Every single Bourne film thus far has ended with a new version of Moby’s Extreme Ways. It’s been a fitting and endearing way of tying up each new piece of Jason Bourne’s journey. However, when the first chord of the song rang out at the end of Jason Bourne, it felt different. Like a dinner bell ringing after spending days in the desert without food. It meant that the movie was over, and thank heaven for that. There will likely never be a straight answer as to why Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass have decided to return to this franchise. However, one thing is clear. Jason Bourne isn’t so much a comeback for the beloved series as it is a go-away. It’s a dreary reminder of how dated action heroes can become when they’re not willing to evolve with their audience.
We find Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) living in exile. It’s been nine years since his climatic showdown with the remnants of the Treadstone program that turned him into a killing machine. However, when his old cohort Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) uncovers further secrets that link to Bourne’s family, he’s forced back into the fold. On the grid once again, Bourne must find a way to remain hidden whilst seeking further revenge. Meanwhile, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) the latest crotchety CIA director, is hell bent on tracking Bourne down. To do so, he enlists the help of analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). A skilled tracker in her own right, Heather believes that she can find Bourne and return him to duty.
This is the cinematic embodiment of a twisted arm. Damon and Greengrass masterfully wrapped up Jason’s story in The Bourne Ultimatum and they know it. The film spends so much time desperately reaching for an excuse for Bourne to return, that it never starts. When it’s all said and done, we actually learn only a sliver more about Bourne’s past. However, that morsel (which feels pulled from a soap opera) takes over an hour for the film to fully reveal. Meanwhile, Greengrass is content to simply repeat the same formula that made up his other two Bourne outings. Angry folks stand and stare at computers barking orders. Lots of angry looking folks walk down hallways and city streets preparing for action sequences. Bourne occasionally does something neat to justify a chase scene. Who cares? Certainly none of these actors.
All of these performers act as though they’ve been scared awake from a nap before each take. Damon, spectacularly volatile and yet vulnerable before, is a blank slate here. Sure, the film tries to justify it by portraying Bourne as a colder, more closed off figure. However, it takes a fascinating character and turns him into a plot device with an already completed arc. It’s a shame, especially after Damon’s powerhouse turn in The Martian. Meanwhile, Stiles (also great before) delivers her lines like an acting student forced into the class because she couldn’t take a free period. Jones and Vikander have nothing to do either, both simply filling in blanks that make the Bourne machine work.
Mechanical is exactly how to describe Greengrass’ direction here. Despite all the rhetoric he’s spewed about evolving the franchise into this decade, he simply spins his wheels. The action sequences (aside from one spectacular climatic chase) are completely lethargic. It’s the same standard pushing and driving through crowds business as before, minus the energy. In fact, an early set piece involving a chase through a Syntagma Square protest feels like being stuck in traffic. Meanwhile, anything close quarters is muddled by Greengrass’ insistence on wobbling the camera around. It may have been a novel stylistic flourish before but in the age of films like John Wick and The Raid it feels lazy.
Any attempt at a unique narrative is utterly thin. There’s a subplot involving a social media guru (Riz Ahmed) being forced to use his platform to track people. However, it’s as simple as that and doesn’t add anything other than a building block for the climax. The idea of Vikander wanting to bring Bourne back in is an interesting nugget, but Greengrass is terrified to do something with it. After all, that would be a totally different movie. How can we have angry people look at computer screens in a different movie? It certainly doesn’t work as the set-up for a sequel, because after this mess any excitement for another installment would be masochistic.
Jason Bourne is about as uninspired a sequel as there can be (and in this summer, that’s been a contest). It has the skeleton of the other films, but none of the meat. Even the much derided Bourne Legacy attempted to do something different and move the franchise forward. Hopefully, this will be Damon’s last outing as a character he’s clearly not interested in. He doesn’t need it anymore, and neither do we. The good news: this film is as forgettable as the past of its protagonist.