Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass have reunited to bring superspy Jason Bourne back to the big screen and it is business as usual for the on-the-lam former operative whose disjointed memories of the past once again serve as the trigger for the series of events that unfold in each of the franchise instalments. In fact, the opening moments of Jason Bourne see our titular hero in the midst of a series of flashbacks to events that precede even the first film; specifically the death of his father and his recruitment into the Treadstone project. Living off the grid since learning the truth of his progression from David Webb to Jason Bourne through the course of the first three films (two directed by Paul Greengrass and the other by Doug Liman), Bourne is a loner who ekes out a living as a street fighter when Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) reaches out with information about what really happened to his father.
In the midst of implementing yet another top secret surveillance project in cahoots with tech entrepreneur Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is far from happy to learn of Bourne’s re-emergence and dispatches a nameless asset (Vincent Cassel) to eradicate the threat. It is everything we expect from a Bourne film with fights aplenty, innumerable violent deaths (including plenty of innocent bystanders), subterfuge, crazy car chases and rapid-fire editing courtesy of Christopher Rouse. Par for the course in a Bourne story, there are those within the CIA at loggerheads with the old heads and on this occasion it is Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who seizes upon the situation to advance her own personal agenda. With Damon confined to minimal lines of dialogue, much of the film revolves around the battle of wits between Lee and Dewey.
As is his wont, Greengrass weaves contemporary issues into the narrative, a chase scene through an anti-austerity riot in Athens a case in point. The street fires, water cannons and sirens create an electric atmosphere, with Rouse deftly cutting between aerial surveillance footage, handheld cameras and long-lens searches through the crowd. From this point, the pace rarely lets up with Cassel’s assassin pursuing Bourne from Athens to Berlin to Las Vegas, collateral damage aplenty along the way. The film also touches on issues such as citizen surveillance at the hands of the authorities, with Kalloor locking horns with Dewey over a deal to have surveillance technology embedded in his Deep Dream social media platform, apparently the result of a debt that harks back to his start-up days. As a character, Dewey is somewhat a caricature and is hardly a stretch for Jones, having played craggy, cranky types such as this many times before. Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Trishna) on the other hand is good as a man who finds a conscience seeping under his arrogant exterior.
There is sense of sameness about Jason Bourne that is hard to ignore, with few surprises in how things pan out, all told in the distinctive Greengrass style. Yes, it is fast and furious, but those who claim that the breakneck editing from Rouse is a lazy approach are wrong because the more cuts required, the more work for the editor. However, there is no doubt that there are times when such an approach only serves to render the action somewhat disjointed. At the end of the day, this is everything that franchise devotees might realistically expect given that both Damon and Greengrass had previously declared no interest in revisiting Bourne. Vikander’s character is perhaps the most interesting of the ensemble as the Swedish actress continues her rapid career ascendancy. Lee is a duplicitous dame whose motives are never really clear and, given the Bourne penchant for killing off their female characters, any appearance she makes in subsequent films may be very short lived indeed. Lacking originality in narrative and execution, Jason Bourne is an action film dressed up as a political thriller that would like us to believe it has something important to say about the state of the world. As such, it’s not terrible, but it’s not terribly insightful either.