Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

Jason Bourne

Rating

Director

Paul Greengrass

Screenplay

Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Length

123 min.

Starring

Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd.

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language.

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Review

For decades, James Bond was the gold standard for spy thrillers. His suave, debonair attitude engendered itself well to audiences, especially within the able hands of Sean Connery. Bond is no longer the only game in town, nor is Connery the only thespian able to convey the weightiness of his character. In Jason Bourne, Matt Damon returns to the title role and hopes to resurrect a franchise that was left foundering in its previous incarnation.

The franchise built on Robert Ludlum’s spy character Jason Bourne has been a modestly popular alternative to the slick, polished Bond franchise. Bourne is gritty and hard-edged. Where Bond focuses on outside threats, Bourne focuses entirely on inside threats. Meeting in the middle is the Mission: Impossible franchise.

For the series’ fifth outing, Bourne’s longtime associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) may have uncovered information that will help Bourne put to rest his frustrated search for his origins. Wrapped into the mystery of the program that created him, Bourne slowly unravels the story to discover not only how he got into the program in the first place, but what his father’s involvement was, and who was ultimately responsible for his death.

By sheer longevity, Bond wins. While its most recent efforts have been lackluster compared to the consistently engaging Mission: Impossible films, the Bourne franchise has been a reliable, if frustrating, workhorse. Damon is an enigmatic star. Equally at home in action films and small dramas, Damon brings his own brand of grim determination to the role. He’s a perfect fit for it, but this time out, he’s given even less opportunity to show the audience what he’s good at. The charm, wit, and nobility are drowned by an incessant return to familiar material.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare nearly as well thanks to underwritten or stereotype-heavy roles. Tommy Lee Jones easily has the most predictable, loathsome character to play with and while he relishes that kind of role, it doesn’t give him room to stretch and the audience never gets an opportunity to judge him as more than a simplistic villain. Stiles has never been given enough to do and this film is no exception. They’ve made her character one of the most incompetent cyber sleuths ever written and, considering her background, one would expect her to be less sloppy.

Alicia Vikander is poised to become either Bourne’s new fling, new assistant, or new foil. The film toys with all three at different points, making for a character so confused it’s no wonder Vikander plays her with such limited, disingenuous passion. Vincent Cassel takes on the uninventive professional hitman role and is never allowed to move beyond it. The rest of the cast is as one-note as the material.

Director Paul Greengrass is back with the franchise for his third outing. Being a man more at home with a handheld camera than a Steadicam, Jason Bourne has very few stand-still moments with the camera passively observing. He wants to get us into the action with jittery, chaotic motions that are intercut confusingly. As a result, the audience will struggle to keep track of action within individual scenes. It may heighten the tension of the scene, but without being easier to follow, the viewer may become frustrated with their limited understanding of what’s going on.

On a plot level, Jason Bourne is more predictable than it ever has been. There are few clues early on, fractured memories mostly, but there’s little need as the narrative is overly familiar and the final encounter is exactly what we expected. Sometimes the greatest fun of a spy thriller is the twist near the end that spins the entire film off in an unexpected and welcome direction. Breaking up the point-to-point monotony is crucial for audience enjoyment.

While some would consider The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner as a different character and replacement for Bourne, the nadir of the franchise. That film had reason to be unpopular. Without your key star, it’s impossible to generate the type of enthusiasm such efforts demand. Excluding that film, Jason Bourne is easily the worst. It’s superficial, tedious, poorly written, and ultimately too full of itself. Returning to its roots might be advisable, but does anyone remember well enough what they are to get back there? The possibilities are limited.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

Review Written

September 27, 2016

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