It’s been roughly ten years since the last Jason Bourne movie, but here we are with Matt Damon older and frownier, with Paul Greengrass directing and using a camera that’s even shakier. Jason Bourne feels like a Bourne movie, with its international story, secretive government agencies, and frenetic battles between super assassins. Regrettably, the story just isn’t compelling. How many unethical top secret projects is the government going to keep creating? And how much more does Jason Bourne need to remember from his past? It seems like every film there’s some new old man in the CIA that needs to die. Jason Bourne doesn’t break that tradition.
Still living off the grid after discovering his dark origins in the last film, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) scratches out a living in underground fighting tournaments, even though age appears to be catching up with him. To make matters worse, he begins having to explore the broken memory of his father dying in a car explosion right before Jason was recruited to be part of Treadstone. He’s visited by his old ally and fellow wanted fugitive, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who recently hacked the CIA database to retrieve information about a new secret government program that would unethically surveil the United States population. She also discovers information about Jason’s father’s involvement in Treadstone, which could be related to his murder. Unfortunately, Nicky’s actions have triggered a response from the CIA, which sends a ruthless assassin (Vincent Cassel) to take Jason and her out. So it’s up to Jason to kill his way up yet another hydra’s neck to chop off the head.
Jason Bourne is probably the weakest of the Matt Damon Bourne movies, and it starts with the story. There is no good reason for why the events in the film happened the way they did. Jason Bourne had been living off the grid for presumably 10 years without a peep. He couldn’t care less about what the United States government does. Even when Nicky approaches him about the new government program, Jason doesn’t understand how that means anything to him. She’s lucky that part of the data she stole had a file about Jason’s dad or their two stories would literally have nothing to do with each other. So this razor-thin reason of Jason flashing back to his father and Nicky having an old file about Jason’s father is why there’s a movie to watch and why Jason has to kill a lot of people to get the information he needs.
The story doesn’t get any stronger as the movie goes on, because it feels like elements are just being made up on the spot to have a plot. We’ve never been introduced to Jason’s father in the series, and what we do get in this film is barely an introduction, yet we’re supposed to be invested in Jason’s goal of avenging him. Tommy Lee Jones plays CIA Director Robert Dewey, who has supposedly been part of this cabal of old men who run unethical secret government programs. He keeps complaining about how he knew Jason Bourne would eventually come for him, but we’ve never heard of Dewey before even though he had a part in Treadstone, according to the film. It’s also revealed late in the story that Jason has a personal tie to the assassin chasing him the entire movie, which is so neat and tidy it could only happen in a Hollywood story.
Finally, the film tried to wrap the plot in something topical like privacy and social media with a reference to Edward Snowden for good measure, but none of that actually matters to the rest of the story. Precious minutes are wasted building this subplot, forcing audiences to watch the struggles of this social media company when Jason doesn’t care about it and has no involvement with it. Ultimately, it was just a plot device to get all of the parties to meet in Las Vegas for an action set piece.
Unfortunately, the action sequences are also dull, which is a crushing blow to a franchise that redefined action in grit and realism. It’s probably due to Matt Damon’s age, but his physical feats and fights pale in comparison to the previous films. Remember this from The Bourne Identity?
Or how about this from The Bourne Supremacy?
And then there’s this from The Bourne Ultimatum.
There’s nothing that compares to those clips in Jason Bourne. He’s either finishing fights quickly with a single blow or he’s getting his ass kicked by relatively normal guys. The big fight towards the end of the film is lackluster compared to previous films. And that big action set piece in Vegas felt gratuitous and does nothing to get hearts racing. Even the trailer felt like that sequence needed to be spruced up. At 2:07 Jason Bourne does something cool by shooting a shotgun during a high speed chase. Unfortunately, that never happens in the film. (I know; I looked for it specifically, hoping it was going to be something awesome!)
Despite all of these glaring flaws, Jason Bourne does have a few shiny spots. There’s a great sequence in Greece that takes place during a riot, and everything about it feels authentic. From the police to the barricades to the protestors to the Molotov cocktails, the entire scene will transport audiences into the middle of the action. The Vegas car chase is also cool because you rarely see the strip used for this kind of action, and the way the car chase resolves is impressive in the damage it does.
Those two bright points notwithstanding, Jason Bourne is a big letdown. It lacks the simple cleverness that the previous films brought with makeshift weapons and mundane obstacles. Who knew that avoiding cameras in a busy station could be so tense? It’s also missing the cohesion of familiar characters from film to film that made the other films feel like they were presenting a world that actually existed. Jason Bourne has all of the appearances of a Bourne film, but it doesn’t have the same soul. And any fan will recognize that.