IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 122 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jason Bourne is now “living off the grid” in Greece, surviving on the money he makes from underground bare knuckle boxing tournaments. His former ally, rogue CIA operative Nicky Parsons, hacks into the CIA’s computer network and unearths information that not only reveals that, after Treadstone and Blackbriar, another, deadlier Black Ops programme is set to begin, and also that Bourne’s father was involved in Blackbriar. CIA Director Robert Dewey alerts The Asset, an assassin in his pay, to terminate Bourne, but opportunist young agent Heather Lee think it’s best to bring him in….
I always thought that The Bourne Supremacy would have been even better it had ended a few seconds before it actually did. We didn’t need to see Bourne swimming away safely after jumping into New York’s East River, and it would still have left things open for a sequel. Instead, what we got was The Bourne Legacy, an attempt to expand the world of the trilogy into a sort of Bourne Universe. It didn’t quite work. The story erred too far on the side of fantasy with its magic pills, the pace was a bit too slack, director Tony Gilroy didn’t have the knack for frenetically shot action that Paul Greengrass had, and Jeremy Renner, an actor who can certainly shine in the right part [i.e.The Town], just didn’t have Mark Damon’s charisma and seemed to be playing a far less interesting character too. Greengrass kept saying that there wouldn’t be another Jason Bourne adventure unless he had the right story, while Damon kept saying that he wouldn’t do another one without Greengrass [though he never seemed to mention director of the first film Doug Liman].
Well, we do now have another one, and it brings Bourne back to the screen in cracking style, though I’m not sure that, in the end, that Greengrass did find the right story. As an action movie, Jason Bourne certainly delivers. Within about 20 minutes, we’re thrown into a stunning set piece taking place amidst the riots in Athens, an edge of seat stalking sequence turning into a truly adrenalising bike chase, with terrific aerial shots of the bike Bourne and Nicky are on zipping between burning cars as fireworks are launched at riot police. It immediately reminds us that, with the possible exception of Michal Bay, Greengrass is the only filmmaker who can really pull off the hyper-fast edit/ shakycam style of action shooting well, using enough longer takes and long distance shots to give us some clarity and geography, and really showing the incoherent crap – full of terrible continuity, mistakes and confusion – that directors like Olivier Megaton and Marc Foster feel obliged to give us, for the rubbish it really is. I like, for example – when Bourne starts to run – how the camera operator holds the camera still, then follows Bourne, and then starts running after him while zooming out so that we get to keep just enough stability to understand what is happening.
So Bourne is first seen again as a bare knuckle boxer, amusingly knocking out his first opponent with a single punch, but when Nicky finds some information on the CIA’s computer network, some of which directly concerns him, it’s soon back to old times again. Now one thing I was disappointed with is how Julia Stiles’ character is treated in this film. Certain moments in the earlier Bourne films seemed to hint at a past, if not necessarily of a romantic nature, involving her and Bourne, and it seemed to me that this episode would explore her character a bit, but half an hour in and the role of female lead becomes taken over by Alicia Vikander’s Heather, it obviously being too much to give Damon a female co-star close to his own age. Now I don’t have anything against Vikander – in fact I’ll probably watch this lovely young lady in anything – but the arc of her character in this movie is so much like Nicky’s was in the earlier ones that Heather just comes across as redundant. On the other hand, writers Greengrass and Christopher Rouse do well by making this instalment even more timely [though I could have done without hearing the name Snowden twice], especially with the subplot of the CIA being in cahoots with social media [they don’t name Facebook, but it’s surely intended to represent it, plus probably Apple too] entrepreneur Aaron Kalloor who has sold them the rights to his new programme which can give each user a perfectly tailored personal experience, but which can put anyone in the world under surveillance.
So you know the drill – Bourne goes all over the place trying to unearth mysteries in his past while every now and again having to evade men sent after him. Greengrass really does brilliantly manage a relentless pace over a two hour movie, and the chasing around eventually climaxes in a thrilling Las Vegas pursuit which lacks the intensity of that amazing automobile smash-up at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum but makes up with sheer spectacle and the superbly shot colourful backdrop of the city at night. There’s some astonishing stunt work which at least looks real, and it’s all climaxed by a really brutal fight that almost pushes the film into ‘15’ territory, but it does threaten to be a bit excessive and even silly for this supposedly relatively realistic, serious series, while Bourne, despite being older, really is a kind of superhero in this one considering the number of scrapes and crashes he survives with little damage. And the emphasis on constantly moving things forward at an extremely fast pace means that we don’t get many memorable moments of the quieter kind that you sometimes got in the earlier films, like that brilliant reveal at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum which is shown again half way through The Bourne Supremacy, where Bourne tells Landy to “get some rest” because she “look[s] tired”, telling her that he’s nearby and actually looking right at her.
The Bourne films have recycled ingredients all along, and it wasn’t really a problem because they’d found a formula which worked, but Jason Bourne often feels too much like a rehash – I mean how many Black Ops organisations do we need? Surely we’ve come to expect more considering that there’s been a considerable gap between The Bourne Surpremacy and this one? Of course there are interesting plot elements, notably the addition of Bourne’s father whose exact role is kept shady until near the end, but if this franchise is set to continue – and I do hope that it does even with the blatant setting up of possible successive developments – I do think that it needs to go down some different routes, or at least set up some new situations, something it can easily do without losing its overall aesthetic. Greengrass often compares Bourne to Bond, but that series was still quite fresh when its fifth film came out and the next two or three instalments [certainly the next two] at least took somewhat different approaches before things got a little bit stale. Greengrass and co. need to watch out that the Bourne series doesn’t get that way much earlier on. Jason Bourne gets away with it, mostly because it’s so damn exciting, but some more effort needs to be made with the screenplay next time.
Damon, whose dialogue seems like it must have ran to only six or seven pages, slips back into the role of Bourne with ease, but I wish that he’d been given the opportunity to show how Bourne has aged besides having some grey hair. Tommy Lee Jones is by far the most dynamic of the CIA heads out to get Bourne we’ve had so far and Vincent Cassel makes a considerable impression as what Bourne would probably be if he didn’t have a soul. Composer John Powell’s familiar rhythmic patterns help keep the tension constantly going though I’d have liked to have heard more new stuff. I’m not going to deny that I enjoyed Jason Bourne considerably as an action thriller – hence the still fairly high star rating which I have a feeling is higher than what many other critics will give it – but, while easily superior to The Bourne Legacy, it does seem just a little bit lacking compared to the original trilogy and, if you think about, barely even moves the story on from it. Bourne, I cannot deny that it’s great to have you back, and you still rock, but can we have a bit less déjà vu next time please?