29 July 2016

Review: Jason Bourne

(Dir: Paul Greengrass, 2016)

**This review is a little spoilerish, so avoid reading it until you've seen the film, if that matters to you**

Here's the question – at what point in a successful and very good series of films do you begin to see diminishing returns, both creatively and entertainment wise? In other words, when should you start changing things up a bit? If Jason Bourne is anything to go by, the answer is the fourth film... or at least the film that follows nine years after a trilogy was wrapped up in a nice bow, seemingly over.

Yes, Matt Damon is back, reprising the role that's most defined his career (as evidenced elsewhere, something that's clearly hard to walk away from), along with director Paul Greengrass, much revered for how he helped revitalise the stale action film, not to mention crystallising the governmental conspiracy plotlines that Event of the State defined for our generation. Ordinarily this would be cause for celebration, it was certainly cause for anticipation, but when the ideas seem to have dried up over these intervening years, it's hard not to feel a little disappointed. The underlying starting premise is solid – Bourne is long off the grid and gets called on by Nicky (Julia Stiles) to help her out of some trouble. But it's how this instantly morphs into a rehash of the previous two films (discounting The Bourne Legacy for the moment) that is unedifying... there just so happens to be more secrets about his past that he needs to uncover, whilst the CIA do exactly what they've tried previously to stop him, and a more sympathetic agent (Alicia Vikander) has conflicting emotions about trying to neutralise the perceived threat he represents. This really does feel like Supremacy and Ultimatum repeated, even returning to some of the same cities, just with newer government tech and agents. This leaves it feeling a tired, uninspiring film.

One glimmer of storyline hope comes from allusions to the Edward Snowden leaks - a timely and potential-filled story angle that gets thrown away in favour of a more clich̩d online privacy angle that adds nothing to the film, not least because it just feels tacked on so there's something seemingly relevant in here. Of course a lot of people will say so what, we're just here for the action anyway, but even that feels a pale imitation of the past. These scenes suffer greatly thanks to the editing. Previously Greengrass crafted thrilling and visceral action, with punches you felt and stunts that blew you away (just watch that Tangier's set chase/fight scene in Ultimatum!). Faster editing and handheld-style camerawork created the necessary immediacy and realism, but in Jason Bourne it has tipped too far over the edge into frenetic nearly unwatchable territory. It's like that opening scene in Quantum of Solace that's edited into a mush in a desire to ape the Bourne films Рalas the series seems to have turned in on itself in that sense! None of the action scenes are memorable. The vehicular chases go on too long, with the one roaring down the Vegas strip over-the-top in the manner of those films that the Bourne series was the antidote too. One can only presume the final fight sequence was edited so that you cannot discern much of what happens to make it eligible for a lower certificate.

Nonetheless, Jason Bourne is still an entertaining film. This series has become the gold standard for action films as well as those brewing governmental subterfuge, meaning that even on an off-day there's still plenty to enjoy. The reality is that Damon's embodying of a not especially complex character makes him absorbing, even when time seems to have made him a little calmer and a little greyer. But the problem with being the gold standard is that there's an expected quality. Thus the revenge motivation here feels a little hollow, whilst Tommy Lee Jones' CIA Director is now a cliché even he can't convincingly sell. I wanted to like Vikander but her motivations seem all over the place, whilst the insane technological skills she possesses makes solutions to moments of detective work feel overly convenient. Vincent Cassel was however born to play a CIA asset!

After Damon and Greengrass walked away from the franchise, pursuing it with a different character seemed credible and rife for potential considering the nature of the universe. I liked Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy but they shot themselves in the foot by trying write a separate story into the events of the prior two films. What both films post Ultimatum prove is that "CIA chasing one of their own agents" is not the element that made the original trilogy so good, it was that it was a taut journey of a man trying to find himself whilst utilising a savagely innate ability. There were many interesting places to go with this character, so to return with the hackneyed plotting of "here's some more bad stuff about his past he must discover in order to exact facile revenge on those now hunting him who are also conveniently responsible", just results in more of the same but far less inspired, and nowhere near as good. Jason Bourne is entertaining, but the original trilogy deserves a far better sequel than this.

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