Everyone’s favourite nearly-indestructible Matt Damon character is back and better than ever! Well, I don’t know about better than ever but Damon and Greengrass have teamed up once again to bring us the fourth (or fifth depending on if you count that last one as an official entry in the series) Bourne film over the span of 14 years. These films have elements of James Bond, suspense/mystery films and a smash-’em-up action film, which has worked remarkably well on at least three different occasions. However, does it still work as well even some nine years after their last pairing?
The “cleverly”-titled Jason Bourne picks up with the title character (Matt Damon) continuing to go on the run from the CIA in order to uncover more truths about his past. Former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into agency files to discover evidence about illegal assassination programs and how Bourne was originally recruited and he begins to understand more and more about how/why he was brought on and his purpose. Meanwhile, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the head of the CIA Cyber division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) catch wind of this infiltration and attempt to hunt down the pair.
The film’s biggest flaw is that it feels way too familiar. The plot structure is essentially the same as the first film in that Jason Bourne is trying to uncover truths about himself, runs into problems with the CIA but someone within the CIA sort of believes him and then there’s also some gunman out there trying to hunt him down. Obviously, the intracacies of the plot are different but the overall story does not feel like a new journey or a breath of fresh air like it should after all these years. We do explore a few new areas like surveillance and the importance of privacy giving people autonomy in our society and there are references to Edward Snowden and the like but it feels like window dressing to hide a script that is obviously on auto-pilot. While the script isn’t terrible it does feel pretty contrived and there are those “convenient” moments that happen far too often than they usually do in these films. This is not a Bond film; Jason should not be able to acquire a gadget for everything he does. There is one scene late in the film in which he acquires a long-range camera that is simply laughable – how lucky is Jason for just finding that in the scene right next to him?
The acting is not exactly as good as you would expect either. While Matt Damon does good in the title role, it still feels like old hat. There is nothing new or exciting about his character despite the fact that we have travelled with him for three films in the past and for so long. It doesn’t feel like he’s developed that much as a character (or at least as much as he should have up until this point). Still, Damon does fine with what he is given in the film. Julia Stiles may as well have phoned in her entire performance as she seems bored with the same role she’s played for so long and also doesn’t have anything new or exciting to say. She does have one powerful scene but I will leave that to the viewer to see for themselves. However, I can only wonder how much better the scene in question would’ve been had Julia’s character been more developed and had her acting not been so wooden. We get some new faces like Tommy Lee Jones, who is grumpy as per usual. He’s fine as the CIA director but he certainly doesn’t break any new ground. The same goes for Alicia Vikander. She does well but again the main problem creeps up that no one is given any great material. We also get Vincent Cassel as an assassin, who could’ve been an interesting character had we known more about him but he does have a great look and is probably the most impressive of the supporting cast.
What keeps this film afloat is mainly the action sequences. There is a good one to start out the film but it is very, very long at nearly 40 minutes. In fact, the action never really slows down in the film which is not necessarily a bad thing and the pacing is good and quick but I feel like it would’ve been to the film’s benefit to actually slow down for a few minutes and explore some more character depth and pathos. Late in the film is a stunning scene that definitely boosts the rating up a bit because it is one of the most intense and well-shot car chase sequences I have ever seen. It blows anything in Furious 7 right out of the water. Again though, there is a negative side to the way things are shot as all of the hand-to-hand fighting scenes are almost unwatchable due to the dizzying camerawork. That’s worked well in the past Bourne films but here it just hurts to watch at times and Greengrass overstays his welcome in these scenes. I only liked one fighting scene and that would be the climactic one just because it packs a bit more of an emotional punch.
Overall, I was disappointed in the film and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it a terrible movie, it is a significant notch below the other ones in the series.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)