“Don’t make this personal.”
Years and years of hoping and wanting and praying have finally paid off. Matt Damon got his wish with the return of director Paul Greengrass and we can finally sit in a cinema again and soak in a brand new Jason Bourne adventure… Err… Jason Bourne.
Years after Bourne vanished without a trace after taking a header into the East River, the ex-super spy’s long-time handler/companion Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) brings him back into the fray after hacking her way into a ton of CIA black ops files. Of course, they include historical information on Operation Treadstone, Black Briar, Bourne and a previously unknown connection to Bourne’s agency analyst father.
Sticking her nose in, Nicky garners the attention of the men and women in suits in Langley as the CIA goes all hands on deck to find her. Super-cyber-spy Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) is on her very quickly and under the command of CIA director Robert Dewey (a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones) tracks the former analyst to Greece where Jason Bourne is hiding out. So now, everyone that was off the grid for so long is back on the radar and running for their lives again. Globetrotting hijinks ensue as Bourne chases answers to questions he didn’t know he had until Nicky’s return; chased relentlessly by the CIA and their deadly “asset” (Vincent Cassel) it’s a race against the odds to stay alive and to unearth the secrets that are keeping Bourne on the run.
Bourne is an institution for me. It appeared just as I was starting to get a little fatigued with Bond as a series and needed something a little different. Between this and the Mission: Impossible franchise, I’ve never really looked at United Artists’ 007 series the same. When Doug Liman (remember him? This wasn’t always about Greengrass. Although arguably Greengrass refined the series into near-perfection) first brought us The Bourne Identity, it was a breath of fresh air. As super human as Jason Bourne seemed to be, it always felt like an against-the-odds uphill battle for him and it never felt like a foregone conclusion that he’d be successful.
All these years later, and we are back for more. And it’s as good as any film in the franchise. Yes, including Legacy.
For the most part, I don’t have much negative to say about the latest in the espionage series. Guessing from the “Based on characters created by Robert Ludlum” and not the usual “based on the book by…”, I reckon this is the first of the Matt Damon Bourne flicks that’s been written specifically for the screen, instead of having one of the many books adapted for film. That lack of guidance from a book does show a little though. Mostly early on in the film when Nicky Parsons all but coerces Bourne back into action with secret stuff we never knew about. I can – and do – suspend my disbelief while I watch these films; you’d have to, right? But the opening 15-20 minutes, those moments that are meant to convince him and us that it’s time to suit up again, feel tenuous and stretched at best – and at worst, they just feel clumsy.
And don’t even get me started on the insanity of showing me a USB stick – which has been hidden in a locker that only Jason can find, that also comes with a gun and a notepad filled with details on the investigation into Treadstone/Blackbriar and beyond – that has a massive printed label on it that says ENCRYPTED. Thanks for THAT Mr. Greengrass, because I never would have gotten to that conclusion on my own!
Those are very minor niggles in an otherwise excellent film. Once Bourne is back in the limelight, it’s like getting into a pair of comfy slippers. The story twists and turns and flips around at an insane pace. You just have to sit back and trust that Greengrass and Damon will do you right and explain everything, or almost everything. The break-neck pace is what makes Bourne as a franchise something special; even a simple scene like tailing a guy through a crowd is wrought with tension and an atmosphere that’ll have you chewing your fingernails the whole way through.
As it always is, the action is beautifully shot. Greengrass has taken on board criticism from his Green Zone days and stays away from shake-o-vision style shots. Car chases are fast and exciting; and the close-up combat tense and bone-crunchingly brutal. Greengrass’ ability to turn up the tension on every scene, whether it is a shootout, a chase, or a quiet exposition scene that explains the ripped-from-the-headlines story (more on that in a sec), shows just how much skill and experience the now veteran Brit director is bringing to the table.
Coming away from the narrative of the books, whilst usually a bad idea, has allowed Paul Greengrass and long-time Bourne producer Christopher Rouse to put together a story that is both current and relevant. Invoking everything from Edward Snowden and his close to government destroying activities; to the more recent animosity between US law enforcement agencies and tech giant Apple. The pair have written a story that hits close to the quick on a few occasions and they make their feelings on the situations very, very clear. As our hero finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that not only has the old school spy ways of the past brought into question, but manages to show just how far we’ve come when it comes to technology and surveillance with the CIA’s biggest and best weapon being Alicia Vikander’s tech genius, backed up by boots on the ground. Not, as it has been for so long, the other way around.
It’s a real showcase for its stars too, taking nothing away from its main star: Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. That’s it, really. He’s a bad ass super-spy that kicks ass across seven continents and looks damn good doing it. And whilst he’s obviously the focal point of the film, knowing what you’re getting from him means you can sit and watch some awesome little performances come out of the background.
Alicia Vikander, an actress that’s fast becoming a real favourite of mine, gets to play a slightly understated role to start with. Her tech-savvy surveillance operative is convincing and fun to watch when we first meet her. But once she pushes her way onto into the chase for Bourne and Parsons, we see just how ruthless she is. Vikander does a great job in keeping us wondering just which shade of that grey area between good guy and bad she’s going to fall in to. Similarly for Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA Director Dewy, falling into the grizzled veteran bad-guy role that Brian Cox filled so well earlier in the series, we get to see the Oscar winner from a different direction than usual as he dons his bad-guy cap and looks to have a lot of fun playing the game for his own selfish reasons.
The stand-out though, outside of Bourne of course, is Vincent Cassel’s nameless “Asset”. In previous entries to the series, we’ve had a fellow program participant chasing Jason Bourne with varying degrees of success and screen time. A role that’s been filled with names like Clive Owen, Karl Urban and Edgar Ramirez, without ever really being fleshed out, actually gets the full treatment for this latest entry in the series. Nameless he may be, but Cassel’s ruthless, vicious assassin isn’t just another Treadstone robot. He’s got a long history that he brings with him and his natural aggression, cold calculation and skill – that haven’t had to be indoctrinated into him by the CIA’s scientists – make him not only Bourne’s biggest threat to date, but one of the most interesting characters in Jason Bourne.
Jason Bourne is an excellent entry into this already excellent franchise. Its problems are no more than minor irritations in an overall amazing experience. By the time you have gotten to the end (and that Moby track has been remixed for the fifth time in the credits) you are breathless, exhilarated, and considering hiding up the back and waiting for the next screening to start just to you can watch it again. So it arbitrarily sets up another entry in the series; and that kind of makes you wonder just how much more this guy can remember, but you just don’t care. You’ve had too good a time to focus on silly shit like that.