Jason Bourne, out this Friday, will in all likelihood strike a chord with fans of the franchise as it will see both the return of Matt Damon to the titular role and fan favorite Paul Greengrass to the Directors seat. After a nine year hiatus, and one sequel discounting Damon all together, the amnesia ridden Jason Bourne is back to dig up more of his past and utterly baffle some of the most brilliant and calculating minds in the world once again.
The film follows a certain progression that has run through the series ever since Supremacy, with Jason Bourne’s role gradually diminishing in each outing while those of the respective CIA agents’ perusing him becoming more and more of the focal point. In the Bourne Identity, the first and most intimate entry, almost all the attention fell on the relatively innocent and naïve Bourne as he slowly uncovered and struggled with accepting the forgotten atrocities of his past. Here, the CIA served as a catalyst to move the action of the film forward which in turn progressed Jason’s character ark, the real heart of the film. The CIA characters did have motives of their own but they were little more than the shady agents’ needs to tie off loose ends. Next, in the Bourne Supremacy, the agents’ roles took on a greater importance. Now revealed to be involved in corruption they were given greater motivation (and with it more dramatic purpose) to catch Bourne. Damon’s character still had an emotional drive, stemming from his determination to avenge his murdered girlfriend, but certainly more of the films runtime, compared to the first, was awarded to the process of the manhunt being undertaken by the CIA agents. By The Bourne Ultimatum the clandestine suits had their positions in the narrative augmented even further, now involved in gross misuse of power and struggling more so than ever between themselves. Bourne, going about with his business as usual taking on the CIA, was again pushed a little further from the center of the film as even more focus was given to the CIA members’ internal drama and attempts to catch the fugitive. However, in this newest installment, the CIA characters have finally moved to the forefront and serve as the main dramatic pieces. No longer restricted to the CIA control rooms, these agents’ plights have become much more interesting than Bourne’s. In fact, Bourne himself, although still given new motivations, has become something of a proverbial spoon used to stir up the CIA pot inciting drama for each new film. Slowly Bourne has turned into a sort of a Godzilla-esk monster, appearing unexpectedly out of hiding every few years and bringing about devastation for the agency as he does so. This point is continually emphasized with the familiar “Oh my god…It’s Jason Bourne” scene, which takes place in every movie since supremacy, when it is realized that Jason Bourne has resurfaced.
This time, stemming from a hack of CIA databases, Tommy Lee Jones playing CIA director Robert Dewey, must not only attempt to do the impossible and bring down Bourne but also maintain his stranglehold of Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), billionaire software developer, allowing him to covertly have access to the personal information of the millions of citizens using Kalloor’s systems. At his side stands last year’s best supporting actress winner Alicia Vikander playing Heather Lee, a hungry up and coming CIA executive. Both actors put on a wonderful show in their stolid portrayals of agency bigwigs constantly aiding and hindering each other’s efforts stemming from their own shadowy motives. Together they make the aforementioned growing absences from Bourne quite palatable. As for Bourne himself, his struggle this go round is based on uncovering the truth surrounding the circumstances that led him to the treadstone program, which involves his father and some questionable CIA involvement.
In terms of inciting a plot it now seems that the Bourne character may have reached his max utility. As an attempt to add variation to the (what have become) routine motivations of Bourne, who always remembers just enough of his past to unfurl another government conspiracy, he has now regained all his memories. The hook this time is that Bourne may uncover things involving himself that he never knew, even before his amnesia inducing accident. The whole ordeal still seems a bit old hat and begs the question, will see Bourne on screen again, as the possibilities of the character now seem limited.
Another difficulty aspect to Bourne is his lack of any real emotional depth. Throughout the series he has become more and more of a lone wolf. Since the death of Marie Kreutz (his girlfriend from the first and second films), in supremacy, the character has not allowed himself any new relationships. In the wake of this incident, he now seems to have fully embraced the identity of the stern CIA trained ex-operative. What initially made this character so memorable and enjoyable was the balance between the ruthless nature of his trained subconscious and his more fragile post amnesia persona. Gone are the days when Bourne truly struggled with the weight of his past, and, as such, it is getting harder and harder to connect with him.
What can be said about Jason Bourne is its abundance of pure kinetic energy from start to finish. As an action piece alone it certainly does succeed in presenting a visceral experience. The film, very much like Ultimatum, is structured around several key action/chase-esk set pieces that each stand out for their sheer excitement factor. One scene in particular, the first of these set pieces, taking place during a riot in Greece is quite remarkable. In each of these scenes Bourne maneuvers his way around, and through, countless CIA stooges using his almost otherworldly astuteness of his surroundings to always hold the upper hand over his foes. However, one very large drawback to Bourne’s incredible skill is that it eventually comes across that he is never really in any danger. Not once does Bourne face any true setbacks after setting out on his mission. His continued triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds becomes routine and, because of this, the drama of both the action scenes and the plot as a whole are diminished.
A welcome variation to the classic Bourne series formula comes in the form of Vincent Cassel’s assassin character. A staple in every film of the franchise is the multiple government assassins, or assets as which they are always referred, that are dispatched to take Bourne out. These characters serve the plot with much more importance than the nameless CIA stooges that Bourne handles effortlessly, but in every case these assets are cold personality stricken characters with little, if anything, revealed about themselves. However, here Cassel’s asset takes a personal vendetta against Bourne stemming from his characters back story, which saw his cover blown during a covert operation due directly to Bournes actions in the previous film. The lack of incite into the assets character’s has never been a knock against any of the prior films, however, Cassel’s role does provide an appreciated alternative.
Paul Greengrass, director of Supremacy and Ultimatum, returns once again to helm directing duties of Jason Bourne. Although not the series’ original filmmaker, Greengrass left his stamp on the franchise, most would say claiming it as his own, by introducing the now famous aesthetic of his shaky handheld camera and extremely fast paced editing. Once again, his style proves to be very beneficial to the subject material at hand as the film moves along at a brisk pace while maintaining a tense energy. Save for perhaps the final fight, which does become rather incomprehensible at times, Greengrass definitively proves that shaky-cam, despite the stance of many, isn’t necessarily a horrible thing.
Despite the jubilation surrounding Damon and Greengrass returning to the series the film certainly does not offer any promises of better things to come. Nor does it put forward any radical new ideas to the franchise. Jason Bourne does manage to conjure up a good deal of excitement and energy but in the end it would seem that the filmmakers are once again deeply rooted within the comfortable niche they have returned to time and time again with the Bourne character.
Universal Pictures Canada releases Jason Bourne on Friday, July 29, 2016