Thursday, 28 July 2016

JASON BOURNE

(Paul Greengrass, 2016)

Taking the original Bourne trilogy as a distinct sub-genre, Jason Bourne then attempts a sort of paint-by-numbers rendition of that sub-genre's greatest hits. So we get a hyper-kinetic fist fight, an insanely destructive car chase, Bourne taking out teams of agents while their bosses are confused in a control room, glimpsing him on cctv; Bourne feeling morose about his past sins. It gets worse: in that fist fight, it starts out hand-to-hand before Bourne (Matt Damon) improvises a weapon in response to his opponent (Vincent Cassell) drawing a knife - just as he did in both of the first two Bourne films.
Only in this case, none of those familiar elements is especially well done. Instead they feel tired, secondhand, even pointless.
That is always a risk with a sequel so far after the event: it feels unnecessary. It has been 9 years since Damon and Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum, and though original trilogy screenwriter Tony Gilroy sought to spin the franchise off in an alternative direction with the convoluted, Damon-less The Bourne Legacy, they did make a satisfying complete series of films. Tonally similar, thematically linked but distinct, and with a nicely shaped narrative, the Bourne saga could have just ended there and it would have been fine. But he has made too much money for Hollywood to allow that.
So here he is, and the storyline that drags him back into the open within the film seems unworthy of the character. It is complicated and dumb, involving the Mark Zuckerberg-like Riz Ahmed and some new software he has designed, which the CIA (spearhead here by Tommy Lee Jones) hope to use to help them to spy on everybody, all of the time. Bourne (living a life as a bare-knuckle street fighter, much like Rambo at the start of Rambo 3) is contacted by Nicki (Julia Styles), who tells him that he needs to see some files she hacked from the CIA, since they explain some more about his past. So now he's on the run, trying to uncover more about his own life, while new CIA tech-head (Alicia Vikander) is convinced he can be brought back in and her boss (Lee-Jones) and his pet assassin (Cassell) are bent on killing him.
Basically, much here is utterly boring. Too many conversations in control rooms, board rooms, hotel rooms. Bourne barely features, showing up at each action scene then more or less disappearing again after he's inflicted maximum damage and completed one ridiculous feat of physical daring and ingenuity. But the stakes feel low and forced, the existential questions underpinning the original films totally absent and replaced by bigger, louder, dumber set pieces.
Those set-pieces and the excellent cast keep this watchable through the long dry stretches. Damon - now the greatest movie star of his generation - grimaces and grunts and looks sad when he needs to do so, but he feels a bit too good for this role now.

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