You may know his name but the titular amnesic super spy has lost his purpose in Jason Bourne. Unnecessary sequels are the hottest trend of summer 2016 and none may be a worse offender than the latest collaboration between Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, the team responsible for the wide-adored sequels, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Nothing is more in vogue than loosing an unnecessary addition unto rabid fanbases and few have been more unnecessary than the offerings of Jason Bourne. That’s not to say it doesn’t entertain though…
In the near ten year hiatus from the last entry, Bourne has remained in hiding. Each day is an exercise in surviving to see another sunrise. He earns a living by frequenting international underground fights circuits (I wonder if he ever encountered Bruce Wayne) where he clubs the competition without batting an eye.
Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles pushing out her tech-laced lines like some may a grotesque bowel movement) starts up a worldwide manhunt for Bourne when she uncovers (drumroll please) more information about his past. Classified documents that tie Bourne’s father to the very Trendstone program that turned him into a human wrecking ball. Bourne, who states at the onset that he finally remembers everything, it seems does not indeed remember everything.
What follows is perfunctory, if confidently entertaining. Chased by a devious CIA elder (a Tommy Lee Jones as strong as his face is saggy), his no-questions-asset (inspired casting making Vincent Cassel a physical brute) and a top-level hacker (Alicia Vikander easing into a verifiable blockbuster like butter), Bourne must escape the hellish Grecian riot that doubles as a not-inconspicuous meet in what is one of Jason Bourne’s two riveting action sequences.
In the Athenian whirligig of molotovs and riot cops, captured by Greengrass in the series’ divisive shaky cam, we see Bourne’s biggest adversary rise. It’s not Cassel’s revenge drunk punisher (his motive for revenge, I must add, is bulimic it’s so thin). Nor is it Vikander’s competent Heather Lee, whose character arc becomes a log-jam the longer it lingers. Not even Jones’ crooked Dewey poses much of a legitimate threat. Rather Bourne’s chief antagonist is familiarity. And it proves quite a contender.
At this stage in the game, Bourne is executing nothing short of a victory lap. Lacking is the sense of urgency, the depth of corruption and the inherent danger of the original trilogy, which proves hard to conjure seeing that because we’ve seen Jason Bourne survive similar situations before, Jason Bourne sees a hero going through the motions. He does so here without breaking a sweet or, more often than not, opening his mouth.
Matt Damon famously only has approximately 25 lines in the latest Bourne entry. This speaks to the minimalism at play. Also the insubstantiality. This third sequel has the depth of a stone skipping on water and, for all its strengths, the general substanceless nature of Jason Bourne keeps it well outside the heights of the original trilogy. It’s the difference between sugar and Stevia. A borderline imposter ripping off of its roots.
Damon nonetheless sinks into the character with ease, assuming Bourne’s slinking frame, ready to peacock into a battlebot when prompted. The script from Greengrass and Christoper Rouse (Greengrass’ long-time editor making a jump to screenwriting duties) presents Bourne some ripe opportunities to flare nostrils and clench fists. The reasoning behind the big showdown with Cassel is plain bad screenwriting (a sickly hackneyed revenge ploy; the oldest trick in the action movie book) but is still a joy to watch.
The curtain of CG frivolity is lifted as these two hunks exchange blows. All the walking (Greengrass invest an inordinate chunk of time capturing Bourne from behind, walking, walking, ever walking) is rewarded by what may be the best action sequence of the year. Brief though is may be, and following on the tail of a brutally exaggerated car chase (one I admitted enjoyed), their dance is one of crude physicality. The absence of David Buckley and John Powell’s score meets crisp foley work to heighten each wallop. The staccato ballet of fury is intoxicating, even if it may not rank in the series’ best face-offs.
That their close-quarter fisticuffs is still not among the franchise’s finest but is nonetheless one of the most refreshing and gratifying of the year proves the continued potency of the Bourne series. Even as Jason Bourne plays like little more than a greatest hits album, it’s still frequently arresting blockbuster fare. A throwback to a throwback. A Greengrass cover band revisiting the glory days. One that manages to remain conventional throughout but justifies its lacking plot-turns with the bare-bones caper goods its fans crave. Jason Bourne may be undeniably familiar but so too is its entertainment value.
CONCLUSION: ‘Jason Bourne’ offers Matt Damon a chance to step back into what has become his signature role but provides little reason for his return. The plot is head-scratchingly familiar but Paul Greengrass’s third Bourne sequel finds purpose in its superb cast and return to its stripped-back action roots.