Movie Review: Jason Bourne

By Ben Gruchow

August 9, 2016

I think people would rather see him on Mars.

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“He was always gonna come after me,” says CIA director Bob Dewey, speaking in regard to the super spy Jason Bourne. One wonders how many CIA directors in this franchise have uttered something similar, shortly before meeting their end in some form. I’m watching Bourne (Matt Damon, returning for the first time since 2007’s Bourne Ultimatum) mow through trained operatives in order to get at the Director and I’m thinking, life and medical insurance policies for these guys must be through the roof. This is why group coverage is so important in the workplace; everything gets to even out a little.

This is the fifth film in the Jason Bourne series; the first three films all centered around a conveniently-amnesiac rogue CIA operative as he attempted to find out who he was, and - one assumes - who’s responsible for his loss of memory and place in the world. The fourth one subbed in Jeremy Renner for Matt Damon, met with lukewarm reception, and remains unseen by me. This one aims to right the ship and bring us back to the identity storyline. To do this, it brings back Paul Greengrass (director of Bournes Two and Three) and Damon, as well as a couple other faces and names from before.

The first film in the series, from 2002 and directed by Doug Liman, was shrewd and sort of novel in its approach to the spy genre. Now, of course, we’re at the point where the gritty and realistic action thriller/reimagining has been in vogue, out of vogue, rebooted, and made an erstwhile punchline…even within the current iteration of Bourne’s most obvious cinematic progenitor, the Bond series. The newer series has survived on its own terms, but to margins that have slimmed as it’s gone on. Part of it may be the fact that each film has essentially redressed the same story in different clothes; in one film, the secretive head is Joan Allen, in another it’s David Strathairn, and in this one it’s Tommy Lee Jones. But then, Bond has pretty much done the same thing: every film brings about a new form of Bond Girl and every film adheres to a basic spy-thriller template.


The Bourne films are, of course, utterly sincere about what they are. They’re as overstuffed with slick pseudo-plausible developments and stern officials barking orders at computer screens as any other techno-thriller, but the Bourne characters are straitlaced, and don’t seem to be aware of how goofy the whole covert black-ops/identity scenario really is. The saving graces have been partially down to the commitment brought to it by the characters and the occasional really powerful visual or poignant moment (most of which occurred in 2004’s Bourne Supremacy) and very much down to Greengrass’ expertise in stringing together a seemingly incoherent visual and visceral ethic in a startlingly coherent way.

This visual expertise is brought again to Jason Bourne, and there is a fantastic motorcycle-automobile-foot chase sequence in the first half-hour, but the story has by this point run its course. What we have is a winded and frequently aimless narrative that tries to tie a standalone story about national surveillance and consumer technology into the ongoing narrative about Bourne’s sense of self. Neither one really “works”; the stuff with Bourne has been explored and re-explored and goes nowhere particularly revelatory outside of setting up and resolving a point about the character’s father, while the stuff about the CIA and surveillance and backdoors into operating systems never makes it further than thinly drawn, on-the-nose plot drivers.

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