Jason Bourne

Repetition, convenience, and expected spectacle mark the return not only of a spy franchise, but of its key star and director.
Jason Bourne

 Matt Damon as Jason Bourne photograph via Universal Pictures.

Opening with flashes of its titular character's past and closing with the recognisable refrain of Moby's Extreme Ways, Jason Bourne is bookended by the familiar. Indeed, with the franchise's original star (Matt Damon, The Martian) and most frequent director (Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips) returning to the fold, the fifth film in the series initially based on Robert Ludlum's amnesiac espionage novels is filled with expected elements. For the key talent, the feature has been marked as a homecoming following their absence from 2012's The Bourne Legacy. For audiences, it is designed to offer the same experience.

So it is that the eponymous figure is plunged back into a world that he has tried to leave many times over – and, as has proven the case in 2002's The Bourne Identity, 2004's The Bourne Supremacy and 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, his re-immersion is not by his own choosing. After former agency worker Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, Misconduct) hacks into the CIA with the intention of exposing their shadowy activities, stumbling across information about Bourne's father in the process, their former employer comes calling. Busy pursuing a stealthy deal with a social media whiz (Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler), director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, Criminal) tasks cyber intelligence expert Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl) with stopping the situation from escalating, while dispatching a furtive field operative (Vincent Cassel, It's Only the End of the World) to dispense with the threat by more permanent means. 

Each of Bourne's previous altercations with his former superiors and colleagues have had personal connotations and ramifications, as the assorted efforts of a man trained to become an assassin for his country, stripped of his memory, and then chased down when he attempted to severe ties is bound to; however writer/helmer Greengrass and his frequent editor turned first-time co-scribe Christopher Rouse stress the more sensitive side of the story – and the protagonist's backstory – this time around. It's their main addition to the formula, though the duo augment existing elements rather than traverses new terrain. Given that their premise relies on convenience to justify Damon's return, as peppered with nods to Snowden-style whistleblowing and online privacy fears to keep the narrative in line with modern times, the decision to lean on what they know is understandable. 

In fact, as the former's penchant for hectic, handheld camerawork and the latter's recurrent preference for quick cuts within elongated action scenes demonstrates, adhering to the template while heightening already-established aspects is their approach to the entire movie. Aesthetically and rhythmically, their set piece-oriented efforts prove efficient in thrusting a spectacle onto the screen – and yet, only engaging to a point. The problem with getting the gang back together to relive old glories is that for every rehash that's effective, just as many are repetitive and over-extended, making much of the globetrotting film seem like it is going through the motions. 

Thankfully, as much as Damon follows the same lead in leaping back into comfortable territory nine years after his last Bourne outing, his strong, mostly silent portrayal of a haunted everyman turned hunted killer still hits the mark. Working with a screenplay that's determined to ramp up the emotional impact, he plays his role with convincing traces of pain behind his stoic face, even if he's upstaged by series newcomer Vikander (ostensibly stepping into Joan Allen's shoes from the preceding trio of movies, albeit as a different character). Elsewhere, Jones trots out his typical brand of cantankerousness, and the usually excellent Ahmed and Cassel are boxed into thinly written parts. Still, as much as Jason Bourne as a whole feels like a rote instalment in a franchise that's holding on a little too long, the pairing of Damon and Vikander give hope that any future chapters – and new occasions to trot out its concluding anthem – might offer more than a greatest hits-style package.


Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Jason Bourne

Director: Paul Greengrass

USA, 2016, 123 mins


Release date: July 28

Distributor: Universal

Rated: M

Sarah Ward

Thursday 28 July, 2016

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay