Bourne is back. As the direct sequel to Bourne Ultimatum (and the next chronological entry after Bourne Legacy), Jason Bourne has a lot to live up to, even though it is directed by Paul Greengrass of Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum and once again stars Matt Damon as the amnesiac field agent Jason Bourne. It has been nine years since Ultimatum, and although the Bourne brand still remains strong as ever (it’s the only thing that made people watch Bourne Legacy), it is easy to see why some people might be skeptical about another “come-back” story in Hollywood.
By now, you’ve probably saw the reviews, and most of them ain’t good. But let me put some perspective in that: Jason Bourne just doesn’t compare with the Bourne Trilogy precisely because despite being a sequel, it is actually a start of something new. So if you compare this film with the first three, then yeah, I’d agree that it’s not as good. But it’s not really bad either, and frankly, I enjoyed this film more than Ultimatum to rank third in my Bourne film ranking.
The film starts in Greece, Jason Bourne is joining street fights to earn some pocket money, not caring about what is happening to the his home country and to the world in general. He also has his memory back, although he still gets those painful flashbacks. Plus, he’s getting old. Oh, he’s still fit and strong, and his mind is as sharp as ever, but you see the scars in his body, you see the graying hair.
Things start slow, and the pace picks up when Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a former logistics officer in Operation Treadstone, hacks into the CIA mainframe server to get the Black Ops files. She manages to contact Bourne, dragging him back into the fray, and the hunt is on. Through the streets of Athens, an apartment in Berlin, Paddington Square in London, and finally, in Las Vegas for the final showdown, the action never stops. This is Greengrass’ strength, and the controlled chaos in which he made the scenes are both reminiscent of old Bourne chase scenes as well new elements.
One major difference is the technology which both sides use in the field. When Bourne lost his memories and led the CIA on a wild goose chase, the internet was only starting to begin a factor. Now there are surveillance cameras everywhere, there are tracking devices, and other gadgets. CIA Cyber Ops Division Head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) is herself a master of the new technology, using it to track Bourne quickly in several instances. Bourne himself knows it too, managing to use proto-type gadets in the EXOCON convention late in the movie to track and snoop in on CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).
What this does is give the plot an opportunity to create a lot of conflict. It now takes the CIA only half the time they did in the previous movies to track Bourne. However, the movie fails to capitalize on this, and despite some instances in the film where Bourne was easily tracked, it never really posed a real challenge to him.
There are also problems with the narrative. The pacing seems so quick, so fast that there’s never really much character development. Bourne as a character is arguably already developed. This film’s enemy operative known only as The Asset‘s background is limited only to a few expository lines from Dewey. Aaron Kalloor, the CEO and Founder of Deep Dream played convincingly by Riz Ahmed, wasn’t also given much development. Yes, it was revealed what his ties to Dewey and the CIA are, but the fact that he’s previously met (and is possibly acquainted to) Heather Lee was a WTF? moment for me. Like, seriously, it was just thrown there without rhyme or reason.
As I mentioned, Jason Bourne no longer needs significant character development at this point. It was revealed at the start that he has his memories back, with the flashbacks merely a recurring symptom. It was interesting though, how even his real identity of David Webb is still tied to Jason Bourne and Treadstone. I won’t say what it is (just as I decided not to make a full-on synopsis), but it was a nice touch to put Bourne in a position where he can start a new story arc.
That’s were the narrative seems to want to go, if only it wasn’t a bit too scattered in its execution. You don’t realize until the end that this is David Webb now, and that Jason Bourne is little more than an alias to him. Those recovered Treadstone files can’t even comprehend why Jason continues to “operate” on a certain level. Not even when Bourne himself finally reveals why he joined Treadstone in the first place. The truth is, the film gave me the impression that those CIA folks freak out every time they see a hint or trace of Bourne on their sights, making them do stuff that, ironically, makes Bourne go after them in the end.
On the technical side, the music never changed much – same old cues, same old music. And speaking of same-old, that shaky camera is back and shakier than ever. Maybe to illustrate how grittier Bourne has become, but the shaking is very over-done. It’s hard to focus especially during the chase scene in Athens. There was even a moment that I just had to close my eyes because the shaking was giving me a headache.
The film does feel like it has more color than the previous films. It’s just that you can’t appreciate it as much as you’d like because of all the shaking. At least the Vegas chase didn’t shake as much. Bourne went from hunted into the hunter. On a chase scene. That felt like a first.
So, after all the somewhat disappointing things I just said, why do I still insist that this is a good movie? Plain and simple: it’s fun and it works. Not great, but certainly not bad. It doesn’t have much of the psychological stuff in the previous entries because that’s pretty much resolved already. Yet it can still come off as pretty psychological to a degree. Jason Bourne was off the grid for years, yet he can still go against an agency that has changed much by way of tactics and strategy. While the CIA can track him a lot better this time, Bourne still manages to out-smart them at every turn. And that makes it worth watching.
For me, more than anything, this movie is all about making a new arc without the restraints of the old one. I don’t know if there will be a sequel (you never really know with Matt Damon), but this film sets it up nicely that there is a decent chance that there will be without you feeling short-changed if there won’t.
Jason Bourne is a good movie. If you have nothing else to do, go watch it.
1. Like in the second movie, Bourne is once again dragged into something he absolutely has nothing to do with.
2. CIA hasn’t learnt its lessons even after the fiasco of Bourne’s amnesia, they still have a new Black-Ops initiative called Operation Iron Hand.
3. There’s a nod to Bourne Legacy in the film. In the Black Ops file listing the various Black-Ops initiatives that the CIA made, there’s a folder there for Operation Larx and Operation Outcome – two initiatives that appeared in Bourne Legacy. Good news to those who liked Legacy. Bad news to those who don’t consider it canon.
4. As mentioned, Bourne’s enemy in this movie is an ex-Blackbriar operative. The Asset represented the various operatives affected by Bourne’s leak of the Treadstone and Blackbriar files. I consider him lucky: some programs like Outcome has had to terminate its operatives (see Bourne Legacy).