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‘Jason Bourne’ review

'Jason Bourne' is getting too damn old for this, and so are we

His latest adventure could be the one that treats him the roughest … by making him boring.

Matt Damon’s covert operative Jason Bourne has endured a lot over the course of the franchise’s first three movies and a spinoff film, suffering the slings and arrows of countless double-crosses, assassination attempts, and conspiracies that spanned the globe and put everyone close to him in jeopardy.

His latest adventure may be the one that treats him the roughest – not by putting the character through any emotional or physical wringer, but by making him relatively, well … boring.

The reunion of Damon with The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass, Jason Bourne brings the former secret agent out of the shadows once again after a self-imposed exile following the events of 2007’s Ultimatum. Despite Bourne’s efforts over the course of the first three films to expose the secret projects that turned him and other soldiers into brainwashed killing machines, a new series of classified operations – and some surprising revelations about his family – put Bourne on a collision course with the CIA and its director, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

In his return to the franchise, Greengrass covers a lot of familiar ground – some of it too familiar.

Along with Damon and Jones, the film also brings back franchise cast member Julia Stiles as Damon’s former CIA handler, Nicky Parsons, and introduces Oscar-winning The Danish Girl actress Alicia Vikander as CIA cybersecurity expert Heather Lee. You may also remember her as the robot in Ex Machina.

In his return to the franchise, Greengrass covers a lot of familiar ground – some of it too familiar.

Like each of the previous installments of the series, Jason Bourne finds its titular protagonist taking on a powerful government agency with connections to his past, and his quest for the truth sends him around the world, fending off other operatives and nameless agents while always staying one step ahead of his pursuers. It’s a formula that worked well for all four of the prior films, and while it doesn’t fail Damon and his action-hero alter ego entirely this time, it also lacks the spark that made each of the previous installments stand on their own.

At this point, we’ve seen how this story ends several times over, and Jason Bourne doesn’t hold any surprises.

As for Damon, his new take on Bourne is noticeably world-weary and tired of all the spy games he’s been forced to play over the years. Early reports on the film indicated that Damon might have fewer than 30 lines of dialogue, an estimate that doesn’t seem too far off, with Damon scowling his way through much of the movie’s two-hour running time. It’s a character arc that makes sense, given everything Bourne has been through, but also makes it seem as if all of the fights and car chases and espionage is becoming just a little too routine for the film’s hero.

In his role as the director of the CIA, Jones does well with a character that’s essentially a retread of the villainous agency power brokers played by Brian Cox and Chris Cooper in previous installments of the franchise, but lacks anything to make his character stand out. Similarly, Vikander’s sympathetic CIA insider plays a role not all that different from Stiles’ character in the first few films of the series, which only adds to the “been there, done that” vibe of the movie.

Jason Bourne’s action scenes are the most significant departure from previous installments of the franchise.

Damon’s character now seems content to take his opponents out with a single punch.

The first few chapters of the Bourne franchise received a lot of praise for the impressive, close-quarters fight sequences that had Damon’s character dispatching attackers with brutal efficiency, often turning anything within his reach into a weapon. The action scenes were filmed in a way that made them feel uniquely personal, and that sense of intimacy differentiated the Bourne films from the typical action thrillers that relied on effects-driven spectacles.

In Jason Bourne, however, the balance has tilted in the other direction.

After a lifetime of absorbing punches, kicks, knives, and bullets, Jason Bourne no longer seems to have the time – or energy – to engage in the sort of extended brawls that were such memorable sequences in the first few films. There’s a greater level of economy to his actions in Jason Bourne, and Damon’s character now seems content to take his opponents out with a single punch and move on instead of trading shots for the sake of the audience.

What the film lacks in memorable brawls, it makes up for in chase sequences. Two major sequences bookend the film, and they’re both fantastic, complicated scenes that give the movie some much-needed shots of adrenaline. In the first sequence, Damon navigates the narrow streets of Greece on a motorcycle during a full-on riot, evading government operatives as protestors hurl Molotov cocktails onto the streets and crowds of armored police forces attempt to pacify the crowds.

Jason Bourne
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The highlight of the entire movie is a wild car chase through the streets of Las Vegas in which Damon pursues an operative driving a stolen SWAT truck. It’s the sequence the studio keeps touting in the marketing for the film, and for good reason – it’s an incredible scene that condenses all of the excitement that the rest of the film was missing into one increasingly destructive, wonderfully filmed demolition derby through the streets of Sin City.

And yet, even one of the most exhilarating chase sequences of the last year or so isn’t enough to make Jason Bourne feel like it’s on par with its predecessors. Maybe it’s franchise fatigue, or maybe we’ve just seen all there is to see from Jason Bourne, but the end result never manages to live up to the high bar set by the franchise’s earliest installments, even when it samples from them so liberally.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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