Movie Review: Jason Bourne
By Matthew Huntley
August 4, 2016

Only Tom Cruise runs better.

Prior to seeing Jason Bourne, I made an effort to re-watch all four preceding “Bourne” movies just to re-familiarize myself with the character and premise, even though it's not a terribly complicated series to wrap one's head around. In fact, during my revisiting it became even more obvious that each movie more or less follows the same pattern, whereby the hero must devise new ways to avoid being either captured or killed by those pursuing him.

That's pretty much the gist of their stories, and at some point during each installment, the following events take place, often in this order: a) the hero steals either a car or bike, or both, and races it through a major city's narrow streets with very sharp corners; b) the hero misleads his chasers by utilizing technology as well as a large crowd of people in a public setting; c) the hero engages in hand-to-hand combat with another professional “asset” who's been assigned to take him down and, at the same time, leverages whatever prop he can find, be it a rolled up magazine or a frying pan; d) the hero takes part in an overlong, fully-blown out car chase through a more expansive city than the one from point “a”, resulting in considerable collateral damage. Oh, and the hero endures at least three different beatings that should have killed him. But, like most heroes in action movies, he simply gets up and walks away with just a few minor cuts and bruises.

The question you may be asking is, why even bring these points up? It's not like their inclusion in Jason Bourne will dissuade anyone from seeing it. In fact, they may be the reasons most people see it in the first place, because even though they're conventions, the “Bourne” movies pull them off with such a high level of skill and craftsmanship, the audiences is able to enjoy them on these merits alone.

But, and here's why I mentioned the pattern, the franchise is starting to show its age and this latest entry feels especially redundant, which is inevitable for any series that's nearly a decade and a half old. And because it's become sort of been a Matt Damon-only vehicle (with the exception of the The Bourne Legacy), we can't imagine anyone else playing the titular character (unlike James Bond or Batman, Jason Bourne isn't as easily replaceable with another actor). Therefore, I'd say after Jason Bourne, unless the filmmakers develop a new pattern, it's high time Bourne hang up his running shoes, slow down, and accept whatever consequences come his way. He looks tired anyway.

That's not to say he hasn't still got it, and the man can still throw a mean punch. That's what we find him doing at the beginning of Jason Bourne on the border between Greece and Albania. For some time now (the movie doesn't specify how long it's been between now and the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Bourne, the CIA's former “$30 million weapon” and ex-assassin, has been in hiding and surviving by taking part in underground bare-knuckle boxing matches. He's gotten exceptionally good at it, too, with the fights lasting a mere second before Bourne knocks his opponent out cold, puts his shirt back on, and goes back to looking serious and plaintive and having flashbacks of his erstwhile life as a professional killer.

But then his former operative, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), shows up after hacking into the CIA's database and gathering files on all the organization's illegitimate secret programs, one of which turned Jason Bourne (real name: David Webb) into the miserable, forlorn man he is today. She's discovered Bourne's father (Gregg Henry) played a role in their development and was a victim of a conspiracy when he tried to protect his son from being recruited. This all comes as news to Bourne and Nicky thinks it's only right they should leak the files online and expose those guilty of wrongdoing. And so, once again, the plot revolves around Bourne trying to uncover the truth about who he is, who's responsible for the way he is, who's clean, who's dirty, etc.

The movie makes no real attempt to hide the good guys from the bad guys. It's pretty obvious, for instance, that CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is corrupt. After learning about Nicky's hack, he doesn't think Bourne can be reasoned with, and rather than take the chance of talking to him and having him disclose the CIA's dirty laundry, he orders his personal asset (Vincent Cassel) to take Bourne out. The asset has no qualms with this, as he feels he has a personal score to settle with Bourne.

Acting more rationally and impartially is Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), head of the CIA's Cyber Ops Division. She believes Bourne to be a worthy asset and convinces Dewey to give her 24 hours to bring him in and possibly have him reinstated. But Dewey's mind is made up, and this whole Bourne fiasco comes amidst Dewey's own secret plans to use a social media platform called Deep Dream as a means for a mass surveillance ring, even though Deep Dream's young CEO (Aaron Kalloor) is morally opposed to it. This leads Dewey to believe he now has two problems to eliminate. Unless, of course, Bourne can stop him.

All this is sufficient enough for the plot, and Damon again plays the hero role down to make his character convincing, sympathetic and not overconfident. This allows us, despite the number of people Bourne has either killed or almost killed, or the amount of property damage he causes as a result of being chased all around the world, to continue to care about him and hope that he finds peace and salvation. Bourne knows what he did in his former life was wrong, but he's since suffered, and now and he just wants to be left alone.

There isn't a great deal more introspection into the Bourne character that the previous movies didn't already offer, so no one should expect Jason Bourne to be any type of character piece. With its familiar characters and standard plot, it's simply a stage upon which director Paul Greengrass and his second unit team are able to showcase a number of action bells and whistles. But, just like its predecessors, these really pop and overall, the movie serves as a satisfying technical exercise with lots of envelope-pushing stunts and choreography that really keep it moving. These are why the lack of substance doesn't bother us too much.

Still, with that said, if there is going to be a sixth “Bourne” movie, I'm not sure I could give it a pass based on the action scenes alone. We need more depth and questions answered. Even after this many installments, I feel I still don't know who Jason Bourne really is, and I'd like to, so I think the closing chapter should be the introspective one we've been yearning for. The filmmakers have set the series up nicely for it, so long as the screenplay dedicates more time to Bourne the man and less the invincible hero. But if they do want Bourne to remain a mystery and simply continue roaming the world in order to evade capture, they shouldn't make any more movies about him. That movie has already been made. In fact, it's been made about five times now.