There are a few things one has come to expect from a Bourne film: messy hand-to-hand fight scenes, a shaky camera-induced sense of urgency, and a continent-hopping plot that tends to reflect contemporary real-world concerns. The newest film in the series, titled simply Jason Bourne, ticks all of those boxes. It also sees Matt Damon return to the role of the once-amnesiac assassin nine years after he ditched the franchise. But although it’s competently plotted and niftily executed – by Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass – there’s an unmistakable feeling of familiarity about it all.
When we reconnect with Jason Bourne in the new film, he’s keeping a low profile, making a living as a fighter for hire in some East European outpost. But when his old CIA colleague and fellow rogue agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tracks him down with information about his father’s death, Bourne heads to Athens to meet with her at a street riot. That, unfortunately, puts him back on the radar of the CIA, whose top boss Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) seems determined to take him out.
As Bourne trots the globe – Berlin, London, Vegas – he’s tracked by Dewey’s trusted security analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and by a cold-hearted assassin known only as the Asset (Vincent Cassel).
Like 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, that massively underwhelming spinoff starring Jeremy Renner, the new film too can’t seem to justify why it was made in the first place. Frankly, Greengrass and Damon nicely tied up all loose ends and left the series in a good place with 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. So why return if you have nothing new to say?
The plot of Jason Bourne, although fast-paced, adds virtually nothing by way of back-story to the protagonist or the series’ mythology. You could place this film anywhere in the original trilogy and it wouldn’t make a lick of a difference to the overall storyline.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. The script makes all the right noises about the realities of governmental surveillance and civil liberties, and the cat and mouse game that the Bourne films do so well is once again competently staged. But it’s the jittery action sequences that pack the real punch.
The fist fights are bloody and brutal, and the shootings are ruthless. Greengrass and his cinematographer Barry Aykroyd use minimal CGI, opting for practical effects in most places. They shatter your nerves with their hand-held camerawork, particularly during a breathless chase scene in Athens, and then one on the Vegas strip that looks straight out of a Fast & Furious movie.
The film delivers bang for your buck, no questions asked, and Damon is exceptional as Bourne. Somber and grim, yet clearly relishing the opportunity to reprise the role, he is riveting both while flexing his action and acting chops. However, fine performers like Alicia Vikander and Vincent Cassel are sadly underutilized.
When all is done and dusted, Jason Bourne never feels like a waste of time, but it’s unlikely you’ll pick this one as your favorite Bourne film. If thrills are all you seek, you won’t be disappointed. I’m going with three out of five.