointless – placeholder in a franchise. This just encourages us to come up with more Bourne titles – Bourne Yesterday, Bourne Every Minute, or even Still Bourne.
It’s not that Jason Bourne is a terrible film, per se. In fact, a chase scene through Las Vegas is actually quite fun. Most of the rest is just useless, mindless distraction – a way to blow a couple of hours. There seems to be nothing new in the genre of “programmed soldier films” (Jack Reacher, Rambo, Wolverine, lots of exploding and hand-to-hand-fights and car crashes – stuff starring Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, and various other meaty mumblers).
Jason Bourne is all about segments and sequences, not scenes. These elaborately staged moments owe more to the stunt coordinators than they do to any writer or even director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum, Captain Phillips). There’s no character development to speak of. This is the film Greengrass wanted to make, though; he wrote whatever there was of a script with screenwriting newcomer Christopher Rouse (the producer of Captain Phillips).
Bourne (Damon) is still hiding. He’s also still trying to sort out how he got involved in a program that wiped out most of his memory and made him a special ops assassin. Ex-girlfriend and ex-coworker Nicky Parsons (Stiles) contacts Bourne. She’s hacked some info from the CIA that might provide answers.
At the same time, the CIA’S Jones and protégé Vikander are using a social media program to spy on everyone. Web designer Ahmed wants to pull out and expose the CIA’s plan.
Jones has to manage super-killer Bourne, the hack, and his new spying plan at the same time. Basically, his job sucks!
These plots never quite coalesce into a single, engaging narrative. Past Bourne films benefitted from work by writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), and especially Ultimatum’s polish by playwright Tom Stoppard. In Jason Bourne, the loss of good writing is palpable.
This means the characters suffer. Damon is serviceable (quite in good shape at 45), and Jones plays his typical villain with aplomb. Although they travel the world, emotionally these people don’t go anywhere. Vikander is an interesting idea, but the actress is lousy at portraying an American-born patriot; her accent is always peeking through.
Greengrass tries to rescue the film with the same camera tricks he used in the first flick. By now – 14 years later – they seem dated. The scratchy editing of flashback flicks and shaky hand-held close-ups are more annoying than edgy.
And then there are the implausibilities; it almost seems obvious to mention them in a film like this.
Finally, nothing really moves the mythology forward. A few people die, but nothing really changes for our confused hero. Although there’s enough action to be distracting, Jason Bourne is sill wandering the globe, looking for that coherent narrative.