“You’re never going to find any peace. Not till you admit to yourself who you really are.”
He’s back! After 9 years and a crappy Jeremy Renner spin off, Matt Damon is back as the eponymous Jason Bourne. Along with him is Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and the man responsible for honing the series’ iconic style. And they didn’t let the fact that Ultimatum was an excellent ending for the series stop them coming back, oh no. This time around Bourne is a lot older and a lot quieter, but he doesn’t miss a step when it comes to punching bad guys with everyday objects. Jason Bourne is a slightly unnecessary addition to the series but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In fact it’s very good.
The film opens with Bourne stalwart Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacking into the CIA in an attempt to leak all of the sensitive data, Snowden style. The Treadstone and Blackbriar operations from the previous films are there, along with a hole host of other black ops stuff. Cue Nicky meeting up with Bourne to reveal new info about his fathers role in his ascension to super assassin and the rest of the film is pure Bourne. Awesome action followed by some over the top aggressive walking scenes as angry CIA people shout at computer screens. This whole film is typical Bourne, but that’s not a bad thing. The film does push it’s luck a little bit with some of the tech scenes, with a cringey “Enhance!” being the absolute worst. The rest of the film is exactly what a fan of the series would want from a dormant sequel, and the film delivers in spades. Some critics are picking apart the film for problems but anything wrong with Jason Bourne is wrong in the entire franchise. The film does retread familiar territory at times, occasionally feeling more like Bourne: The Greatest Hits than a straight up sequel. A sniper taking out an ally of Bourne’s, a crooked CIA boss, a good CIA agent, a rival operative, etc. If this had come out a year or two after Ultimatum I might be bothered by it, disappointed even. But after nearly ten years of a Bourne hiatus I just want to see some classic Bourne action, and Jason Bourne delivers.
Matt Damon is as good as he ever was in the role of Bourne, convincingly pummelling his way through the film. He’s light on this dialogue this time around but it doesn’t matter; at one point he beats a man with a chair leg. His main rival, at least physically, is the awesome Vincent Cassel as ‘the asset’. Another agency super spy like Jason, he’s responsible for most of the carnage in the film and is probably the best equal Bourne has come up against since Clive Owen in The Bourne Identity. Julia Stiles is good in her small appearance as one time spy handler, now a hacker for a creepy wikileaks type fella, and the new additions are great too. Alicia Vikander is convincing as the smart but naive CIA agent hot on Bourne’s heels (although her accent is a little wonky) and Tommy Lee Jones turns in a typical reliable performance as CIA head Robert Dewey. The brilliant Riz Ahmed makes an appearance too, as a cocky billionaire tech developer, with a regrettable link to the CIA. It’s not a massive part, and the script (by director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse) leaves the character and his motivations a little undercooked. A lesser actor would have made this role forgettable but Ahmed puts his all into it and delivers a memorable performance. The film’s plot, tackling relevant real world issues such as data privacy, is a little thin on the ground this time around. It’s functional though, and even offers a few twists and turns. The idea of making it a personal quest for Bourne is a clearly a desperate excuse to justify the film’s existence but it works. The appearance of Gregg Henry as Bourne’s father is good moment that could’ve been expanded on further. And, despite the egregious ‘enhance!’ moment, the film handles the techy plot surprising well due in part to Vikander and Ahmed’s convincing portrayal of tech experts.
Let’s no kid ourselves though, the main function of the plot in a Bourne film is to string together the consistently brilliant action sequences. Jason Bourne more than delivers in this department having at least 3 extended scenes of unrelenting and unique action. The first, set among some sort of uprising on the streets of Athens, is some of the best work in the franchise. There are at least 3 different plot threads running through this scene and it’s edited beautifully. You never lose track of the different plot threads, or there relation to one another, and it all comes together and ends with a bang. The second set piece, a chase across London, is shorter and more familiar. Nevertheless the scene is awesome, and culminates in one of the coolest and silliest Bourne moments. (HINT: think Bourne riding a corpse through a stairwell level cool/stupid). The final action set piece is not only the longest but it’s also the most awesome. After an incident at a Las Vegas technology conference, Bourne is hot on the heels of the The Asset, who decides the best way to escape Bourne and the hundred of cops is in a giant police SWAT van. Bourne gives chase in a car and mayhem ensues. The Bourne films have ended in awesome car chases before Jason Bourne contains an entirely new level of carnage. The asset cuts through the Las Vegas traffic like a knife through butter while Jason fights to keep up. The chase ends (with a bang of course) but the action’s not over as there’s still a badass hand-to-hand fight to be had between the two super spy’s; one of the series’ best.
As for the look of the film, it’s very much in the style of what Bourne has become known for. It’s in the typical Greengrass style; shaky and frantically cut together but it’s entirely by design. It may appear disorientating but in fact it’s incredibly intricate, while also being very easy to follow. Greengrass’s controversial film making style hits it’s peak in Jason Bourne and while people don’t always love it, as these reactions to the critically acclaimed Bourne Ultimatum show, given a chance it clearly works. Trailers and clips on the internet might make the quick cuts, frantic pacing, and shaky cam look at best unintelligible and at worst sickening, but when watched in the film the style works perfectly. Greengrass’s previous experience as a reporter is obvious as the film resembles a documentary more than a modern action film. The fast cuts may appear random at first but each quick shot is chosen by Greengrass for a specific reason and in sequence they create a remarkably clear and thrilling action scene. He shoots everything like this though, including mundane things like walking or talking, but it’s all part of the series’ charm and style.
The bottom line: Jason Bourne may not be as good as it’s predecessors (except Legacy, it’s much better than that) but it’s still a very good film. The script is occasionally weak and predictable but the performances are all great, and the actions hits new highs for the series. Released a couple of years after the others and the problems with the film may have been more apparent. But as it stands, this is the best Bourne film we’ve had since 2007 and I’m happy to forget the flaws and just enjoy what is a very well made and thoroughly enjoyable action film. Plus it ends with this: