Hard to believe it’s been 14 years since The Bourne Identity rolled into theaters and completely changed Matt Damon’s persona from “ho-hum” to “oh damn!” And those first few films (not counting the throwaway Jeremy Renner-led Bourne Legacy) were pretty killer to be sure. But, like a similarly-aged teenager, the newest film in the long-running tale of that darn forgetful CIA assassin/spy who’s always trying his damndest to come in from the cold is kind of brash and confused about itself, and that means it’s just not very good.
We rejoin the titular character as he lays low by taking part in some sort of Greek fight club. Oh, you’d better believe he can knock out his opponents in one blow, but we quickly come to realize that Mr. Bourne is feeling super-bummed about his lot in life. Last time out, he exposed the CIA’s Blackbriar program, a clandestine black op that turns the very best operatives into remorseless, unthinking murderers. Bourne remembers who he is now, sure, but he still needs answers about how his dead dad fits into everything and he’s damn well going to get ‘em thanks to Nicky Parsons’ (an utterly awful Julia Stiles who almost seems to be reading cue cards) hacking skills. It won’t be easy, though, because CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, who’s doing his best Tommy Lee Jones impression) is patriot-ing all hard and manipulating a Zuckerbergian social media mogul (Riz Ahmed) into helping him spy on America. In case that wasn’t enough, there’s the new head of computer stuff for the government agency (Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander) has her own agenda, too … namely, she plays both sides, although we’re never told why that might be.
Cue globe-trotting subterfuge, soundtrack-free hand-to-hand combat, an ode to a Grecian motorcycle chase and, just to complicate things further, that one other spy (Black Swan’s Vincent Cassel) who, after Bourne wiki-leaked the Blackbriar info, lost his cover and spent two years being tortured in Syria. “It’s always been personal!” he growls at Dewey from his various sniper nests and unmarked vans while he recklessly pursues Bourne, and somewhere in the back of our minds we think something like, “Gimme a break, dude.”
If previous Bourne films set out to grit-ify the spy thriller genre (and succeeded), the newest installment seemingly doesn’t recall that, and just because you can do that up close nauseatingly shaky camera stuff doesn’t mean you should. In fact, most action shots are so all-over-the-place confusing that we almost never know where to look, and while director Paul Greengrass may be someplace dusting off his hands and congratulating himself on shirking the played-out trope of a stable shot, the rest of us are wondering why he’d do us like that. This is nothing compared to some of the ludicrous and physically implausible action sequences that go beyond the suspension of disbelief and into what-the-hell-was-that territory; if a police van can send every car in its way flying except for the one our hero is driving, maybe don’t put those things so close to each other.
We’re really hoping this will just be the end of it, although the ending leaves room for yet another sequel. We really don’t need it. And besides, we have a feeling Matt Damon’s stock is about to plummet what with this white-washy Great Wall movie coming out soon. Either way, that’s enough now from Jason Bourne … We’re begging you.
Directed by Paul Greengrass
With Damon, Cassel, Jones and Stiles
Violet Crown, Regal, DeVargas