2002’s The Bourne Identity was a bit of a game-changer when it comes to spy thrillers. Its titular character, played with a strange, implacable tension by Matt Damon, was a reluctant force of nature, a man lost in a world of intrigue with the skill to crush anything in his path, but a conscience that sought answers to questions about himself and his past. That character, laid atop a complex story of international spycraft, made for compelling film-making by director Doug Liman. The subsequent entries (and for the purposes of this review we’re going to ignore the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy) added more and more pieces to the puzzle of Bourne’s past and increased the tension and intensity of the powers-that-be that sought to either kill or contain him. Overall, it’s a deeply satisfying trilogy.
And then, Paul Greengrass, who directed Ultimatum and Supremacy, decided to bring Bourne back into theaters this week with Jason Bourne. Matt Damon, who seemed to have burned himself out of the role after Ultimatum, decided to return to star. A new and quite impressive cast was rolled out — Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey, Alicia Vikander as his right hand, Heather Lee, and Vincent Cassel as a relentless assassin known only as The Asset. Once again, Bourne is discovered and the CIA wants to track him down, all the while vacillating between either killing him to bury the past, or bringing him back in to use him for the future. Once again, Bourne loses someone important to him and also discovers something new about his past, resulting in him seeking out those in charge for answers and/or vengeance. Once again there are car chases and shakily filmed fight scenes.
To put it succinctly, Jason Bourne is a boring, unnecessary, unintelligibly filmed mess. It replays the same tapes from the first three films over and over, but without any of the snappiness and intensity. It’s the kind of film that makes me hate this work — completely uninteresting and barely worth writing about. The dialogue is drab and tired, lacking all of the crispness and cleverness of the previous entries. Tommy Lee Jones looks like he’s constantly being gently shaken out of his afternoon nap. Alicia Vikander literally never changes her facial expression or tone of voice. Vincent Cassel squints and occasionally frowns but mostly just stares blankly with a grim expression. And Damon’s Bourne? Well, his mouth is set in that determined straight line and his physique is still impressive, but he’s asleep at the wheel. In the previous films, there was an art to the grim seriousness of the characters, occasionally offset by either the brighter spots like Franka Potente’s vivacious Marie, or the sinister slyness of Chris Cooper, or Joan Allen just being Joan fucking Allen (seriously, I adore Joan Allen). None of that is here. Everyone is so set in their expression, so determined to be serious and unmoving that they’re practically inert. There’s a listlessness to each performance, as if they’re channeling George Lucas’s Phantom Menace instructions (“OK, now say it again but be less interesting this time”).
As for the story, it’s more of the same. Remember that time a young female lead died tragically in the first ten minutes? Happens again here. Remember that car chase that went up and down a bunch of narrow staircases? Happens again. Remember that tightly shot fight scene where Bourne has to improvise a new weapon? Happens again. Remember Bourne discovering something new about Treadstone that is potentially world-shaking and he must get to the bottom of? Lather, rinse, repeat. Top all of this off with the fact that Greengrass has completely lost control of his shaky-cam habit, overdosing on it to the point where he’s probably going to need to be physically restrained and administered some benzos to reduce the seizures, and you’ve got a muddled, boring trainwreck. And I know what you’re thinking — “TK, how can a trainwreck be boring?” First of all, don’t ever question me in public again. And secondly, it’s pretty easy. You film everything at high speeds but in low focus, and make the story and characterizations so dull that you ultimately don’t really care because there’s never a sense of stakes (not to mention that you can barely tell what’s happening anyway). There’s a blistering car chase at the end, through the streets of Las Vegas, with crashes and explosions and noise and wreckage and I fell asleep. I actually fell asleep. I literally cannot remember the last time I fell asleep in a movie theater, and I have seen some absolute garbage in this eight year death sentence of a job.
So there you have it. Is Jason Bourne the worst thing ever? No. Is it worth seeing? Not even remotely. Does it complete the Bourne saga and mean you should see it just for some closure? No. Instead, you should re-watch The Bourne Ultimatum and just pretend this one never happened.