"Remembering everything doesn't mean you know everything."
In such a disappointing summer is it too much to ask that we get one great blockbuster? I ask this because of all the terrible sequels and lacklustre movies we have seen rolling our way over the past few months one thought was ever present in my mind. “We still have ‘Jason Bourne’” I thought, ‘There’s still ‘Jason Bourne’ to look forward to”, because with Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass returning to the franchise that helped redefine the action movie genre and the previous instalments being such a high standard, surely there was no way this could be anything less than brilliant? I was wrong.
Years after finally recovering his true identity and living off the grid in an effort to avoid being detained the government officials constantly on his tail, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) suddenly emerges from the shadows as he tries to uncover more hidden secrets of his past.
One of the immediate problems of bringing back any franchise is that if said franchise ended on a high note that you particularly enjoyed, the franchise resurrection may end up undoing that ending and removing some of the poignancy you previously respected. Now without going into any specific spoilers I can say that ‘Jason Bourne’ does undermine certain aspects of the original Bourne Trilogy, particularly its ending.
So with that the film was already fighting an uphill struggle to win me over. It nearly did that with an astonishing early action sequence that takes place during a riot in Athens, it is a visceral and heart pounding experience that feels at once chaotic, energetic and claustrophobic, like the world’s worst mosh pit but with Matt Damon right at the centre to protect you (don’t try for a second to tell me that you wouldn’t go there to party). But sadly if I was under any impression that the rest of the film would be as exquisite as this I was to be proven wrong.
That is not to say that ‘Jason Bourne’ is a bad film, it simply gets lost amid a sea of mediocrity that has permeated both this summer and the spy genre itself. Last year alone we had five separate spy films from the heavyweights like James Bond and Ethan Hunt themselves to the unexpected brilliance of Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsmen’ and even a comedic take with ‘Spy’ as well as that other one nobody remembers (sorry Guy Ritchie). The point is to be remarkable in this genre, in this day and age you have to be outstanding and unique. Back in 2002 ‘The Bourne Identity’ was but in 2016 ‘Jason Bourne’ certainly isn’t.
The story itself is neither very compelling nor very innovative. It simply re-treads the same beats we have seen from previous instalments and not only does it fail to show us anything new but its attempts to be more relevant today are painfully executed and stop the film dead in its tracks. At the risk of drifting into spoilers the plot revolves around a social media mogul and not only has that theme been hammered into the ground by now ‘Jason Bourne’ never really explores it in detail enough to show us anything new or captivate us. The action is intercut with the conspiracy plot that grinds the movie down so consistently that it is almost infuriating.
What makes it so infuriating is just how well directed the action is. Greengrass’ unique take on the action genre is brought back to great effect here and with such high profile set pieces such as the Las Vegas strip and various environments from which to stage these action scenes he does a fantastic job once more. On a technical level the action is also handled superbly, with as little CGI as necessary (Dear Hollywood, please make this a lasting trend) that brings forth a great sense of realism and beautifully cinematographed locations. Even amid the high octane action part of me wants to pause each scene and admire the way each shot is composed.
Matt Damon’s performance is a reserved but magnificent one. He speaks less than thirty lines of dialogue but somehow comes across as a complex enigma in his physical movements, conveying a tortured and confused man desperately seeking answers. The conviction of every movement fully affirms his skill at what he does and just how far his abilities go. His initial appearance itself is somewhat anticlimactic but from there he is driven and intense in every scene he is in. The cast around him however go largely unnoticed, Tommy Lee Jones is his purser (I’m sure Damon can join the ‘Chased by TML Club’ now with Harrison Ford, Javier Bardem and a dozen other people) in a role that doesn’t seem to stretch his abilities much and is ultimately quite unremarkable as a result. Alicia Vikander is competent enough in her role apart from a not quite perfect accent but otherwise she is also fine, just lacking in any real staying power.
Every time I think of the action or Damon’s performance I want to convince myself I am being too harsh and the film is worthy of being called great. But with a bland and uninspired plot, a less than compelling arc for its central character and the fact that it is bogged down by so many redundant and slow paced plot threads get in the way. If you want an enjoyable action film you will get your money’s worth, but if you wanted another great Bourne movie we may have to wait a bit longer.
Disappointing but still entertaining.