JASON BOURNE (Paul Greengrass). 123 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (July 29). See listings. Rating: NN
Jason Bourne is exhausted.
And no wonder. It’s been nine years since we last saw Matt Damon’s renegade superspy in The Bourne Ultimatum, but even more time has passed for the character: Ultimatum was made in 2007, but it took place in 2004, immediately after The Bourne Supremacy.
Timelines can get confusing in this particular franchise, but never mind; all you need to know is that it’s now 2016, everybody has smartphones, and the CIA is just as rotten as ever, because that’s the moral arena in which Paul Greengrass’s Bourne movies operate. He and Damon both sat out 2011’s The Bourne Legacy, which featured Jeremy Renner in a parallel storyline about the CIA cleaning house after Bourne exposed its evil Treadstone program. It is perhaps telling that there’s no trace of that film in Jason Bourne.
Anyway, it’s the present day, and after years of living off the grid in Europe, Bourne is pulled back into action when his ex-CIA helper Nicky (Julia Stiles) – now radicalized and working for a Julian Assange-like figure in Berlin – hacks the agency and discovers Bourne has a very personal connection to the Treadstone project in a file folder labelled “Black Operations.” (The CIA continues to be very bad at keeping its darkest secrets.)
Nicky’s activities don’t really matter, because all Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse really want to do is put Bourne on the run again, so he can outwit an army of goons while men in suits stand around in situation rooms muttering angrily into earpieces.
This time, the head suit is Tommy Lee Jones as the CIA director, with Alicia Vikander as a middle manager who has herself put in charge of the Bourne chase. And as always, the chase is muddled by conflicting agendas, and it’s implied that Bourne’s righteous purpose (along with that creepy, murderous efficiency dumped into his head at Treadstone) gives him a clarity the spooks lack.
There is much running about and a lot of casual destruction, and many bullets are fired, because Greengrass loves that shit almost as much as he loves his chaotic visual aesthetic. Plot is a secondary concern; to Greengrass, these films are all about momentum. Who cares about the small details, like Vikander’s atrocious American accent – which had me convinced she’d turn out to be some sort of sleeper agent for a foreign power – or what exactly Deep Dream is supposed to be? (It’s the social-media MacGuffin that’s supposedly the crux of this new chapter, but the movie never bothers to tell us what it is, even during the extended climax set at a Las Vegas convention celebrating it.)
Damon’s as watchable as always as the conflicted, angry antihero – he really is perfect for this role, even when he’s given nothing to do but scowl and throw punches – but there’s just no point to anything that happens. The Bourne franchise found closure in 2007, and I can’t help feeling Damon knows it. He’s just too nice a guy to say no when his friends come calling.