We may not have his number, but we do know the name – which means we also know what we can expect from this fourth/fifth Bourne movie. Well, it’s the fifth to have “Bourne” in its title but only the fourth to actually have Matt Damon’s formerly amnesiac super-assassin in it.
Our familiarity with the franchise is both a good thing and a bad thing here.
Good, because we expect returning director Paul Greengrass (who helmed the terrific second and third instalments, Supremacy and Ultimatum) to once again deliver a tense thriller with breathtaking action, suspenseful chases (foot and vehicular), nicely-coordinated set pieces, moral dilemmas and sinister characters manipulating – and terminating – human lives in the name of an agenda that “serves” the greater good.
This, he does. And with a steadier camera too.
Bad, because it is all very formulaic. And that’s a little sad when you consider how the earlier Bourne films just blew away our preconceptions of what spy thrillers are all about.
Just replace Julia Stiles and Joan Allen with Alicia Vikander as the operative who sympathises and/or secretly sides with Bourne.
Swap out Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and David Strathairn with Tommy Lee Jones as the boss who wants our hero dead in the name of keeping some black ops programme secret.
Replace Treadstone and Blackbriar with Iron Hand, the abovementioned covert operation that must be advanced at all costs.
And since Marton Csokas, Karl Urban and Clive Owen were all … retired by Bourne previously, let’s bring in Danny Ocean’s nemesis Vincent Cassel to menace him, and society in general, as “The Asset”.
Different locations and personalities, but essentially the same functional, archetypical characters and situations – it’s enough to set off a Bourne identity crisis, the way everything is so interchangeable among the series’ instalments.
Jason Bourne comes to us nine years after Ultimatum and finds the former assassin trying to stay off the grid in a time of constant surveillance. His occasional associate Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks the CIA – she’s now part of an activist movement aiming to liberate suppressed information – and discovers something really bad is cooking.
In such post-Snowden/WikiLeaks/Anonymous times, CIA chief Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) goes into cover-up mode, knowing that Nicky will certainly pass her discoveries on to Bourne.
And so begins another transcontinental chase as Bourne comes out of hiding, not only to expose the CIA’s latest shadow project but also because he is looking for answers – this time, about his father’s (Gregg Henry) purported involvement in Treadstone.
Damon is at the top of his game here as he has been throughout the series. By now, it has become second nature to him to convince us that he’s an operative to whom uncanny feats of combat, surveillance and survival are, well, second nature. (And in moments of betrayal, there’s that whipped-puppy look to set hearts bleeding.)
But within a film as formulaic as this, there is no opportunity for him to take the character into new territory. This could very well be the last time audiences will accept Bourne in this form and state, with possibly only the nine-year gulf between appearances saving the character from already seeming stale.
Likewise, by maintaining the pursuit structure of its predecessors, the film only manages to pay lip service to the bigger and more current issues surrounding perpetual surveillance and privacy (methinks The Dark Knight back in 2008 said more about it in just a few pithy lines exchanged between Morgan Freeman and Christian Bale). For example, Riz Ahmed’s technopreneur in bed with the CIA seems to be around only as a walking McGuffin, and his character is stopped short whenever it seems like he is actually going to contribute something that will elevate the story.
The phrase “triumph of form over substance” is overused, but Jason Bourne is a prime example of that.
It’s exciting as heck and you cannot help but get swept up in the wake of the Damon-Greengrass juggernaut as it hurtles past. Just like you also cannot help but notice all those similar sets of tracks going off into the distance.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles, Ato Essandoh, Bill Camp, Gregg Henry, Scott Shepherd