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Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

Jason Bourne (2016)

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Premise: The fifth film in the Bourne series. Years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, superspy Jason Bourne emerges from hiding to investigate new information about his past while the CIA develops a new surveillance program.

What Works: Jason Bourne sees the return of director Paul Greengrass and actor Matt Damon to the series after their absence from 2012’s The Bourne Legacy. Greengrass and Damon are able to pick up where they left off in 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum and the new film revisits much of what was successful about this series. The key appeal of Jason Bourne is his reluctance. Unlike James Bond, who is a psychopath in a tuxedo, Jason Bourne doesn’t want to be a killer and much of his time is spent in retreat. He’s also gratifyingly smart and like the previous entries Jason Bourne has several sequences in which the character evades capture through misdirection and spy craft. The previous Bourne films have been renowned for their elaborate chases and fight scenes and this film has a few standout set pieces, namely a car chase through the Las Vegas strip that is a great deal of fun. Director Paul Greengrass keeps the filmmaking fluid throughout the action sequences but also in the relay of information as the CIA attempts to pinpoint Bourne’s location through an impressive array of surveillance technology. And that’s the one place where Jason Bourne is distinguished from the other movies in this series. If 2002’s The Bourne Identity was the post-9/11 action film, then Jason Bourne is the post-Edward Snowden action picture. Snowden is actually name dropped a few times in this movie and the story includes a subplot in which a Mark Zuckerberg-like social media guru has allied himself with the CIA, giving the agency access to users’ private data. That gives the movie some substance and it reenergizes the relevance of the Bourne series nearly a decade and a half after the first movie.

What Doesn’t: Although Jason Bourne benefits from the surveillance subplot, a lot of this movie is redundant with what we’ve seen before. A lot of ongoing franchises, from James Bond to Friday the 13th, are built on a template that the filmmakers work their way through. The Bourne films always include a CIA conspiracy, flashbacks, roomfuls of people tracking the hero’s whereabouts on computer screens, spy versus spy combat, and a couple of furious car chases. All those boxes are checked in Jason Bourne but it’s all a rehash of images and scenarios we’ve seen before. In an attempt to top the previous movies, the action of Jason Bourne is sometimes too chaotic. Filmmaker Paul Greengrass is the progenitor of the handheld style of contemporary action films, and generally speaking no one has done it better than he has, but Jason Bourne suffers from some distractingly cacophonous imagery. Another problem with Jason Bourne is that this film struggles to justify its own existence. The original Bourne trilogy possessed a hip antiestablishment edge and the character had a compelling arc over the course of those three films. The story reached its organic conclusion with 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. The character recovered his identity, made it back to the root of his problems, and exposed the conspiracy. This movie ignores the events of The Bourne Legacy and it doesn’t come up with a compelling reason to continue the story. The filmmakers strain for a justification to keep the franchise going and it shows. It’s revealed that Jason Bourne volunteered for the Treadstone program because of the death of his father which the CIA may have orchestrated. This comes across like the twist of a soap opera that’s been concocted to return a popular character.  

Bottom Line: Jason Bourne is a competent action film but it doesn’t have the edge that distinguished the first three Bourne films. It’s obvious that the filmmakers are at a loss for what to do and the movie retreads the franchise’s greatest hits.

Episode: #606 (August 7, 2016)