'Jason Bourne': Matt Damon remembers everything now ... and the franchise manages to forget what made it great in the first place
Jason Bourne finally knows who he is. But Jason Bourne doesn't know how to process that information. After a nine-year absence from the multiplexes, Matt Damon returns in the franchise about a CIA-trained assassin whose memory, and identity, have been wiped clean.
Jason Bourne finally knows who he is. But Jason Bourne doesn't know how to process that information.
After a nine-year absence from the multiplexes, Matt Damon returns in the franchise about a CIA-trained assassin whose memory, and identity, have been wiped clean. Jason Bourne begins on a dusty corner of the Greek-Albanian border, where Bourne, looking fierce and furious, wraps his fists in tape and walks into a boxing bout, the onlookers hoping for blood. He throws one thunderous left hook, and a hulking Serb is on the ground.
This appears to be how the former black-ops killer is getting by these days, off the grid, on the run, collecting euros for pummeling his opponents. But after the kinetic trilogy - The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - in which our amnesiac hero wondered who he was and why he had such deadly skills, it has all come back to him.
"I remember," he says. "I remember everything."
Which is too bad because in Jason Bourne, overseen by Damon's Supremacy and Ultimatum director, Paul Greengrass, the existential underpinnings (Who am I? What am I doing here?) are gone. In their place, a simpler, more familiar (and generic) story: a patriot betrayed by his country, trying to survive, plotting revenge.
Back at Langley, Va., a weary-looking CIA chief, Tommy Lee Jones' Robert Dewey, is still looking for the runaway Bourne.
So is Bourne's one-time handler, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who sidles into a Reykjavik cyber-spy co-working space, runs a few programs, uploads to some satellites, and tracks Bourne down. The two meet in Athens, using an austerity protest - rioters, riot police - as cover.
But an ambitious CIA officer, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), has eyes - and a command room full of surveillance technology - on Bourne, too. Dewey dispatches a lean, mean shooter (the stone-faced Vincent Cassel) to take Bourne and Nicky out. And not for cocktails.
Jason Bourne does what any espionage thriller worth its encrypted USBs should: It crisscrosses continents (more datelines than a BBC News broadcast). It's heavy on firefights and foot chases, with screeching cars heading 100 m.p.h. into oncoming traffic, and a SWAT truck (in Las Vegas), plowing everything in its path.
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is cited twice, as CIA servers get hacked, and as information about agency programs - including Treadstone, the one that hatched Bourne and his memory-vacuumed cohorts - is disseminated.
The ongoing debate about national security vs. personal privacy is turned into a plot point: Riz Ahmed, star of HBO's riveting new crime series The Night Of, plays the young CEO of a social media giant promising his users that their personal information is safe and secure. So what's he doing huddling with the CIA's crusty Dewey, then?
Vikander, solemn and soft-spoken, spends most of her time toggling among computer screens, issuing curt directives, and walking down hallways with a watchful, wary eye. She could be Bourne's guardian angel. Or not.
Since wrapping up the original trilogy with Ultimatum, Damon and Greengrass, separately and together, continued to say that that was it, Bourne had run its course. So the folks at Universal ordered up a Bourne spin-off, The Bourne Legacy (2012), and while its star, Jeremy Renner, lacked Damon's wattage, the architect behind the movie, Tony Gilroy - who wrote the original Bourne pics, too - constructed a smart and tangled tale.
Gilroy (also writer and director of the great George Clooney thriller Michael Clayton) has nothing to do with the Jason Bourne screenplay. It shows.
The tradecraft is there, the film craft is there, but the craftiness of a great concept is gone. Any way Bourne can go through Treadstone again?