Back in Action, But Without Much of a Reason

By Vincent Abbatecola

ssIn 2002, director Doug Liman brought author Robert Ludlum’s amnesiac, black-ops agent, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), to the big screen with “The Bourne Identity.” The events of that film hinted at something more that would follow, and we were given “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004) and “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), both of which were directed by Paul Greengrass. With these three films, we were given a rare trilogy where each film was better than the last.

In 2012, there was “The Bourne Legacy” (directed by Tony Gilroy), which replaced Damon with Jeremy Renner, who played a different agent in a film that took place concurrently with the events of “Ultimatum.” While that one definitely wasn’t as good as the first three, it still provided an interesting angle from which to view the ongoing story of these black-ops recruits.

Nine years after directing “Ultimatum,” Paul Greengrass returns to helm “Jason Bourne.” Although “Ultimatum” finished the main story well enough, it was enticing to think what the filmmaker would come up with next for this series of spy thrillers. However, despite well-shot action and the return of Damon and Greengrass, this is a rather unnecessary, been-there-done-that sequel.

Nearly a decade after the events of “Ultimatum,” Jason Bourne has recovered from his amnesia and is living in solitude, earning wages from illegal fighting rings. Meanwhile, CIA operative-turned whistleblower Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is looking to expose the CIA’s series of black-ops programs and soon finds information about Bourne’s past she believes could jeopardize his safety, and she sets out to warn him. Meanwhile, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Cyber-Ops Division Head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) work to do whatever they can to bring in Bourne before the agency’s secrets get out.

Despite almost 10 years passing since Matt Damon played Jason Bourne, he transitions easily back into the role, bringing this ruthless, focused, and resourceful character to life, and is fully capable of performing in the actions scenes that required of him. However, I couldn’t help but sometimes feel he was just going through the motions at certain points. Not that his performance is bad, but Damon seems a little more into it throughout the original trilogy than in this latest installment.

Similar to Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and David Strathairn in the original Bourne films, Tommy Lee Jones offers a fine performance of a determined adversary who will do anything necessary to take down Bourne, and is easily the most memorable new character in the film.

While Alicia Vikander gets one or two okay scenes, an actress of her talent should have been given a meatier part in a popular franchise such as this, especially considering she’s a recent Oscar-winner. I was hoping she would get a role akin to Joan Allen’s when she played no-nonsense CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy in “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” but Vikander isn’t given much of a chance to show the grit her character may have been capable of.

The screenplay by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse (who worked as an editor for “Supremacy,” “Ultimatum,” and “Jason Bourne”), updates its story by including relevant factors such as social media, surveillance, and privacy in the age of Edward Snowden, and also offers a revelation concerning the Treadstone black-ops program from the first film. However, the overall unnecessariness of the film makes these themes and plot points not as impactful as they should be, seeing as most of the film doesn’t have the intensity of the original trilogy, and we’re constantly reminded of how much more exciting that trilogy was.

In terms of the film feeling more of the same as what we’ve seen before, you can bring that argument over to the original three movies, but it doesn’t hold too much merit. When you compare those films to each other, yes, you do get similar events throughout those stories; but the thing is, each film in that trilogy was building towards something more, to Bourne finding out his history as a black-ops agent; wheres this new film doesn’t feel needed, especially because of how well “Ultimatum” concluded Bourne’s narrative. It all has the feeling of a story that doesn’t have to be extended passed what we already have.

Greengrass and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd bring the series’ usual energetic action to life, particularly in the film’s two biggest set pieces, one a motorcycle/car chase during a protest in Athens, and the other a car chase in Las Vegas. Yes, these chase scenes are more or less the same of what we’ve seen before, but even if the story isn’t as gripping as what we saw in the original trilogy, Greengrass shows he can still stage great action, even if these sequences doesn’t quite reach the thrilling heights of “Ultimatum”’s London Waterloo station scene or chase through Tangiers.

While having Damon and Greengrass return to the franchise is an upside after their absence from “The Bourne Legacy,” we still should have been given something better after waiting nine years for their reunion following “Ultimatum.” Although you have to admire this franchise for enduring since 2002, it may be time for Jason Bourne to go back off the grid.

Final Grade: C+

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