Jason Bourne is already history.
In 2014, Kiefer Sutherland returned as Jack Bauer, his well-worn former government agent character, in “24: Live Another Day.” On the run and haunted, Jack has nothing left to live for when he is drawn into yet another plot to assassinate the President of the United States. In many ways, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is similar to Jack Bauer, not only because both men keep returning to these characters during the past 15-plus years. Like Bauer, Bourne is wanted by the government, the women close to him often die, he is a superhuman killing machine and he is a tortured soul that can no longer exist in society. Unlike Bauer, whose last outing was a definite uptick in quality over the dogged later seasons of “24,” this newest installment in the Bourne is definitely the weakest in the series.
Directed by Paul Greengrass, who also helmed The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Jason Bourne is the first time the director and the star have returned to the Bourne universe for nine years. Since then, Jeremy Renner stepped in as a similar character in the mildly received The Bourne Legacy (2012). Although Greengrass’ frenetic camerawork and furious editing felt fresh back in 2004, he doesn’t tinker with the formula, leaving Jason Bourne feeling like more of the same rather than something new.
Like Jack Bauer, there isn’t much substance to Jason Bourne. It’s even further compounded by the fact that he doesn’t remember much of his former life before the government turned him into a super soldier. Each film allows the character a flicker of a memory to spur him onward. At this point, we know Jason Bourne’s real name was David Webb and that’s about it. Here, Greengrass kickstarts the action when Bourne learns a bit more about his identity. From there, it’s the same thrill ride of shoot-outs, car chases and fist fights in lovely locations worldwide.
When we first meet Bourne, he is hiding out in Greece along the Albanian border. Doing what? Why taking part in underground boxing matches to, you know, kill the pain or something. Series stalwart Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finds our hero in the wilds with some information she ascertained from hacking the C.I.A. about Bourne’s father. With Parsons comes a whole heap of trouble as the C.I.A., led by Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), along with a nameless killer (Vincent Cassel) with a grudge against Bourne are hot on Parsons’ trail.
Based on the Robert Ludlum books, the Bourne series has always involved serpentine plots where crooked government officials and shady plots burble to the surface. Greengrass and co-writer Christopher Rouse keep things relatively simple here. Dewey, the director of the C.I.A., is up to bad things, willing to kill innocent people to keep his machinations secret. There is a subplot about his entanglements with a tech magnate (Riz Ahmed) that smacks of Edward Snowden, but that story is mostly a dead end. Jones, a great actor, is given little to do but stare at a computer screen is glower. Even less convincing is Vikander as his power-hungry employee. Hearing her ask about “sitreps” is pretty laughable.
There is a lack of passion here, rote filmmaking that makes even potentially exciting chase scenes feel middling. The magic is gone. After so many years away from the screen, does Jason Bourne even matter anymore? Like Jack Bauer, he feels like a relic, not quite as fossilized as Indiana Jones, let’s say. However, there really is no more compelling reason to keep trotting out Jason Bourne. His past may be the reason to keep making movies in this series, but at this point, Jason Bourne is already history.