2 / 5 stars
Public demand seemed strong enough for a fourth chapter in the Matt Damon-led Bourne movies, thus Jason Bourne was born. And with that, the series has officially overstayed its welcome. This latest entry represents the longest gap in between series’ films – nine years since the Oscar-winning The Bourne Ultimatum – and stands as a considerable disappointment for fans who’ve been made to wait that long. After a couple years of “will they or won’t they?” speculation regarding the return of Damon and director Paul Greengrass, there’s little sign of their previously impressive collaboration. The last great serious spy series has become tedious.
And that’s frustrating considering the Bourne pedigree and potential. Jason Bourne is a clichéd by-the-numbers version of the previous films – even the uninspired title is a pretty fair reflection of the movie’s limp energy.
That’s not to say there isn’t the requisite action, there’s plenty of it. An insane motorcycle escape in the midst of a protest in Greece, a Vegas car chase, hand-to-hand pugilism… but the Bourne storyline and mystery has enjoyed no growth, so it all lacks purpose. The action scenes are left to be nothing more than just that, action scenes. Damon’s character moves from place to place as both hunter and hunted, with little to fill in the narrative blanks. He looks exhausted and, soon enough, so are we.
Yes, there is a story within Jason Bourne, but it’s wafer thin. In his ongoing compulsion to understand his past, Bourne gets flashes of a 1999 incident that includes his deceased father, and believes the murky memories are the link to his own personal history. To confirm his worst assumptions, the machine-like spy needs to get close enough to agency leadership and start asking questions. You’d think with the overwhelming popularity of origin stories, Greengrass would have blown this particular one wide open.
But despite his skills as a director, he’s not much of a screenwriter when it comes to this stuff, and there’s the problem. After a trio of films written, in part, by Tony Gilroy, Greengrass takes a writing credit here, and leads with a layer of punches, car crashes and typical dialogue. Your standard over-the-phone posturing is elevated immensely by the King of Wry Stoicism, Tommy Lee Jones, but nearly everything else sounds worn out. For all the times we have to hear the threat of “this ends tonight,” I was thinking that couldn’t come soon enough.
As for Greengrass’ direction, even that fails. His exceptional sense of tension and authenticity (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum, Captain Phillips) is lost here, especially in the more complicated action sequences. The Vegas setup tells the story: It appears to have enormous scope, with a gladiator-esque vehicle battle playing out on the Strip, but Greengrass shoots it so tight, it’s difficult to get your bearings or stick with the action. What’s worse, the editing is ridiculously impatient, just flashes of stuff. It’s as off-putting as some of the frenetic editing of an Avengers film.
Matt Damon has barely two dozen lines in the entire movie, Greengrass’s script relegating him to the role of action hero rather than spy. Greengrass tries to get serious, and get to his documentary-style roots by adding timely references – riots in Athens, social media privacy nightmares. It’s the only aspect of Jason Bourne that moves it along, but it doesn’t give the film the texture it should have. And the series deserves.