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Blu-ray Review: #JasonBourne

Jason Bourne looks and sounds terrific, but is it worth your hard-earned dollars?

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. The Blu-ray release is a different matter entirely, featuring terrific video and audio, as well as a decent amount of supplements. But the question remains: should you buy it?

The Movie - 3/5
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.

The Video
Universal's failure at producing another great Jason Bourne movie does not extend to the video quality, which is pretty darn near perfect. Detail from the MPEG4/AVC transfer is great, mixing in just enough filmic grain but not at the expense of other elements. Color is a bit bold, but nothing ever looks too over-wrought or under-developed. Facial details show off pores, sweat, and blood with great results. Unfortunately to it actors' detriment, the image is so clear that Damon looks quite old now, and Jones looks rather ancient. Black levels maintain details without succumbing to crush, and contrast is perfectly tuned to reveal layers of shadows. The one issue I can point out here is how the movie fares with the shakiness, quick zooms, and jerks of the camera. It can all feel a little too much, like the genre no longer needs such trickery to tell its story, except perhaps in very limited action sequences. With no other issues like edge enhancement, aliasing, or banding, I'm happy to report that Universal did at least get something right about this film.

The Audio
Univeral's Jason Bourne arrives with a DTS:X environment that I cannot process on my 5.1 setup. I was able to downchannel to a very boisterous DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 downmix that is every bit proof that Universal's early lead in this category has few competitors. The track is immersive in every way, starting with the separated dialogue in the center channel - this isn't merely a result of the dialogue being turned up and the effects down, but what sounds like an entirely separated track. Forward channels echo broad and well-defined music score, but also performs very well when the shooting starts. And when those action scenes arrive, get ready for a fine level of detail that might make you think you're really there. The LFE takes center stage here many times, thumping and pounding its way through gun fights, helicopter takeoffs, car chases, and hand-to-hand combat. The rear channel also emits a ton of atmospheric effects, wrapping the listener in a cocoon of mayhem that's perhaps even better than its video. Simply put, it's reference quality.

The Supplements
Jason Bourne offers a good but not outstanding set of extras. Everything here is delivered in HD, and we've added the summaries to each featurette instead of our thoughts:
  • Bringing Back Bourne - Matt Damon and Director Paul Greengrass discuss how they brought a beloved character back to the big screen.
  • Bourne to Fight - A behind-the-scenes look at the fight sequences in Jason Bourne.
    o Bare-Knuckle Boxing - Matt Damon discusses his love for boxing and how he prepared for the bare-knuckle fight sequences.
    o Close Quarters - A behind-the-scenes look at the brutal fight between Jason Bourne and Christian Dassault.
    o Underground Rumble - Matt Damon, Vincent Cassel, and fight coordinator Roger Yuan discuss how they staged Bourne’s final showdown with The Asset.
  • The Athens Escape - Matt Damon, stunt coordinator Gary Powell and second unit director Simon Crane discuss the challenges of shooting a chase sequence through cramped city streets.
  • Las Vegas Showdown - For the final act of Jason Bourne, filmmakers wanted something bigger and bolder than ever before. Here’s an inside look at how they pulled it off.
    o Convention Chaos - Join the cast and crew on location in Las Vegas as they film the final act of Jason Bourne.
    o Shutting Down the Strip - A behind-the-scenes look at one of the wildest car chases in Bourne history.

    Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo and a passcode for the Digital HD with UltraViolet copy. The slipcase is serviceable but unrewarding. At the time of this posting, there were other versions available, including a 4K release, a steelbook, and a Target special edition with an extra disc of content.

    The Bottom Line
    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. The home release fares far better, with terrific audio and video and a decent set of extras. But even with these elements, I cannot recommend you purchase it in any format. Consider this is a competent rental before plunking down money on something you will (and you will) find it a rather lackluster affair.

    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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