Hollywood has become so deeply preoccupied with rehashing old stories that a lot of sequels and reboots these days are unwanted. This is not the case with Jason Bourne. With Matt Damon back on board in the titular role and Paul Greengrass (who helmed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) directing, this was seen as a film that had a chance to resurrect one of the most beloved action franchises of all time. More than Ethan Hunt, John McClane, or even Dom Toretto, Jason Bourne is the American James Bond, and 2012’s The Bourne Legacy was the franchise’s Quantum Of Solace—a weird, forced vignette of a movie that felt unnecessary in the greater scheme of the franchise.
But at least Quantum Of Solace had Daniel Craig playing Bond, as he’d done in Casino Royale beforehand and would do in Skyfall after. The Bourne Legacy was a full departure from the traditional Bourne format, starring Jeremy Renner as another agent in Damon’s absence. It’s no disrespect to Renner (who did well in a limited role) to say that the film was lacking that special something. It just didn’t feel like Bourne in the slightest.
Jason Bourne fixes the problem in that regard. In picking up the recognizable vibe Doug Liman first established in The Bourne Identity and running with it, Greengrass proved years ago that he understood what this series was supposed to be better than anyone but perhaps Damon himself. This is a gritty, special-ops thriller in which the only unrealistic factor is the level of Bourne’s skill, and even that seems within the realm of possibility for an agent trained under unique circumstances. The gunshots, explosions, and espionage all feel like they could happen in the real world; the cinematography is exciting but not over-the-top; and there are no forced romances, apocalyptic explosions, or ticking-time-bomb situations. All of these factors have helped to make the Bourne franchise stand out in the action and spy genres, and they’re all pretty much intact in this latest installment.
In Jason Bourne, the plot begins with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the former CIA operative who’s helped Bourne out of numerous tight spots. She’s apparently gone rogue, operating as a hacker and looking into some of the CIA’s most secret files. There, she finds evidence that Bourne’s father was involved in the very Treadstone project that created Bourne (and other agents). She contacts Bourne to share this information, but not before CIA tech maestro Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) realizes the agency’s been hacked. Lee traces the action back to Parsons and Bourne, and so the CIA’s hunt for its own deadliest agent begins anew. Bourne has a new reason to stay on the grid—discovering more about his father’s involvement in Treadstone—and the CIA has cause to think he’s a threat once more.
It’s a pretty believable setup and a nice way of renewing the series. However, the way it unfolds from there is a little bit chaotic. CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) gets in on the action personally, but instead of simply hunting Bourne, he’s also working through tense negotiations with a Silicon Valley billionaire regarding CIA surveillance on social media. The billionaire, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), is a hopelessly unoriginal caricature of Mark Zuckerberg whose “Deep Dream” company is about to launch a massive new platform. Kalloor is promising privacy while weighing the idea of selling out to the CIA, which he’s done in the past.
This side plot causes Jason Bourne to devolve into a pretty stark case of good and bad. The good is what we love of the Bourne franchise: tense phone calls between CIA agents and Bourne, battles with another assassin (this time played by Vincent Cassel), and plenty of unexpected clever moments. The bad is a clumsy and unnecessary commentary on surveillance in a digital world. Frankly, the whole Kalloor storyline is bland, and one is left with the feeling that someone involved in the writing was a fan of Edward Snowden and just couldn’t help himself.
The other shortcoming of Jason Bourne is that it seems Greengrass hasn’t been watching action movies in the nine years since The Bourne Ultimatum. Back then, jerky action sequences were trendy (in fact The Bourne Supremacy made them that way). Visual confusion was seen as realistic. Similarly, chase scenes were a hallmark of the franchise and added to the excitement. But after nine years’ worth of imitations, these elements have become dull and tired. Jerky action sequences have only grown more annoying, and I, at least, spend most chase scenes counting the seconds until they’re over and the movie can get on with itself. It would have been nice to see Jason Bourne try some new tricks.
Those negatives make this feel like a missed opportunity. It’s a lot of fun at its best, sure, and I maintain that the “feeling” of a Bourne movie is back with Greengrass and Damon. But while it’s mildly refreshing after The Bourne Legacy, it can’t match the original trilogy.