NINE years after we saw him swim to safety at the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, Matt Damon’s titular hero Jason Bourne returns for the fourth time in what is ultimately a modest but unremarkable piece.
Making a living travelling round Europe participating in bare-knuckle fights, usually with ease, Bourne is tracked down by old ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) when she stumbles upon a lead regarding his past. When the pair’s presence is discovered in Greece by ruthless CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his ambitious protege Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) in the CIA headquarters of Langley, the two are forced to escape.
After the attempt to flee the rioting country results in tragedy, Bourne sets off to uncover what Parsons suspected, taking him to Berlin, London and eventually, Las Vegas. Though his memory has long allowed him to remember the events from his past, this new lead spells out a new purpose and that the storybook of his past may not have closed entirely.
But hot on his heels is a cold-blooded assassin The Asset (Vincent Cassel) and as the stakes raise, Dewey and Lee conflict over where Bourne is better off killed or bought in alive, something that either way is not going to be attempted smoothly.
Proving that its forgettable spin-off The Bourne Legacy failed because it lacked Matt Damon, the return of him in his career-defining role suggests we are in for a big treat. Compared to Ultimatum though, the only proper highlight of the franchise and one of the finest action thrillers from the last twenty years, this one feels more like a plain thriller that has moments but divides opinion.
The action sequences are what the film bases itself upon and the end result proves there is too much predictability even by action film standards. The chase sequence where Bourne and Parsons escape the rioting CIA and riot police in Greece does lack for the most part an adrenaline rush and by its conclusion, the magic of Ultimatum‘s best action sequence feels somewhat tarnished.
Despite that initial scepticism, the remaining action sequences carry the appropriate level of engagement to the point where the first half’s mistakes are redeemed slightly by a more energetic second half. Though what is shown replaces the palm-sweating action of Ultimatum, the consensus is that the sequences improve as they go on, even if the palms remain dry.
Key to this is another London-based sequence where Bourne, under threat of capture or death, attempts to secure information from a past CIA analyst who is also targeted by Dewey’s demands for silence. The cat-and-mouse narrative acts as a remedy, culminating in one of Bourne’s luckiest, albeit likely sore, escapes.
In the climactic action sequence in the heart of Vegas, a chase between Bourne’s car and The Asset’s SWAT vehicle results in possibly a rival to Con Air‘s use of recklessly destroying Vegas property without thought for civilians nearby. Its the biggest spectacle of the film and though there could have been a more heart-pounding scene, for what it is, it does enough.
Clearly having Paul Greengrass return to direct and bring out his now infamous shaky camerawork is what keeps the film from self-destructing and unlike last week’s Star Trek Beyond, here is an action franchise piece with a fairly reliable direction.
Having a storyline revolving around the use of a social media platform that seems to be where it is for the CIA’s ulterior motives does not really fascinate enough. Because it is put alongside Bourne’s appealing quest, it feels second-rate and though the CEO of the website plays a pivotal part in the film’s Vegas conclusion, it seems as if the idea does not play as effective as intended.
One would theorize what really good actors like Vikander, Lee Jones and Cassel are doing in supporting roles in films like this. To be fair, given its reputation though, this is the sort of franchise that is competent at recruiting good actors and making their characters worthwhile given the genre.
Greengrass, using what material he has, is able to make the standard character types of shady agents and basic assassins seem interesting, on top of directing Damon to a typically respectable performance of Bourne, quick with fists but quicker with brains. In fact, Damon gives the clearest reason as to why there is no point in doing a Bourne-themed film without the man himself.
Vikander and Lee Jones’s mentor-protege capacity gives the film an unremarkable but modest edge for having more than one viewpoint available via the CIA’s perspective in the hunt for Bourne. Cassel acts enjoyable as ever displaying cold blooded-ruthlessness in the way one has come to enjoy from him, succeeding in this genre just as well as the works he does to a tee in his native France.
It doesn’t come close to the admiration The Bourne Ultimatum earned and there are some flaws, but Jason Bourne has enough action and skill to go by and meet in the middle, but it is only just.