It’s ironic and inevitable that after four movies a franchise about a super-spy/super-soldier with amnesia would start to develop a feeling of deja vu. Its predecessors have always been cutting edge, gritty, faced-paced, timely, and raw in their sensibilities; but with Jason Bourne the world seems to have caught up with the franchise. Its style has been plundered by others and fact is now more entertaining (and terrifying) than fiction. The Bourne series has succumbed to formula film making — it’s good in a technical sense, but the spark just isn’t there anymore.
After a nine-year absence, Matt Damon returns to the role that rewrote the spy genre and made him a surprise action hero. This time out, Jason Bourne his lying low — really low — in some of the world’s roughest backwaters. Resolving his identity crisis hasn’t improved his lot in life, and now he makes his living through underground bare-knuckle boxing gigs. Think Captain America meets Fight Club without spandex or Edward Norton.
Bourne is flushed out of hiding by former CIA tech officer Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who’s been working for a Julian Assange-esque hacker after going underground in The Bourne Ultimatum. Nicky has dug up some information linking Bourne’s father to the Treadstone program that created him and other super-soldiers, something Bourne might want to look into.
This has not gone unnoticed by the CIA, specifically its director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his ambitious protegé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), both of whom fear a Snowden-scale leak. Dewey, who has a shaky deal in place with tech entrepreneur Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), sends a French assassin (Vincent Cassel) to eliminate Bourne; Lee would prefer to bring Bourne in from the cold and unseat her boss.
Much of the movie’s second act, especially an extended sequence set during rioting in Athens and a shorter one set in the heart of London, crackles with director Paul Greengrass’ signature swift pacing and verité style. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to Jason Bourne beyond the flourishes. There’s a half-hearted attempt to explore the place of an aging, world-weary, and deeply scarred ex-spy in a post-Snowden/Wikileaks world, but it stays in the shallow end. The cash-grab spin-off The Bourne Legacy offered more to the saga than this.
It doesn’t help that Bourne has literally very little to say (Damon carries the movie but has roughly the same number of lines as Henry Cavill in Batman V. Superman). Damon is a charismatic actor and half the fun of watching a Bourne film involves getting into the man’s scrambled head. Little of that comes through this time around, and we’re left with a glowering hero on the verge of shutting down.
The movie is open-ended enough to allow for another installment, but what’s the point if our hero has nowhere left to go, no more dark personal secrets to uncover, or nothing left to say?