Jason Bourne is a thriller in the truest sense of the word. On paper, it’s a continuation of the trio of Robert Ludlam adaptations that more-or-less defined Matt Damon’s career in the mid 2000s. In reality, the film is a more of a weird mishmash of sequel, throwback and soft-reboot. It’s as much interesting in updating the series as it is preserving the things that defined it, no matter the narrative cost. It’s a visual roller coaster ride to be sure, but the thrills feel very cheap.
Simply titled Jason Bourne, it sees the titular amnesiac spy dragged out of hiding and back into the crosshairs of the CIA. Since the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, he’s been living on the underside of society and haunted by the question of whether he has himself or his father to blame for the loss of his memories and identity. However, surprise visit by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) forces the issue and pushes Bourne to learn the truth, foiling a shadowy conspiracy in the process.
Unfortunately, both this setup and the underlying subplot about Jason’s father ring hollow. Characters actions often feel ambiguous and guarded for the sake of it, leading to their decisions feeling more forced by the momentum of the franchise than anything else. Jason Bourne often feels like a bridge film more focused on updating the dynamics and context of the franchise than it is telling a good story in its own right.
In addition, the flashbacks themselves don’t leave a lot of room for speculation: As soon as you learn Jason’s father was killed in mysterious circumstances, the culprit becomes immediately obvious. Jason Bourne feel like the franchise is really scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the secrets of Jason’s past.
In many ways, Alicia Vikander’s character is the most interesting element of this film. Heather Lee begins life as a rising star in the ranks of the CIA and by the time the dust settles, the film makes a reasonably compelling argument for her as a potential new adversary for Bourne. A better version of this film might have spent more time developing her, maybe framing the series’ flashback device around her.
Beyond Vikander – the casting choices remain good, if a little uncreative. Damon is silent but deadly as Bourne, Tommy Lee Jones brings a gravelly arrogance to CIA director Dewey and Vincent Cassel makes for a good foil to Bourne as a rival agent with a score to settle. His performance really helps enable a great tension between the hunter and hunted throughout the film.
Stylistically, it feels like Jason Bourne integrates well into the legacy of the series. The return of Paul Greengrass to the director’s chair is felt through the energetic chases and kinetic action sequences. It’s all looks very impressive and feels true to the series’ past efforts, even if it doesn’t really top them.
Though Jason Bourne’s three major set pieces – Athens, London and Vegas – all feel pretty sprawling and visually engaging, they lack staying power. Conceptually, each of these locales has a lot to offer but, the blanket chaos of the Athens sequence aside, they don’t really deliver on it. It doesn’t help that the film is saddled with a final car chase that drags on too long and a climactic confrontation that’s way too short.
As much a throwback to the original film trilogy as it is a necessary updating of it for a post-Snowden world. There are social media moguls, clashes between protesters and police and professional data-leakers throughout but when all’s said and done it ends up feeling very flimsy and hollow. An unremarkable script really lets down the good casting and direction here. There’s a tight sense of scope that some will appreciate but, looking beyond that, it feels like Jason Bourne is pulling its punches.