Directed by: Paul Greengrass || Produced by: Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith, Gregory Goodman
Screenplay by: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse || Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepard, Bill Camp, Vinzenz, Kiefer, Gregg Henry
Music by: John Powell, David Buckley || Cinematography: Barry Ackroyd || Edited by: Christopher Rouse || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 123 minutes
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Not all films and franchises can abide by that rule, given how so many remakes, reboots, and unnecessary sequels fall flat due to ill timing or fear of taking risks. Innovation is praised throughout film history and film culture, and the first to successfully break trends (e.g. Deadpool ) or popularize a new way of looking at something old (e.g. The Dark Knight ) often break box office records, if not garner critical awards.
That’s not the case with franchises that celebrate vintage formula or have achieved a repeated, proven recipe for success, like Star Wars (1977-present), Indiana Jones (1981, 1984, 1989), or James Bond (1962-present). Despite a few generational updates here and there, pop culture staples like those are mostly immune to the fluctuations of audience taste and political atmosphere. Tales like those are timeless, and certain archetypes will always be universal blueprints that audiences of any stripe can relate to.
In my opinion, the espionage adventures of Jason Bourne are on par with the serial rhythms of an Indiana Jones. The series came of age in the early to mid-2000’s, when the Internet phenomenon was also maturing and the world had shifted from the grime and grit of the 1980’s and ’90’s to the cyberpunk and black ops espionage of the new millennium. However much Generation X’ers may lament the glory days of political incorrectness and classical spies like Roger Moore, Matt Damon’s career-defining role has reinvented the modern spy-film through its no-bullshit approach to action, chase sequences, and a completely different type of black ops agent.
The first trilogy (Identity , Supremacy , Ultimatum ) dealt with CIA operations and identity, the ethics of unilateral reconnaissance as well as its title character’s quest to find himself. Jason Bourne (henceforth, JB) adds closure to this chapter while still leaving the door open for further adventure, bringing the journey full-circle from Bourne’s existential crises back to the purpose of national defense in a globalized, information-dominated economy.
This slight change-up from Bourne’s amnesia-anxiety is a smart move, as the previous three films covered that ad nauseum to the point where Damon once joked they’d have to call a prospective fourth film “The Bourne Redundancy.” Perhaps it is fitting then, that this latest feature is simply dubbed “Jason Bourne,” as his questions of identity are over and his memory loss, for the most part, restored. To that end, JB analyzes the modern ideals of patriotism, American values, and the changing modus operandi of America’s national defense organizations. Thematically speaking, JB is nuanced in these discussions and makes the wise point that its title character was never anti-American or even necessarily anti-intelligence — he was simply a spy who was manipulated, lied to, and had regained his conscious.
Besides its story and character growth, JB features some of the best action of the series, as well as some of the greatest action sequences of the 2010’s so far. Returning director (and now also writer) Paul Greengrass demonstrates his mastery of the shaky-cam action scene, crafting intense sequences of car chases, mob riots, and a final hand-to-hand faceoff between Damon and antagonist Vincent Cassell, the latter of which rivals the excellent Bourne v. Desh battle in Ultimatum. The Las Vegas chase set-piece, which has been flaunted in the film’s marketing, is amazing and may be the franchise’s best vehicular mayhem yet. Anyone who puts stock in terrific action sequences will not be at a loss for them here. Jason Bourne is a fantastic action-piece.
JB bolsters its eponymous role with several great supporting characters, including young, up-and-comer Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones as the one old white guy Hollywood hasn’t yet cast as a CIA director, and Vincent Cassell as the one European guy Hollywood hasn’t yet cast as a CIA “asset.” JB elaborates on the latter role by giving Cassell a personal vendetta against Bourne, adding further tension to their action-packed brawl in the movie’s finale. All three supporting roles, as well as an emotional guest appearance from series’ regular Julia Stiles, strengthen the overall narrative without removing focus from Matt Damon.
I see no reason for people to view this film as a case of “been there, done that.” Jason Bourne is the best blockbuster this summer since Civil War (2016), and does its franchise label proud. In one way, it retains the tenacious action, slick editing, and tonal intensity the series is famous for, but in another, it moves beyond Bourne’s quest for memory and brings closure to his epic story. While the Bourne series may not outlast its star, unlike James Bond, I’m glad the gang returned for at least one more go-around. Jason Bourne is an absolute blast.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon return for a fourth tour of duty, and they do not disappoint. Jason Bourne remains at the top of its game, action-wise, and chooses thematic ambiguity over its titular figure’s place in modern American iconography. Instead of outright patriotism or condemnation, Jason Bourne chooses both, and gets to have its cake and eat it too.
? You’re never gonna find any peace — not until you admit to yourself who you really are.