TAKE A DEEP breath before Jason Bourne starts, because you won’t breathe again for the next two hours in this fast paced, but ultimately flavorless (money-grubbing?) reboot of the Bourne franchise. Director Paul Greengrass clearly made the (wrong) decision to go for a revisited Bourne that was bigger, louder, more effects laden than past Bourne’s.
The story hinges on the discovery by Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles), still in hiding and now turned Edward Snowden type hacker, about the involvement of Bourne’s father in ‘the programme’. As you’d expect, her every move is being monitored by an omniscient CIA, now deeply integrated with a reluctant tech giant called Deep Dreams – a Facebook-esque company.
So far so good. Perhaps we’re entering a world where themes about the nature of patriotism and the responsibility of spying are about to be aired.
When we meet Jason, he’s an itinerant fighter; a lean, mean, muscled fighting machine. Bourne and Parsons agree to meet in Syriza square in Athens… for no real reason but that it allows Greengrass to up the ante on the tense cat and mouse drama at Waterloo station that unleashed the action in The Bourne Ultimatum. The nerve-wracking tension of that meeting is now replaced by spectacle: the frenzy and chaos of rioting crowds battling shield-carrying police. Greengrass’ signature style of his jerky hand held camera really does plunge the viewer into the confusion, danger and panic of the crowds. And compared with the brilliance of the Waterloo encounter, this one is a far more elaborately and densely plotted piece of filmmaking. But it’s symptomatic of what’s lacking in this empty reboot: it lacks either tension or nuance.
For the success of the Bourne franchise lay not only in the incredible and inventive action scenes (who can forget the chase along the rooftops in Tangier?) but in those characters who felt real, from an anguished, guilt-ridden Bourne to a sympathetic Pamela Landy (Joan Allen)… to the layers of narratives (inter-agency conflict; Bourne’s love affair; the grand scale of public deception etc), to Bourne’s cleverness (like blowing up an apartment using a magazine stuffed in a toaster).
And that feeling of “the real” was delicately woven into the structure of the stories through those little, seemingly irrelevant touches, like the dark shadowy Noah Vosen (Jason Strathairn) ordering the “heart healthy omelet” for breakfast with Landy or the touching intimacy between Bourne and Parsons at a diner when she seemed to confess to a past they may have shared.
These were the things that kept us (fans) seeing the movies over and over again.
In Jason Bourne (the name itself signifies the cop-out nature of the movie), gone are those “flavor enhancing” elements. Bourne himself has lost the human beneath the cold eyes. Now that he remembers everything, gone is that engaging existential angst. This new Bourne is simply a blunt instrument, a mere action hero; one who you never feel is ever in danger.
Gone too is the cleverness. At its heart, there was a whodunnit intrigue to the stories, as our embattled innocent hero tried to figure out not just who he was, but who was framing him and why. In Jason Bourne, the plot device of his father’s putative involvement in the program (The one that turned David Webb into Jason Bourne), remains a plot device; there merely as an excuse to unleash lashings of action without any real sleuthing.
Gone also are the clever chases. It’s all just Fast and Furious without a trace of finesse.
Nor are the characters particularly compelling. An even more craggy Tommy Lee Jones as the CIA director is a paint by numbers bureaucrat with an itchy trigger finger. And Alicia Vikander, as Heather Lee, the amoral, careerist analyst, betrays no obvious signs of sentient behaviour… with a portrait of such monotone flatness you wonder if she’s been body snatched by her robotic alter ego from Ex Machina.
Greengrass’ uninspired, leaden script probably doesn’t help either. Gone is Tony Gilroy who wrote and scripted the previous movies (and who also wrote Michael Clayton and the magnificent Proof of Life)
In a recent interview, Matt Damon said that he’d convinced Greengrass of the need to revive the franchise “to give something back to the fans”.
But not this. The/we fans deserve a lot better.
JASON BOURNE (2016) With Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vince Cassel, Julia Styles. Writers: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse. Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd (The Big Short. Captain Phillips). Editor: Christopher Rouse (Captain Phillips. Green Zone. The Bourne Ultimatum etc)