Friday, August 12, 2016

"Jason Bourne" Review: You May Know His Name But You'll Wish You Forgot It


This revival of the Bourne franchise is a real head scratcher and more importantly is the return of Matt Damon. The first three films which starred Matt Damon had a consistent character arc following Jason Bourne on his journey of discovery and was resolved for the most part by the third chapter. Then in an attempt to keep the franchise alive we got the Bourne Legacy with a new character played by Jeremy Renner that introduced a whole lot of new (albeit contradictory) mythology along it. Despite making a decent amount of money the powers that be decided to not follow up on that film and instead have delivered unto us Jason Bourne, a film that took nearly 9 years to happen but strangely feels like it only took one day to write. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  2 hr 3 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 29, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: The Bourne Identity, Matt Damon
Likes: The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Legacy
Neutral: The Bourne Ultimatum
Hates: Lazy sequels that exist only to make people more money
How many old guys run the CIA exactly?: Apparently an endless supply of them since we get a new one in each film.

Bourne pointing a gun at someone he just took down, check!

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has been hiding in the shadows ever since he outed the CIA black ops division and had all their operations shut down. Little does he known the new(?) director at the CIA Robert Dewy (Tommy Lee Jones) has a new operation planned that is much worse than Treadstone ever was. When Bourne is contacted by his former partner Nicky (Julia Stiles) with new information as to why he was recruited and how it might all link back to his own father he finds himself on the run again as a new nemesis in the form of a highly lethal assassin (Vincent Cassel) has been assigned the task of taking him out before he finds the truth. Leading the team to locate Bourne is the wide-eyed CIA rookie Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) whose own ambitions lead her to believe perhaps the best way to secure Bourne isn't to kill him but to try and bring him back into the fold.

You know, a lot of people didn't like the Matt Damon-less Bourne Legacy and that has always confounded me a little. Yes, Jason Bourne is a sort of action hero icon at this point so it made sense that people were turned off with a sequel that didn't include him (it would almost be like making a James Bond movie without James Bond). But much like what happened this year to the Ghostbusters reboot, the biggest problem that film had was that it had the name Bourne in its title which comes with a set number of expectations it just couldn't ever live up to. But minus that name it was a pretty darn good action thriller and better yet is that it wasn't just a carbon copy of the three previous Bourne flicks. As good as those films were (well, maybe not Ultimatum so much) they were basically all the same movie when you looked at their narrative structure.

Bourne looking through a thingy, check!

Jason Bourne is lost (either physically or mentally), he finds a woman to help him, a bunch of people in a room on computers try to track him down while an older man barks out orders, Bourne walks all over the globe while constantly looking over his shoulder, an assassin is sent to kill him which then leads into a long car chase that concludes with the death of said assassin, Bourne then visits the person that has been chasing him who tries to reason with him at which point he walks away until the next sequel. While that formula worked for the first film we started seeing diminishing returns with each sequel which is what made Bourne Legacy such a nice break from the same old stuff. Well, the haters have gotten their way because Renner is out and Damon has returned to the role that made him a super star and with him comes the exact same movie you have seen three other times prior.

There is really not much more to say, this "new" Bourne flick plays out exactly as outlined above. The only difference are the actors in the roles and even that doesn't really mean anything because the actors are basically acting just like the others before them. Tommy Lee Jones is an amazing actor but watching him mope around offices, calling people and ultimately just staring intently at other people is far below his skill level. He looks so disinterested that its hard to bring yourself to believe he cares one way or another how any of this will ultimately end. This is made all the more infuriating when looking at the franchise as a whole which has basically recycled this character type FIVE times now and have yet to do anything new with it.

How about Bourne walking while talking on a phone carrying a half-slung backpack? Check!

At least Alicia Vikander seems to be a bit more interested in trying to bring some sort of intensity to her role but even then she is often times more reserved than proactive. In fact everyone from Jones, Vikander, Damon and Stiles, they all seem to be in this constant state of intensity that makes them all feel extremely distant. When you go back and look at Damon's performance in The Bourne Identity and his interactions with Franka Potente's character (still the best counterpart he has had) you see some semblance of humanity in him. But with all the sequels and even more so with this film he is more like a robot than an actual human with emotions. Seriously, when a central character dies in the film he sheds nary a tear before he is off to his next destination. Heck, he never even mentions their name again when confronting the people responsible which is more telling that this series has lost its way more than anything else when we don't even get a good revenge payoff.

The one thing these films have always been praised for consistently though are the action sequences. Director Doug Liman of The Bourne Identity set the bar very high out the gate with some of the most impressively choreographed action sequences ever. While many have continued to love the action in the subsequent films with director Paul Greengrass in charge (except for Bourne Legacy which was Tony Gilroy) it is impossible to truly get excited for action scenes that feel, both in their staging and choreography, the exact same in each movie. Add in the fact that the shaky cam effect has become increasingly annoying to the point of not even being able to tell what is happening half the time and what you have are some of the most incomprehensible bile ever put to screen.

Yes the car chases have always been fun and the one for Jason Bourne is no slouch either, but what does it matter if you just don't care what is happening? They tried to mix in some intrigue with the current state of social media and our fear of being watching with a side story involving a Steve Jobs wanna-be but it is so on the nose and deliberately preachy that its impossible to take serious. There was some hope near the end that they were going to take the franchise in a new direction but that was quickly dispatched with yet another signature Bourne ending that I would probably spoil for you if you weren't already picturing it in your head based on how all the others ended already.

Old person in surveillance room barking out orders to find Bourne? Check!

Jason Bourne is a film that simply didn't need to be made other than to make money. It wasn't made with the intent to create something unique, something interesting or even something with a message of some sort. There is literally nothing to take away from watching it that you didn't get three times over already with the previous films which is lots of Matt Damon grimacing, shaky cam action and a cool car chase. Jason Bourne's story (the character) was already finished and the reasons given to get him back into action feels so forced and fabricated that one can imagine more sequels in the future where we learn that his uncle was part of Treadstone or that he has a brother who was recruited or his mother baked cookies for the director of the CIA.

Some may say after reading this that I must not like the other Bourne movies or else I would like this one too. Well, I did like the other movies and still believe that the first film is one of the best spy/espionage action thrillers ever made but just because I liked it doesn't mean I would like the same movie remade countless times which like a piece of paper copied too many times starts to fade and become more corrupted with each copy. Fans of the Bourne franchise know what to expect and as long as you don't go in expecting anything remotely different than what has come before you might get some entertainment out of Jason Bourne, all others looking for an evolution of the franchise should look elsewhere. Hey, I heard that Bourne Legacy ain't too shabby.


FINAL THOUGHTS

While star Matt Damon has grown and evolved since The Bourne Identity turned him from that guy in Good Will Hunting to superstar status the Bourne films have refused to evolve with him. The formula was dead even before The Bourne Ultimatum came out and now, 9 years later, the formula was excavated for another shot at making some more money so everyone involved could move on to more creatively interesting ventures. If you are happy just seeing more of the same then by all means check out Jason Bourne otherwise this one is safe to skip for now.

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