DIR: Paul Greengrass • WRI: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse • PRO:Matt Damon, Gregory Goodman, Paul Greengrass, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey M. Weiner • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: Christopher Rouse • MUS: David Buckley, John Powell • DES: Paul Kirby • CAST: Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Matt Damon
Life hack in order to look 100% cooler: put on a John Powell soundtrack and stride around European cities purposefully. It’s a simple formula but it works, as evinced by the continuing success of Paul Greengrass’ franchise fourteen years after its first instalment.
After years of living off the CIA’s radar Jason Bourne finds its protagonist eking out an existence in underground European fight clubs. However, Bourne finds himself in the spotlight once again when he is contacted by an old ally, Nikki Parsons (Bourne veteran Julia Stiles). She has recently discovered that his father had links to Treadstone, the CIA programme that brainwashed Bourne and turned him into a super soldier over a decade previously. While trying to bring this information to light, Bourne ends up in a power struggle between three CIA operatives; veteran Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), up-and-coming Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and an unnamed assassin (Vincent Cassell), all of whom are determined to claim Bourne on their own terms.
While we find Matt Damon globetrotting as usual, this film is unquestionably about Bourne in the USA. Despite major set pieces being set in Europe, including a visually impressive Greek riot which Bourne navigates his way through the streets of Athens, and a satisfactorily prescient scene of mass panic in London, Jason Bourne has little to say about Europe’s current economic situation; it is instead concerned with American questions regarding surveillance, freedom and patriotism. Unfortunately there is little room for nuance in this regard; the Dewey is in cahoots with a Facebook-alike social media platform that, despite its promises, watches everyone “all the time,” (whatever that means). Parson’s hacking of the CIA secrets, we are told several times, could be “bigger than Snowden.” Meanwhile, Bourne is ultimately convinced to renew the search for the truth behind his past when he learns that Treadstone had been watching him before he even joined the operation. Really, did it take him until now to consider that? As a meditation on the use and abuse of surveillance in post-Snowden America, Jason Bourne looks flashy but has little new to say.
The action, while on the whole entertaining, feels somewhat lacking. Many of the set pieces contain nods to the original but this time around Bourne is lucky almost as often as he is skilled: every police blockade leaves just large enough a gap to allow a car or motorcycle through and henchmen are just a little too slow on the uptake. Furthermore, there are several moments which threaten to jump the shark in terms of the franchise’s bid for realism, or at the very least threaten in some serious eye-rolling. As usual, Greengrass is up to his usual shaky-cam tricks; anyone with a weak stomach might want to come prepared.
What is perhaps more interesting than the action this time around is the power struggle between the operatives. Tommy Lee Jones steals the show as the ruthless CIA director whose fear of being undermined by the younger, dynamic head of the cyber optics division (Vikander) drives much of the film’s action. It’s nice to see a male-dominated genre acknowledging the dynamics of gender in the workplace and perhaps signals a way forward for the series.
Although it’s not quite up to the standard of the original trilogy, it’s nice to see Damon back on patrol. This time around the action is a little over the top and the story is somewhat ham-fisted, but Jason Bourne proves to be a compelling game of cat and mouse.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Jason Bourne is released 29th July 2016