Posted on Monday, August 1st, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Jason Bourne is a heartbreaking movie. In a summer filled with sequels that have let audiences down, in a year where so many franchise films have failed to justify their existences beyond the margins of an accountant’s logs, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon were supposed to return to this series and remind everyone of how it’s done.
Jason Bourne is fine. It’s no disaster. It’s no debacle. Individual scenes and performances work. However, in its best moments, all it serves to do is remind you of just how good the original three movies were and how this one can’t quite capture that same energy. Instead, it falls back on familiarity and cliche, which is the most tragic thing you can say about a series that reinvented the espionage thriller well over a decade ago.
The biggest obstacle facing Jason Bourne from the moment the title appears on the screen is that it needs to justify its existence. The Bourne Ultimatum, released nearly ten years ago, did a fine job of wrapping up every question that mattered in the complex conspiracy surrounding Bourne, Treadstone, and his lost past. Bourne was still on the run when the credits rolled (because he’ll always be on the run), but the book was closed – the mission statement laid out by The Bourne Identity had been fulfilled, and it had been fulfilled well, and watching Bourne swim to safety after leaping off the roof of a hospital while “Extreme Ways” blasted on the soundtrack was as satisfying as denouements can get.
So Jason Bourne is instantly in a tricky position: it has to invent a reason to bring Bourne back into action. It has to find something not only compelling enough to drag Bourne out of hiding, but compelling enough to make a return to his world feel necessary. And this is the first and most obvious stumble that the film makes, because Bourne’s return to the world of bone-breaking international espionage is fueled by information that feels silly and contrived and out of step for a series that has otherwise had a knack for building a compelling mystery and giving its (intentional) cypher of a main character something to pursue and fight for.
And because the details behind Bourne’s return (more on that in just a moment) are so flimsy and contrived, the film’s re-enactment of familiar beats and ideas begins to grate. This is the fourth Matt Damon-starring Bourne movie to feature a third-act scene where he corners the mastermind villain, always played by a respectable older actor, holds a gun to his body and demands answers. This is the third Matt-Damon-starring Bourne movie to climax with a wildly destructive car chase through a major city. You’ve seen every scene in this movie before, especially the ones where Bourne is hiding out in an apartment, gets a message from a secret ally that he has two minutes to escape, and proceeds to elude capture by stepping into traffic while the villains in the CIA control room all stare at each other and wonder where he went.
It needs to be said that these scenes are well-filmed by director Paul Greengrass and his crew and if all you want is more Matt Damon breaking bones and walking through crowds like a ghost so he can snatch an unsuspecting contact away from the agents who are supposed to be tracking him, Jason Bourne delivers on that front. It’s more of the same. But we’re on the fifth Bourne movie (if you choose to count the long-forgotten The Bourne Legacy) and that same bag of tricks is starting to look a little worn.