Jason Bourne (2016)
Directed by Paul Greengrass
For the purposes of this review I'll try to be impartial and rate Jason Bourne as a standalone film. Later in the review I will also compare the new movie to the rest of the series.
We return to Bourne as he's hustling around small towns in Europe, staying off the grid and taking one day at a time as a backroom brawler in illegal fights. Nicky Parsons, his flame from years prior, hacks into a CIA server and steals files related to Bourne, then arranges to meet with him. Naturally, the CIA catches onto the hacking and begins tracking Parsons. Bourne runs. The CIA chases him.
The problems become glaringly obvious rather quickly. Unfortunately, Jason Bourne follows the pitfalls and cliches of the modern spy genre. Quick cuts, conspiracies about us all being watched by the government, the CIA is the bad guy, the hero manages to win despite being outgunned...
Its sad, because the character of Jason Bourne is so interesting, and his latest endeavor just isn't. Jason Bourne is the result of a confidential, CIA program designed to create the best spies in the world. They take an experienced soldier and increase his mental aptitude for stressful situations, his innate ability to solve problems, and his survival instinct. They teach him how to track, how to disappear, how to kill (as efficiently as possible), and so many other things. And part of what makes him so intriguing is that he's the first attempt of such a program. Following the attempt with Bourne there were other, more advanced programs that were supposed to be better. And yet, Bourne puts them to shame.
There's a noticeable lack of inspiration. It feels like this movie is just going through the motions. Julia Stiles is stiff, like she can't remember being Nicky Parsons. Alicia Vikander is completely out of place; nuff said about her. Tommy Lee Jones is phoning it in so much it's like he's back in MIB. No one seems to know what they're doing... Even Matt Damon... It feels like he's furniture to a sub-par story, like he's just standing on his mark and saying his lines. You can't see the wheels turning as he solves problems or the emotion when he remembers his father. It doesn't feel authentic. And that's sad.
There's a noticeable lack of inspiration. It feels like this movie is just going through the motions.
Greengrass and his new cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, pulled out all the stops for the look of Jason Bourne. But that isn't a good thing. The intent is to create a thrilling atmosphere through the jerky, visceral motions. Real life isn't steady, and for a spy it must be downright adrenaline-pumping. So they try to create that feeling, where every movement feels important, like each step could be the difference between getting away or getting caught. They succeed but therein lies a problem, because it seems as if every single shot in Jason Bourne lasts for less than a step before it cuts to the next shot. Slow, expositional scenes are no expense. In fact, the slow scenes have the shots that last up to a couple seconds, and when anything gets even slightly more intense you're lucky if a shot lasts a full second. So while the result is certainly visceral, it's also off-putting. But too off-putting. It's something that's more at home in a found-footage horror.
And despite the visceral atmosphere a lot of what happens feels weightless. Parsons is a plot device. The hacker who hired her is a plot device. Bourne's memories are a plot device. There's very little with actual substance or anything that feels fluid or in-place within the movie.
It sucks real hard. Jason Bourne is part of a series which set standards for gritty realism in it's genre, and yet it falls into the mistake of forgetting to have any newness. Realism falls to the side in favor of that pitiful tech failure, "Enhance!" to get a clear picture from a blurry and low resolution image. As soon as that line was uttered, I knew the spirit and soul from the first movie was utterly gone.
Everything that made the first movie and its sequels so great and trend setting is turned to dust by this new entry. Greengrass shows no hint of originality, just following in the footsteps that he laid himself. He follows the popular modern cliches of government surveillance, government two-facing, government conspiracy, extra-judicial subterfuge by members of law enforcement.
What's worse is that they can keep making movies like this. They can shoehorn more memories into the past, like a studio's own deus ex machina; just have Bourne remember something else and uncover more files and they've got another movie.
Probably the worst thing is that the story never makes sense. There's never a moment where it all comes together, even though the film tries to convince us that it does. With the exception of The Bourne Legacy, which stands as more of a run-and-gun action than a thriller, the previous films have all portrayed the solving of an outrageous mystery which, by the end, was unfolded. But Jason Bourne feels eternally confused, with no clear direction and no clear mystery and no clear settlement. Obviously, it revolves around that shitty tech giant "Deep Dream," which can't even figure out how to use a headset microphone for a tech presentation. It also revolves around government surveillance.
It was a similar premise in the other movies, but it was woven so well into Bourne's story that it made sense. Bourne was an intelligence agent, not just an assassin. Assassination fell within his scope of abilities but beyond that, he worked within a network to gather information, assess situations, and eliminate threats if necessary. What he did was to uncover the immorality within the system. But his new endeavor never comes to a close. Greengrass and co. spend so much time embroiling us with the intrigue of CIA operations that the government surveillance falls to the wayside, creating this godforsaken mess of plot points and storylines where none are fully fleshed out. We never learn about CIA Director Robert Dewey's motivations beyond being gratuitously patriotic; we never learn about the extent or nature of cooperation between "Deep Dream" and the CIA; we never learn why Bourne is in a traveling circus of fucking illegal fights beyond his explanation of keeping on the move and off the grid; we never learn why Vikander's Heather Lee is so invested in helping Bourne despite being Dewey's protégé. It all feels detached, like none of the writers did their due diligence.
The sad fact is that Jason Bourne is a sad remnant of a once prominent franchise of spy thrillers. Even the action is subpar: more gratuitous message bashing about Bourne succeeding with chair legs and teapots whilst fighting against guns and knives. It really doesn't get any more blatant than Bourne chasing a military-style SWAT truck in a sedan. What was once a pillar of the spy genre, what once set a new, gritty standard for James Bond to live up to, is but a shadow of it's 2002 predecessor, which is only natural since the story revolves around new agents not living up to Bourne's original prowess.
- Acting – 14 / 20
- Story – 4 / 20
- Cinematography – 5 / 20
- Soundtrack – 5 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 6 / 10
- Spy/Thriller/Action – 5 / 10
- Other – 0 / 10
TL;DR: Jason Bourne is a sad, sad revisit to what has been a great franchise. The character of Jason Bourne is so real and so intriguing, but his latest endeavor isn't. The movie can be pulse-pounding at times, but mostly it's a hodge podge of quick cuts and government conspiracy storytelling. It's worth a watch if you love actionless spy thrillers about government surveillance, but otherwise I do not recommend Jason Bourne.