It's important that we not undervalue the contributions of the original 'Bourne' trilogy, not that easily-forgotten spinoff with that impostor Jeremy Renner (Booo!!!). At the time when conspiracy thrillers were at a creative lull it arrived as the "Thinking Man's" spy franchise, portraying real-world espionage and tactics combined with brutally efficient fight choreography delivered by the charismatic Matt Damon. With Paul Greengrass' kinetic, visceral direction the envy of others, it wasn't long before numerous knock-offs followed. 'Bourne was truly innovative. Now it's been nearly a decade since our favorite super agent "remembered everything" in The Bourne Ultimatum and now he's back with Jason Bourne, and for all of its attempts to reflect the modern post-Snowden era of intelligence, there's nothing new here for others to try and mimic.
What's interesting about Bourne and his part in all of the movies if you look back at them, is that he's not really a hero. While this latest chapter finds him tangentially entangled in a plot involving a top secret CIA program involving a popular social media platform, Bourne isn't actually interested in any of that. It's certainly not what brought him out of retirement, where he'd been living a Fight Club-like existence off the grid, and back into the field against corrupt shadow governments similar to Treadstone. His former ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), now a hacker for a Wikileaks-type cybergroup, returns with information that sets him on a new mission. It's a personal mission to reclaim, you guessed it, his own memories. This time the memory involves his father, who may have been connected to the program in some way.
We get the usual array of evil bureaucrats with hidden agendas. Tommy Lee Jones deadpans his way through as CIA Director Robert Dewey, who is alerted to Bourne's re-emergence and instantly decides he's too dangerous to let live. Certainly there is historical precedent, three whole movies worth, for such an opinion. Dewey assigns a dangerous "Asset" (Vincent Cassel) to take Bourne out, while CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) figures she can actually bring him in alive, perhaps with that sexy pout she's always sporting.
Momentum and familiarity with the murky, paranoia-fueled atmosphere is almost enough to convince us that nothing has changed. Before long Bourne is beating up bad guys and tearing through foreign streets in stolen vehicles, and it's as compelling as ever. It's the details where we notice the differences, however. While Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse have deep roots in the franchise this is their first crack at writing the screenplay and it shows in a screenplay that is often comically inept. Mostly this can be found in the clunky debate between Dewey and Zuckerberg-esque tech guru Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) about national security and privacy rights. Nevermind that the two always seem to be having their highly classified discussions within earshot of anybody with a half a mind to paying attention, or that they'd broadcast their secret intentions in the middle of a public expo in Las Vegas. While Bourne doesn't say much (he has about 25 lines total, no b.s.), his interactions don't amount to much and the plot seems to move forward really due to contrivance. If a file or piece of tech needs to be found to send Bourne to a specific location, well you can count on him stumbling upon it, or somebody just giving it to him for reasons that don't make much sense.
Greengrass's eye for action hasn't diminished and he still shoots the best car chases in the business. As Bourne jumps from locale to locale he endures one pulse-pounding encounter after another, always one of the franchise's strengths. What's missing is the believability factor seen in earlier movies. You always had the sense that the incredible feats Bourne pulled off, whether hand-to-hand or behind the wheel, were somehow possible. That's a rare thing considering how superhuman Bourne seems to be on most occasions. That's gone with this film and the finale, a destructive chase that does more damage to Las Vegas than an army of Kryptonians could ever do to Metropolis, is so over-the-top that it borders on silliness. Maybe Greengrass felt he needed to be more Fast & Furious this time, but that is not what the 'Bourne' franchise has ever been about. Nor is it a direction we need to see it go in the future if there is to be a sixth movie. There have been rumors of a potential crossover with Renner's Aaron Cross character, and if you listen closely there is a very brief nod to The Bourne Legacy, but at this point it's unclear if that will happen. Jason Bourne ends by teasing a bold new direction, however it ultimately settles in a status quo we'll immediately recognize. The world of Bourne never really changes; there are new foes and new secrets but the journey remains the same and that is both a strength and weakness.
Rating: 3 out of 5