Reel Talk

Jason Bourne is an Old Band Struggling to Play the Hits

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I’ve been a fan of James Bond for a really long time. My dad got me into the movies when I was a kid, and I spent a huge portion of my middle and high school years making my way through just about every one of the novels. And that time frame matched up pretty well with the sudden rise of the Jason Bourne movies, and the cultural interest in that series. And I can still remember sitting in the waiting room of my dentist’s office, reading one of the Ian Flemming novels, when my dentist told me that if I liked Bond, I should check out Bourne, because they’re much better. So I did, and I had to respectfully disagree. I read the first two Bourne novels, and checked out all three of the original movies, and I’ve never really found the appeal. They’re certainly more realistic and gritty than the Bond stories, but I personally don’t always find that a marker of something being better. But they were still pretty enjoyable. I honestly don’t remember much of the novels, and probably should revisit them sometime, but the movies I generally hold in pretty decent regard. They’re nothing special, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in any of them, because they all kind of bleed together into one giant movie that’s basically indistinguishable from each other, but they’re fine. So I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot from this new movie, Jason Bourne, but I still went in with an open mind. The world of surveillance and espionage has changed a lot since the original movies after all, and maybe that had something interesting to say.

Not quite. The movie certainly thought it was saying something interesting, but it failed to create an interesting movie around that. The plot of the film is basically exactly what you thought it was going to be. Jason Bourne is out living his life as a bare-knuckle boxing drifter after finally escaping the clutches of the CIA and their evil Treadwell program in the previous movie. But that all gets blown to hell when he runs into Nicky Parsons, from he previous movies, and she tells him that she found new information about his past. Again. So the two team up during a crazy protest in Greece, and get to work uncovering the truth. Unfortunately Nicky has been found out by the CIA, particularly with the chief of the agency Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the head of the cyber division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). They’ve been tracking Nicky, and now Bourne, and have sent in one of the Treadwell assassins, the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to kill them. He manages to kill Nicky, but not Bourne, and sets off the dominoes to have Bourne track them down.

Bourne stars investigating things, and discovers that there are some shady questions behind his father. He apparently always thought his father worked for the agency, but had nothing to do with the Treadwell program, and then was killed by terrorists. But there’s some evidence that seems to indicate that that may not be the case, so he starts trying to uncover the truth while keeping ahead of Dewey and Lee. Which isn’t that hard, since Dewey has his hands full intimidating the head of a Google-esque tech-firm, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), into letting the CIA have access to everyone’s data otherwise they’ll hit his company with an anti-trust suit. Topical! And after a lot of running around in Europe, having brutal and poorly-shot fight scenes, Bourne figures out that the CIA was involved with his father’s death, and that the Asset was behind it. So he heads to Las Vegas where some sort of security conference is happening that’s being attended by Dewey, Lee, and Kalloor. So we get a bunch of fighting, Lee kills Dewey before he can kill Bourne, Kalloor almost gets assassinated by the Asset for not playing ball, Bourne and the Asset have a huge and destructive car-chase on the Las Vegas Strip, and Bourne finally manages to strangle the Asset to death in some gross sewer under Vegas. And the movie ends with Lee being made the new head of the CIA, while immediately blowing away the trust between her and Bourne that she’d been trying to foster, since these movies are only about Bourne fighting the CIA, they could never get him back on their side.

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It’s kind of insane how much deja vu you get watching this movie. I mentioned earlier that these movies tend to run together in my mind, and I have a hard time distinguishing what scenes happened in which movie. Well you can go ahead and add this movie to the weird mess of scenes that make up the other three, because there’s nothing about this movie that feels different from those other ones. We have another shadowy and clearly evil white guy in charge of everything, the blank-faced female agent who is kind of on Bourne’s side but also kind of not, the evil agent who wants to kill Bourne, endless scenes of computer files being opened, people standing in dark rooms full of computer monitors telling other people to “enhance” images, roughly 1,000 phone calls between people not telling each other the full story, and a bunch of poorly-shot shaky action scenes. That description literally could be for all of these movies. They’re just so paint-by-numbers, and while I usually cut those other ones some slack, this one just feels lazy. There’s not reason that this movie had to be made.

It wasn’t even really saying anything new. They spouted a lot of phrases like Snowden, backdoor, meta-data, and cyber, but I feel like the makers of this movie have no idea what they mean. This could have been a movie about all the crazy invasions of privacy that we’ve been learning about in the real world lately, but instead it was like the creators heard those stories, didn’t really read them, and decided to just make another Jason Bourne movie while mentioning the words. The idea of the CIA blackmailing and trying to assassinate the head of a tech firm because they wouldn’t play ball is interesting, and could have made for an interesting and prescient movie, but it was basically relegated to a side-plot so we could see Jason Bourne beat up a bunch of random dudes while barely speaking to anyone because there’s always more weird shit about his past that he didn’t know. Honestly, the least interesting part of the movie was Jason Bourne! Which is not a good sign. There was an interesting movie in here, but it got ruined the inclusion of Jason Bourne. Or at least the inclusion of Jason Bourne’s life. It maybe would have worked if it was about Jason Bourne uncovering this plot and trying to solve it for his own reasons, that way we wouldn’t be subjugated to a bunch of stupid flash-backs and whining about his past.

And as a side note I just want to mention how weird it is that this movie lines up with the James Bond franchise so well. We have Matt Damon play a super-spy in some movies, leave, have them make another movie with some other dude that only makes one movie, and then Matt Damon comes back to be in a wildly uneven movie that takes place in Las Vegas. This is the Diamonds are Forever of the Bourne series, but without the fun campiness that that movie had.

Jason Bourne was written by Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, directed by Paul Greengrass, and distributed by Universal Pictures, 2016.

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