Jason Bourne (2016)
Dir: Paul Greengrass
Scr: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse
I was a bit skeptical of the return of Jason Bourne – I will get that out first and foremost. I felt the original three films, “The Bourne Identity“(2002), “The Bourne Supremacy“(2004) and “The Bourne Ultimatum“(2007) comprised a perfectly constructed story (not having much or anything to do with Robert Ludlum’s novels though, but since the first novel and it’s dealing with the famous terrorist Carlos The Jackal would’ve already dated the movie badly, that was a given) – each film representing one act in a three-act story (well, act 3 took place partially between the last and second-to-last scene of act 2, but I loved that storytelling device. It was unexpected). And since the Bourne-less reboot attempt “The Bourne Legacy“(2012) failed to gel with the audiences with it’s considerably blander star Jeremy Renner (not Renners fault though, he has shown that he can be good time and time again if he gets proper material) and was overall a massive disappointment to me, it felt like the studio had already thrown it’s hands in the air regarding this franchise.
So it was somewhat surprising that after 8 years the original (and after some false starts) star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass announced that they are returning to the material. How? What story is there left to tell? That final shot of “Ultimatum”, with it’s mirroring of the very first shot of the first film, “Identity”, felt like a suitable bookend to the adventures of the amnesiac special operative. The trailers were another reason that I sorta tuned out from wanting to see this rightaway – mostly because of some glimpses of a certain type of action that seemed more suitable for another Universal Pictures-franchise, the “Fast & Furious“-films.
Well, now that I’ve seen it, I can say that some of my considerations were valid – but more about that later. First, let’s run through the plot. Beware, though; after the plot synopsis there will definitely be some HEAVY SPOILERS so if you haven’t seen the film, I suggest you close the page now.
When we last saw Jason Bourne/David Webb (Matt Damon) and his former colleague Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), they had exposed the CIA Black Ops-program “Operation Blackbriar” to the public and were both on the run from the agency. Ten years later, Nicky has become a hacktivist (don’t worry – they definitely do not shy away from mentioning Snowden here) as part of a group led by Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer). She hacks into the CIA black ops-files from a hacker compound in Reykjavik, meaning to download ALL of the still unexposed files and releasing them out to the public. Nicky’s login is discovered by the head of the Cyber Division Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who plants a tracking program into the data before cutting Nicky off. Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is informed of the hack and when he learns there is a possible connection to Jason Bourne he alerts the Asset (Vincent Cassel), the final Blackbriar-assassin who has a personal grudge against Bourne – the exposing of the program ten years ago led to his cover being blown and his subsequent capture and torture.
Nicky travels to Athens to meet Bourne, who is making a living taking part in illegal underground fighting – sometimes disposing adversaries in one punch, sometimes getting a hell of a beatdown; sorta depending how much guilt he feels about his past doing the governments dirty work at any given moment. As Bourne, it seems, is still very much a PTSD-suffering wreck. Turns out that getting your memory back didn’t bring very much of a closure to him. The two former comrades-in-arms meet in the middle of a public demonstration that soon turns into a full-scale riot, with both the CIA ground teams as well as the Asset trying to find them and take them out. Before they need to run for their lives, Nicky informs Bourne that she discovered new info of the Treadstone program they were involved in; it turns out that Bourne’s late father Richard Webb (Gregg Henry) was somehow involved in it. Bourne travels to Berlin to meet Dassault who manages to de-crypt the files and major bombshell is revealed: Richard was the man responsible of the whole creation of Treadstone.
Meanwhile, Dewey is also having trouble with Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) – an internet billionaire who is about to launch a new, safer version of his social media system Deep Dream. In secret, it was the CIA who gave funding to Kalloor’s startup many years ago and now Dewey is trying to blackmail him to give the agency access to every bit of information about the Deep Dream-users. After Bourne tracks down a Treadstone surveillance operative Malcolm Smith, who was present at Beirut many years ago when Bourne’s father died in an alleged terrorist attack, he learns that Richard was killed because he had learned his son had been targeted for Treadstone recruitment and was trying to get him out. And the assassin who really killed Richard was… Dramatic pause … the Asset. Lee, who has now learned all of the backstory as well, and has a personal agenda against Dewey as well, informs Bourne of Dewey’s situation with Kalloor and where they both are headed; a technology Expo in Las Vegas, where Kalloor is expected to launch the new Deep Dream. So everybody (Bourne, Lee, Dewey, Kalloor, The Asset) travels to Vegas for the one last big encounter….
