You know his name.
One of the most memorable scenes in The Bourne Identity arrives at the end of a tense shootout between Bourne (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting) and a CIA assassin played by Clive Owen (Closer). The assassin is dying, and his thoughts drift away from the questions Bourne is hammering him with. “Look at this. Look at what they make you give,” he says, giving Bourne a look of sorrow and sympathy that speaks volumes. Bourne’s story is fundamentally a tale of loss: of memory, of identity, of loved ones, of everything. It’s a notion effectively underscored towards the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, as a beleaguered Bourne repeats the line to another confused young killer. Now, returning to the big screen after a nine-year hiatus, Bourne has suffered yet another loss: a reason to exist.
This character wasn’t meant to be trapped in an endless franchise. He isn’t James Bond or Ethan Hunt, easily hitting the reset button and jumping into a new globe-trotting adventure every few years. Bourne’s story had a clearly-defined start and finish, and that story was told – imperfectly, but effectively – over the course of the first three movies in the series. Initially, Universal tried to move on with a spinoff series starring Jeremy Renner, but The Bourne Legacy was both terminally dull and eminently pointless. So, Damon and director Paul Greengrass (who helmed both Supremacy and Ultimatum) were brought back in, but fail to make a compelling case for why this character needed to return. Worse still, they fail to even deliver a competent two-hour entertainment.
For the past decade or so, Bourne has been a ghost: he keeps his head down, makes a little money by participating in illegal fistfights and tries to stay off the intelligence community’s radar. Alas, when his old pal Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, Silver Linings Playbook) decides to help hack the CIA in order to expose their shady black ops programs (which the CIA has helpfully stored on a computer in a folder labeled “Black Ops”), a number of secrets about Bourne’s past are unveiled. The big one: his late father seemingly played a role in creating Operation Treadstone, the controversial program that Bourne was once a part of.
Thus, we begin another round of searching for answers and seeking revenge as a grouchy CIA official (this year’s model played by Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men), an ambitious young CIA officer (Alicia Vikander, The Light Between Oceans) and an off-the-books assassin (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) do their level best to stop Bourne from uncovering the full truth.
The story is a bland, confusing muddle that often feels like a limp, poorly-planned attempt to mimic the basic structure of the earlier movies. Bourne – who evolved as a character in some interesting ways in the earlier movies – has been reduced to little more than a robotic killing machine, performing all sorts of difficult action-movie feats as the plot shoves him into one dangerous scenario after another. The moments that attempt to humanize him are such pale imitations of similar scenes from the earlier movies that they become laughable: when a look of misery crosses Damon’s face and he says that he’s trying to find a non-violent path, you know that the movie has no intention of actually letting him follow up on that idea.
The supporting cast is loaded with talent, but the film finds a way to waste pretty much all of its assets. Alicia Vikander is one of the most gifted actresses of her generation, but here seems to be going through the motions. Precious little of Vincent Cassel’s menacing charm can be found in his generic assassin, and Tommy Lee Jones looks like he’d rather be doing anything else (many of the characters Jones plays seem as if they’d rather be doing anything other than what they’re doing, but that’s a whole different thing than what’s happening here). The only cast member who makes much of an impression is Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), playing an underwritten-but-interesting Silicon Valley billionaire whose crisis of conscience manages to register more strongly than Bourne’s.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Greengrass’ direction feels so lackluster and sloppy. While some of his works are better than others, there’s no question that Greengrass is one of the more distinctive voices in modern action filmmaking. Here, it often seems as if we’re watching the work of a B-level imitator. With the exception of a well-staged final fight sequence (which still pales in comparison to the better action bits from the earlier movies), most of the mayhem here seems clumsily thrown-together and lacks the sort of chaotic-yet-purposeful excitement that marks much of the director’s work.
Jason Bourne (Blu-ray) offers a strong 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. Detail is exceptional throughout, even though the film’s shadow-filled world of computer screens and dark alleys isn’t exactly the most visually dazzling thing in the world. Depth is strong, flesh tones are accurate and there’s a fairly thick layer of grain present throughout. The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track is certainly terrific, giving every punch, kick and gunshot the oomph it deserves while allowing the score and dialogue the room they need to breathe. Supplements include a handful of featurettes (“Bringing Back Bourne,” “Bourne to Fight,” “The Athens Escape” and “Las Vegas Showdown”), a DVD copy and a digital copy.
This movie was always going to have the surface-level appearance of an easy cash grab, but it’s a shame that it actually plays that way. Time for Mr. Bourne to retire.