MOVIE REVIEW – Matt Damon returns in the fifth movie of the franchise as Jason Bourne, with a spy-thriller simply entitled as the main character. As the title is completely different to the original Robert Ludlum novels, the story – written by Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse – isn’t really based on them anymore. However, everything else pretty is much the same…
The very first movie in the Bourne franchise: The Bourne Identity was quite novel when it came out in 2002. The frenetic-to-the-point-of-vertigo camera and action and the simple story (an amnesiac CIA killer-spy returns and while he wreaks havoc he’s chased by his former employers) worked pretty well firstly because it was considered innovative at this time, second thanks to the perfect pace and top notch choreography of the action sequences.
Let’s not forget some memorable characters either (besides Damon’s Bourne himself) like the killer named Professor played by Clive Owen. Let’s flash forward to 2016 and three sameish movie past and we still have the very same Jason Bourne, with other characters and a very same Matt Damon, who’s just a bit older.
Opening near the border between Greece and Albania, where Bourne appears to fight shirtless hulks in bare-knuckle for a living, no-rules brawls, the movie quickly settles into the comfortable groove of every “Bourne” movie so far.
Bourne becomes the ice-cold killer again, on the run, chased by another ice-cold killer (the “Asset” played by an otherwise excellent Vincent Cassel) — from Greece to London to Berlin to Las Vegas, with stops in between — from corrupt CIA officials and thugs. They want to kill him before he can expose whatever secret assassination and/or espionage program they are currently about to be embarrassed by. (“Treadstone,” “Blackbriar” and “Iron Hand” are some of the code names you will hear. It hardly matters what they mean.)
A social media subplot, which will leave you cold
Besides the basic, formulaic story (Bourne chased by CIA, CIA chased by Bourne, who gathers clues and wants justice for his CIA chief father’s death) there’s also a buzzy, of-the-moment plot that is heavily fueled by paranoia over social-media-data mining and government surveillance. Unfortunately, it leaves you cold since Bourne himself isn’t even interested in it, focusing only on his own agenda.
The movie also suffers from the same problems that surfaced in Greengrass’s earlier outings with Damon, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”: a reliance on formulaic plotting and a frenetic-to-the-point-of-vertigo visual style.
And Alicia Vikander, a magnetic presence in “Ex Machina” and an empathetic one in “The Danish Girl” is absurdly young to be playing someone this high up the chain of command, entirely too lightweight to carry the cunning and gravitas her character is contrived to have. She looks and feels like a younger re-fluffing of Franka Potente’s heroine from the first Bourne movie, back in 2002.
Fifth time not the charm
Just how frenetic is it? At times, “Jason Bourne” looks like it was shot by the monkey cam from “Late Night With David Letterman.” Its shaky, handheld cinematography and seemingly amphetamine-powered editing used for the fifth time is just annoying now, as it lost its novelty a long time ago as well.
The political commentary feels far more explicitly pointed and widely integral than in previous incarnations which add a bold new dynamic where perhaps the same re-inventive verve is lacking in the film’s formulaic story. Fortunately, Greengrass and Damon are so in command of this material it’s rarely too much of a concern. Even when little of substance seems to be happening, the narrative feels propulsive.
Even when action sequences seem generic and overblown – Vegas car chase, we’re looking at you – Greengrass and his team imbue them with such kinetic force and crunching intensity that they remain authentic and electrifying. Much like Bourne himself, Greengrass, Damon, and co. so excel at this sort of thing that they execute with irresistible efficiency, regardless of what they have to work with.
The visceral visuals make this a watchable summer popcorn picture. But the bar was set high too long ago for that to be enough for America’s Bond. Everybody got paid, again, for sure.
Still, “Jason Bourne” belongs to Matt Damon and Greengrass, whose admirable — and entirely appropriate — goal of playing it for kicks comes across, this time around, as an oddly joyless chore.