Jason Bourne August 8, 2016
Sixteen years and five movies later and the Bourne franchise still hasn’t much reinvented itself. Nothing’s changed (unless you count leading man Matt Damon’s one film
retirement for 2012’s The Bourne Legacy) — every addition is essentially a long-winded chase movie, a chase movie wherein Damon’s Jason Bourne, a misunderstood whistleblowing foe of the CIA, runs from government controlled bad guys as men in white suits hungrily stalk him over incessantly hacking and tracking computers.
In watching 2016’s Jason Bourne I should be more jaded than ever. I know the basic setup through and through and am now well-aware that sympathizing with the emotionless Bourne is next to an impossibility — he’s indestructible and almost two-dimensionally haunted. But I’m a sucker for the saga, which has consistently brought frantic gun battles and knuckle-breaking fist fights down to Earth and has conclusively adjusted its positions to complement international conflicts happening in real-time. They’re also pretty damn exciting, and, much as I’d like to think I’m more drawn to them for their intelligence, the kinetic design of its scenes of combat are the characteristics I find myself remembering the most.
Since the original trilogy, spotless assaults The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum, were such visceral (and satisfying) exemplifications of the modern action movie, perhaps Jason Bourne is an unnecessary continuation. Without daring to say anything new and without the audacity to change the course of the franchise’s overarching storyline by much, it’s the first film of the enterprise to lack memorability. It’s a stapling together of the things we liked most about its predecessors, unchallenging and overly familiar.
But stingingly suspenseful and dangerously death-defying it stays. Though I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve already forgotten most of its intricacies and therefore don’t consider it to be that great, I will remember its heart-stopping sequences of action and how they made me feel like a Hitchcock wronged man on the thrill ride of his life.
Such an impression is unavoidable due to Jason Bourne’s existing in our world and not the universe of a Bond hero or a fast and undeniably furious drag racer. A sizable distance between us and our protagonist isn’t so prominent: it’s fantasy, sure, but it’s lucid, a virtual reality.
It takes place just a short while after the events seen in Jeremy Renner’s 2012 excursion, a time frame that hasn’t altered the fact that Bourne’s been a wanted man for almost two decades and is at the point in his going rogue where capture indefinitely won’t be happening any time soon. He’s too percipient to get himself locked up.
But the CIA isn’t any less hearty in their wanting to get their dirty paws on him; it’s been a decade since he exposed Operation Blackbriar, a callous black ops program, and they’re prone to holding grudges. The movie finds him in hiding and making a living out of illegal bare knuckle fights, emotionally numbed by a life that’s given him nothing but violence and misery. Most in his shoes would be more partial to completely giving up on living. But as Bourne’s an action hero meant to be re-introduced every few years to remind us that Marvel and DC’s otherworldly characters aren’t the only overconfident crusaders in town, he’ll be perfectly content two-dimensionally twiddling his thumbs in-between films until a new world saving mission is brought to his attention.
Fortunately for the most easily distracted of viewers, things get going almost immediately after our titular hero’s name first flares across the screen in 007-esque typography. Jason Bourne concerns its warrior’s locale hopping attempts to unveil the CIA’s implantation of several Blackbriar-like programs and its developing methods of inexhaustible public surveillance. With an unnamed assassin (Vincent Cassel) and his governmental employers (Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander) hot on his trail, Bourne puts his scrappiness to good use and pulls all the stops necessary to gain victory.
And while that victory does come as predicted, Jason Bourne doesn’t have the tired eyes of a fifth sequel — its strategies of emptying our adrenaline valves remain briskly bombastic. With Paul Greengrass (who directed Supremacy and Ultimatum) back at the helm, things are more untamed than ever. Knock-‘em-outs are so ornate that they hardly require an orchestra to back up the energy they protrude. The finale’s car chase makes Steve McQueen’s wild ride in Bullitt look like a Segway tour guide’s chasing after a runaway customer. Portrayals of civil unrest and progressively invasive surveillance are well timed.
So I’m fine with Jason Bourne’s familiarity — as long as a quick, cheap thrill is delivered to me with breathtaking zip, who am I to complain? Jones and Vikander might be sapped of their charm. Maybe I miss Joan Allen’s presence and wish franchise veteran Julia Stiles were in the film a little more. But with Damon so ready to entertain and with Greengrass so in control of the violent chaos, I’d rather not be needlessly critical. Where else am I going to lose myself in pulse-pounding mystification? B