Jason Bourne

Posted by Joel Copling on July 28, 2016

In its best moments, "Jason Bourne" reminds its viewers of the pleasures of the trilogy that featured its titular character (A fourth film focused on another subject of the series' central organization, an approach that worked because it offered some insight into the figureheads of that shadowy, conspiratorial group). The problem is that those are the best moments of a screenplay that would like to forget the fact that 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum" provided viewers with all of the relevant information regarding the character of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), for which the new film provides some context. The result is that we realize Bourne was more interesting as a cipher whose skills in physical combat always kept him a half-step ahead of the audience for every half-step we were ahead of him.

That brings us to those best moments, which occur in the middle of the controlled chaos for which co-writer/director Paul Greengrass has become popular after directing the two best films in the franchise ("The Bourne Ultimatum" and its 2004 predecessor, "The Bourne Supremacy"). An early scene in which Bourne and fellow former Treadstone operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) set up a meet during a protest rally in Athens is skillful, as Bourne uses protestors, police, and cars set on fire to his advantage, but the real humdinger is an extended climax set during a spyware event in Las Vegas, during which both Bourne and an assassin (Vincent Cassel) must run from more police and the stadium's security while tracking each other. It's a study in the best this series has to offer, such as when Bourne has been sighted and profiled and decides to change one simple but crucial aspect about his appearance to throw the authorities off his scent.

This stuff is more intriguing than the plot that surrounds Bourne, which here more than ever relegates him to being a vessel for an all-encompassing indictment of shadowy government organizations. The context of why Bourne and the assassin are at the Las Vegas event surrounds an exhibition of a new social-media platform created in tandem by entrepreneur Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) and CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, who is really just playing himself here), both of whom are also complicit in the creation of a new, Treadstone-like black-ops program. Dewey in particular is tied to Bourne's past in ways the latter cannot quite comprehend yet, because the memories are still repressed to just the degree Greengrass's screenplay (co-written by editor Christopher Rouse) needs them to be. A new agent named Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) believes she can bring in Bourne without killing him, but her inclusion in the narrative is labored by the viewer's constant need to question her allegiance.

That just reiterates how good the film is in its best moments, as well as how underwhelming it is everywhere else. Rouse's editing is as punchy as ever when matched to the pounding music score by David Buckley and John Powell, and Damon's performance is one of weariness that definitely seems to belong to Bourne and not the actor (An early scene shows Bourne participating in an underground fight club and allowing the other participant to get in his punches, which seems an unspoken statement of how thoroughly the man has given up until reluctantly called back into the action). "Jason Bourne" is a proficient-enough entertainment that one could do worse in the current blockbuster climate, but as a film in a series that has showed just how propulsively entertaining it can be, this new installment is a conflicted and conflicting imitator.

Film Information

Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Alicia Vikander (Heather Lee), Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Dewey), Vincent Cassel (The Asset), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), Riz Ahmed (Aaron Kalloor), Ato Essandoh (Craig Jeffers).

Directed by Paul Greengrass and written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse.

Rated PG-13 (intense violence/action, brief language).

123 minutes.

Released on July 29, 2016.