Well. First things first: where does “Jason Bourne” stand in the Bourne franchise? It’s definitely miles better than “The Bourne Legacy” – but that was a given anyway. I’d say…it’s the fourth best. You see – I was right about the fact that there really wasn’t any more story to tell. And writing is the major stumble-block of this movie. They forgot the first rule: spy-stories work well as long as you do NOT bring the main character’s family into it. Remember when Jack Bauer’s father and brother were suddenly brought in as villains in I-forget-which season of “24“? MAJOR “jump the shark“-moment. And remember how in “Spectre” James Bond was suddenly the foster-child of Blofeld’s father which triggered the wrath of Blofeld? Holy frigging hell was THAT some horrible writing. NEVER bring the family issues into these types of films! The other thing is, that they recycle the killing of Marie in the beginning of “The Bourne Supremacy” by [here’s where the MAJOR SPOILERS start, although the dumbasses at Universal marketing sort of spoiled it in the final trailer already] killing Nicky off in a very similar manner at the end of the first act (the Asset shoots her with a sniper rifle). You would think that that was enough to send him on the Path of Revenge, but then have the Asset be responsible for the murder of Bourne’s father as well? That’s beginning to stretch it a little bit too far.
And also – the CIA operations room and it’s constantly expanding access to pretty much every satellite and camera-feed on the planet is another trope of this series (and of several other movies of this genre) that is really starting to feel a bit stale. And what the fuck is up with the constant blue lighting?
Not counting the writing (which he himself too part of) director Greengrass, the star/producer Damon and all the other talent in front and behind the camera are definitely not phoning anything in – the movie is still as fast-paced, globe-hopping and naturalistically filmed an action thriller as the original trilogy. And the stars do bulk of the work (and beating) themselves again – either the use of stunt doubles was very sparse of just masked very well. The whole 15-minute sequence taking place in the middle of a riot in Athens is probably the most exciting action sequence of the year. Greengrass’ documentary-like style makes you feel like they really shot the scene guerrilla-style in the middle of an actual riot. A MASSIVE riot; I don’t know how many extras they had but it looks like thousands and thousands. And the way the lead characters run around this barrage of rioters, police, water cannons, burning cars, flying objects and Molotov Cocktails, you kinda feel like the characters have descended into the middle of Hell. If there’s a problem with it, it’s that it’s without a question the best action scene in the film – and it takes place during the first 25 minutes, so the rest of the film never really quite recovers from having this mayhem in the beginning.
They try though: and while the big end chase in Las Vegas certainly has massive production value, it IS pretty much as I feared from the trailers. The wanton destruction and some very obvious CGI-enhancements do make it feel more like a scene from a “Fast & Furious“-sequel, although Greengrass shoots this vehicular carnage in a very different way that what’s been done in those films. It kinda makes me feel like even the filmmakers realized in the middle of shooting that the Athens sequence was gonna be the highlight of the movie and decided to up the ante for the ending, but they went a little bit TOO broad with it. The insanely brutal confrontation between Bourne and the Asset after the car chase pays off nicely though.
Actingwise, Damon and Stiles step right into where they were the last time, only a little bit older and rugged. It’s actually interesting to go back to the first movie now for comparison and see just how much YOUNGER they looked at the time. Too bad their reunion gets cut short so early on. Vikander adds a little bit of icy class and professionalism to the movie and Ahmed is very credible as a dotcom-billionaire. Then there’s the villains… Look – Tommy Lee Jones isn’t bad and he’s certainly a good addition to this series “evil CIA directors cast with experienced character actors (Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, David Strahairn)”-trope, but it just feels a bit too much like all those roles Jones got cast in right after his success with “The Fugitive“; he does it well, but it just feels like a paycheck-role (maybe he got the proper funding to direct something of his own again!). Cassel is also the case of a great actor wasted in a one-note part. The revenge-angle on both the Asset and Bourne is a nice touch, but in the end he’s just another almost Terminator-like assassin who stops at nothing, like Clive Owen, Karl Urban, Marton Csokas and Edgar Ramirez were before him.
So in the end it’s a storywise unnecessary sequel, but as a stand-alone spy action thriller it’s a well-directed, tightly edited (just around 2 hours – a welcome change in this age where 2,5-hour movies seem to be the norm), entertaining film that has my nominee for the best action scene of the year. But maybe we should leave Jason Bourne to have his well-earned rest off the grid from now on (the ending is a bit ambiguous; it could still leave the door open for the future or maybe not).
And hey: we get another remix of “Extreme Ways” to add to the playlist.