July 29, 2016

Jason Bourne

Now I remember ... I'm pre-Batman Bruce Wayne

Grade: B
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles and  Riz Ahmed
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 3 min.

After Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass spent years denying interest in making another Jason Bourne movie, it’s worth pointing out that Jason Bourne is the first in the spy film series for which each has a producer credit. For all their critical accolades, Bourne is their go-to cash cow, much like Tom Cruise and his Mission: Impossible film franchise.

Jason Bourne is the fifth Bourne film and the fourth starring Damon in the titular role of the somehow still amnesiac ubër-agent. Those who enjoy the series’ pulsating vibe, particularly Greengrass’ two entries—The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, will find plenty of  throwback fun in revisiting this milieu after nine years off-screen. Anyone looking for new material will have to settle for a greatest hits set.

Living a nomadic life off the grid as a street fighter, Bourne is lured out of hiding by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the ubiquitous CIA field operative now turned freedom-of-information fighter. Parsons has unearthed secrets about a new black ops program code named Ironhand, along with, naturally, more details about Bourne’s true background.

Even though the sense of discovery regarding Bourne’s past was already teased out over three films, those trademark memory flashes start to flicker, careening Bourne into an opening act that cribs Bourne Supremacy’s intro. This time, Bourne wants to get to the bottom of the shadowy circumstances surrounding the death of his actual father. Do we find out in the next sequel that Bourne’s mother was named Martha?

The most taut part of Jason Bourne is the labyrinthian cat-and-mouse games of spy versus spy. Young, ambitious CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) believes she can lure Bourne back into the fold. Skeptical CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) instead wants to Take Out Bourne™, aided by an agency assassin (Vincent Cassel) with his own axe to grind.

This sequel’s search for topicality lands in the post-Edward Snowden era, as Dewey is also trying to strongarm his way through the backdoor of a Facebook-like social media platform named Deep Dream. But the tech giant’s head, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), has privacy and stockholder reservations, and he’s is threatening to expose Dewey nefarious role in the surveillance industrial complex.

It’s hard to decide which is shakier, Greengrass’ camera-in-a-blender or Vikander’s American accent. The elaborate action set pieces are capped by a punishing chase sequence through the Vegas Strip. But the bombast is also punctuated by visual grace notes—the bullet wounds in Bourne’s back call back to the 2002 original film; Bourne casually discards a ball cap to blend into a crowd; a spy recorder he lifts from a tech expo that doesn’t resurface until the denouement.

There’s a sense of self-parody afoot. Just as it wouldn’t be a James Bond film without girls and vodka martinis, it wouldn’t be Jason Bourne without the umteenth sight of CIA agents glaring at monitors while barking two-word orders. But while Greengrass and Damon try to adapt Bourne for current events, it’s high time to advance the Bourne character beyond the hunted spy still hunting for his true self. Jason Bourne knows his identity—it’s time for the Bourne movies to update theirs.