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Friday, July 29, 2016

Movie Review: #JasonBourne

Jason Bourne is a competent but otherwise pedestrian action sequel.

Review by Matt Cummings

When The Bourne Identity exploded into theaters in 2002, one could feel the entire genre shift under them. Reacting to a post-9/11 world of the uber-spy state, we were also treated to a very human story of a man struggling to regain his identity. It re-energized James Bond, while establishing a new plateau for what a smart action film could be. But that feels like 20 years ago, as Jason Bourne results in a competent but utterly pedestrian affair, making us wonder if this series needs a similar bail out.

Struggling to find his way after learning of his former identity, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still tortured by the long list of bodies he's left in the wake. But when his former CIA-turned-ally Nicky (Julia Stiles) decides to release all black-ops data about Treadstone and other programs to the public, Bourne learns that her data includes new information about his father. As CIA director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) reacts to the data breach, he enlists the help of the rising young computer star Hall (Alicia Vikander), who realizes that Bourne's supposed bad rap might not what she's been lead to believe. Pursued once again by the agency, Bourne must keep Dewey and his asset (Vincent Cassel) from taking him out, while deciding whether Hall can be trusted, as she makes a daring offer for him to return to the CIA.

It's not that Jason Bourne is boring or poorly made, but it's entirely predictable and fails to engage the audience in a way that reminds us of the original trilogy. It really is more of the same: government finds out the misunderstood Bourne has resurfaced, they send faceless squads of men to eliminate him, a woman collaborates to help him realize questions to his past, and car chases ensue. Tech is used here as breezy plot devices rather than effective eyes that force Bourne out into the open. We react to it like changing one's underwear, and it soon becomes Tech vs Human once again. Moreover, there's no big reveal here, just more of the same and honestly quite less. There's no reasoning behind why Bourne still struggles to live a normal life, and more importantly the story does a poor job of explaining why his current life is so much worse than that of a secret agent. Sure, he's pill popping to stave off worries about what he's done, but there's no mechanism for him to move beyond it.

Moreover, Jason Bourne ruins the opportunity to move the character into a new direction in a frustratingly familiar final scene. In it, Hall attempts to muscle her way into a higher position by essentially blackmailing her boss Russell, while Bourne records all of it leading up to their final meeting. Hall becomes no more than another seedy government-type with more worry about her career than giving Bourne closure. The ending completely foils the chance for Hall to bring Bourne in and elevate her into a sympathetic Control-type character who would send Bourne out on new missions for the CIA. Moreover, I could have imagined Hall being revealed as working to upend Dewey and move Russell into his position ala Kevin Costner's No Way Out. Either would have been far more satisfying, and kept the franchise from falling into peril.

The problem moving forward with this franchise is worth noting. Once a series predicated on unpredictability and slick action scenes, Bourne has become workmanlike, dare I say boring. What made this series so terrific was its quick motions into the grey world of black ops, where agencies actually used assets and logic to work out Bourne's movements and mixing it with those memorable action sequences by Second-Unit DP Dan Bradley Sadly, Director Paul Grengrass elected not to bring Bradley back, and Jason Bourne suffers mightily for it. Moreover, Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse have really painted this series into a corner. Remove the personal journey of discovery and it's just mindless action with some semblance of a spy story woven in as a plot device for the tired action. Hunting Bourne has to end, mostly because he hasn't done anything wrong but also because that storyline is so tired. There is a new bit with Dewey wanting to use a new app by tech genius Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) to spy on an unsuspecting public, but it's so transparent and one-dimensional that we can see its resolution a mile away.

Damon - for all he and Greengrass did to elevate smart action film to a new level - feels as if he just doesn't have enough to work with here. He's a fantastic actor, but here the great worry he shows throughout the film is well-done but missing the kick at the end. We never learn why Bourne is being hunted (again), although the reveal about his father is interesting until the second act when it's pretty much wiped away. I do like Vikander, but Jones is just doing another version of Gerard from The Fugitive. Dewey has no history with Bourne, and yet he seems ready to hunt him instead of looking to bring him in. Sure, the two have great chemistry, but they're only in one scene and that moment is soon gone. Cassel would have been far more interesting had he been in The Bourne Ultimatum, which is what I feel this one was trying to be. For many fans, the third film was the weakest, mainly due to a merely decent baddie. Here, Cassel is good but way too old; take 10 years off and he's the perfect antagonist.

Once a series that pushed the envelope with paranoid government spycraft and amazing action sequences, Jason Bourne now feels behind the times. Add The Bourne Legacy, and the narrative here has definitely changed. Perhaps it's time for another action series to lift this one out of its monotony, just like Bourne did for Bond. For now, this one is competent and shouldn't offend as you pick popcorn shells from your teeth.

Jason Bourne is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language and has a runtime of 123 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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