‘Jason Bourne’ Concusses With Propulsion Once More, But It’s A Familiar Collision [Review]

Accelerating forward with supercharged determination, “Jason Bourne,” the fifth installment of the spy action thriller series, might be a muscular and visceral chapter in the ‘Bourne’ saga, but it’s also a familiar collision. Perhaps less acrobatic overall and more of a bruising affair, both physically and, to a lesser extent, emotionally, while more brawny in its action, very little else has changed.

Film Title: Jason BourneIt’s easy to forget the impact that the ‘Bourne’ stories — the thinking man’s action film — has had on film culture. In the wake of the influential series, vertiginous shaky cam became the trend du jour, action films have attempted more thoughtful approaches, and even the James Bond franchise had to reconsider its identity in a post-‘Bourne’ universe where a glib, misogynist secret agent seemed incredibly outmoded (2006’s “Casino Royale” is essentially a direct response to Bourne). But fast forward nearly a decade since Matt Damon‘s last entry, 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and the series that reinvented the modern spy actioner isn’t very interested in renovating the landscape once more. In fact, “Jason Bourne” is happy to let audiences know it’s still very much on brand.

‘Bourne’ begins in rather rote fragmented flashbacks — a convenient way for the filmmakers to remind the audience of all of Jason Bourne’s kills and greatest hits. Brooding and struggling without purpose, Jason Bourne (Damon) has been adrift and living off the grid for over a decade. Cathartically bare knuckle brawling to deal with his demons, there’s no pleasure or peace in this exorcism; Jason Bourne is not morally conflicted, he’s plagued by all the blood on his hands as a former CIA assassin.

Jason Bourne (2016)Concurrently, ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) has become a cybercriminal for Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer), a Julianne Assange proxy who is working for a self-righteous Wikileaks-like organization. Hacking into the CIA to uncover information on Ironhand, the CIA’s new clandestine black ops program akin to Treadstone, Parsons stumbles upon documents relating to Jason Bourne, his father, and more shrouded layers of his identity she believes he has the right to know. She tracks down Bourne in Greece and then the plot is jumpstarted into action when the CIA — lead by its director (Tommy Lee Jones) and his ambitious, right-hand cyber-ops agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) — learn of their whereabouts. ‘Bourne’ then spends little time chatting before swerving away with the lean intrigue and ratcheted tension that has been the hallmark of the franchise.

Co-written by director Paul Greengrass and the film’s editor Christopher Rouse — an unlikely pair who have no writing credits on the series previously — the duo know how to deliver thunderous pulse-pounding set pieces, unfortunately surprises or left turns are in short supply. Sometimes ‘Bourne’ feels like action beats stitched together by location as the movie globetrots from Greece to Berlin, to London and Las Vegas.

Jason Bourne (2016)And while the filmmakers are constantly contextualizing the culture — austerity riots, the global economic collapse, cyber warfare, the erosion of civil liberties, references to Snowden and the power of social media — most of these elements are window dressing backdrop to activate plot and rarely illuminate the movie’s would-be intentions meaningfully. “Jason Bourne” wants to demonstrate that it exists in a radically different world from the original series, but at its heart, it’s more or less the same.

‘Bourne’ suffers from several frustrating issues. Chief among them is a less than compelling impetus for Jason Bourne to come out of hiding. Some of the dialogue between Parsons and Bourne is fairly clunky when the movie is first attempting to find its feet. The film is high on horsepower, but low on deeper insights into the character or the political landscape. Greengrass attempts to make one of the revenge narratives in the film personal, but there are contrived and unnecessary steps taken to lend the movie gravitas and it never quite gets there regardless (this is to say nothing of a dubious third act subplot-twist that nearly guts the movie).


For a film with little story, ’Bourne’ has lots of convoluted plot, including Riz Ahmed playing a Mark Zuckerberg-like social media influencer who has made a deal with the devil, and a different thread with a former CIA technician. And thematically and spiritually, the film is weak. For all its dizzying action and frenetic editing, the ‘Bourne’ movies were always, at its core, about identity. “Jason Bourne” flirts with the idea of reconciling the past with the present, but again, fails to make anything significant out of these ideas.

And yet, for all its problems, ‘Bourne’ is still thrilling and an undoubtedly engrossing action film thanks to its taut construction. Greengrass can seemingly make these movies in his sleep and audiences just looking for a kinetic Jason Bourne movie won’t be disappointed. The movie features spectacular car chases, punishing fight sequences, and motorcycle sequences that will push your blood pressure skyward. The problem is, as heart stopping as they are, none of them are very unexpected.

Jason Bourne (2016)

Perhaps the most surprising moment of the film, which zips by so quick that 95% of audiences will miss it, is that Greengrass’ film makes quick reference to Outcome and Larx — the two clandestine programs featured in the black sheep of the series, 2012’s spinoff “The Bourne Legacy.” Whether this is an olive branch to former ‘Bourne’ screenwriting architect Tony Gilroy, Jeremy Renner or simply a hat tip to ‘Bourne’ continuity nerds like me is unclear, but it does bring up some intriguing implications. Unfortunately, this is the film’s only really subversive move and it’s on screen for about .5 seconds.

The contemporary struggle for filmmakers making sequels and requels after the fact is delivering audiences the familiar while trying to forge new ground. The movies succeeds in the former too much and fails at the latter; the scales are too tipped towards pleasing ‘Bourne’ fans (not unlike recent efforts like “Ghostbusters” and “Star Trek Beyond”).

Film Title: Jason BourneAs compelling as its forward thrust is, ultimately “Jason Bourne” is akin to a bad nutritionist who gives audiences more of what they want than what they need. But in a summer where the conventional has become the norm and the only option of choice that audiences seem to be at least half-heartedly embracing, both Universal and fans could come out the other end satisfied. It’s just a disappointment that “Jason Bourne” couldn’t do more. As the movie comes to its denouement, the filmmaker toys, once again, with the notions of privacy and surveillance. There’s always someone watching, someone listening. Yet, what “Jason Bourne” can’t fully grasp is that eyes and ears need to come with hearts and minds. [C+/B-]