Jason Bourne (2016)
I liked the first one, I REALLY liked the second one, and got lost on the third one. Didn’t even watch the fourth one, which was a really cheap attempt at world building ala Marvel. (Side note: Why do they always go to Jeremy Renner when trying to expand an existing franchise? I’m honestly surprised they didn’t throw him into Fantastic Beasts…) This fifth one gave me hope because Matt Damon was coming back – until I saw the trailer. It sparked memories of Rambo III and not in a good way, if that’s even possible.
The movie starts out with a quick recap of the previous films. It’s been 9 years since we saw Damon in the role and the important plot points need some refreshing: Jason Bourne, Treadstone program superman, is shot on a mission, is rescued, but has amnesia, and must rediscover who he was. The first three movies cover that whole arc. At the end of the third movie he states plainly, “I remember everything.” Cue Moby’s “Extreme Ways!”
So now he remembers everything, but it turns out there’s more to learn all the same. Sadly, this involves his father, following a disappointing trend in recent films of unnecessarily involving the main character’s parents as part of their tragic origins. Lookin’ at you Amazing Spider-Man, you fuck. But I’m jumping ahead. Rambo III. J.B. is working out in the Albanian/Greek desert (They have deserts? TIL.) as a pit fighter. One would think a guy this capable could make money in any number of ways, but the implication is that he can’t get away from his violent tendencies. He has flashbacks to his scandalous past (the aforementioned recap) and feels guilty for the lives he has taken. Instead of becoming a volunteer librarian in the Netherlands, he fights other meaty dudes for money. Or not, you never see him get paid. Maybe he’s a volunteer pit fighter. Sometimes he takes out his opponents with his first blow, other times he takes a lot of punishment before finishing things. Strange way to pay penance. Anyway, the underground fighting is just the first of a whole slew of cliches that this movie serves up.
Enter Julia Stiles as ex-CIA employee Nicky Parsons, currently badass hacker. She shows up to a dark warehouse full of computer equipment to hack into the CIA’s database. Apparently hackers don’t turn on the lights. Within minutes we are confronted with images of folders lamely labeled BLACK OPS, slow download progress bars (oh, the tension!), CIA agents on the other side of that download furiously typing to counter-hack Parsons, and someone ordering, “Enhance!” on a blurry image which miraculously becomes crystal clear. Later on, the CIA successfully deletes files from a laptop via a smartphone situated in the same room. Not directly connected with special software, it’s just sitting on the kitchen counter over there. You’d think between Bourne and the expert hacker in the room, they would know not to view stolen government secrets while connected to the fucking wifi. This is like an episode of 24. This is the stuff of PARODY. This is what shows me that the filmmakers haven’t grown with the times, they are still trying to make a CIA thriller for 2004, story points about online privacy notwithstanding.
A hallmark of this series has been Bourne’s almost entirely accidental involvement in secret government conspiracies. He just wanted to know who the fuck he was, and he found that out. And the government didn’t collapse. I am not understanding why everyone in the CIA has it in for this guy. He’s been off the radar for years, no problem. Maybe he’s just a big catch that would guarantee a promotion or something. I think because Jason Bourne has become a bit of a boogeyman within the halls of U.S. intelligence agencies, this is really a take on the Frankenstein story. EVERYBODY on the U.S. side of things seems to shudder when they hear his name. Hell, even one guy who spied on him almost 20 years ago remembers him. He is the horrible mistake they collectively made that needs to be corrected. Of course, they think he’s working with/in charge of Nicky Parsons who just stole a bunch of dirty secrets. Regardless, he has absolutely no stake in revealing them to the world. Why can’t he just say so when they manage to get him on the phone? People just don’t talk through their problems… Doesn’t matter in this case because Bourne has to find out who killed his daddy. Jason Bourne might as well be subtitled This Time It’s Personal (That’s Why We Used His Full Name). The retconned plot about his dad having something to do with Treadstone doesn’t go anywhere, but we do get a Bondesque French Anti-Bourne known only as The Asset who has a personal vendetta against Bourne for inadvertently getting a bunch of spies captured, tortured, or killed through his actions in previous films. I’ll give you three guesses who killed Papa Bourne.
I’m ignorant of the real world CIA staff, so maybe it’s totally normal for a bunch of foreign people to be working for the CIA in every corner of the globe. Alicia Vikander as an up-and-coming Cyber Security analyst is Swedish, Vincent Cassel: Super Assassin is French, and a whole bunch of heavies that appear to be locals in whatever country all take orders from the CIA. When a Frenchman carrying out assassinations for Uncle Sam calls Bourne a traitor, I can’t help but chuckle. I think Francois Hollande would like a word with you, sir. Furthermore, I need to point out that these government agents totally suck at blending in. They have giant earpieces you can spot across the street (except for the important ones who don’t). They are all conspicuously looking for their target or locked on like a T-800. And they’re not so subtly shouting things into their shoulders like, “Bravo team, eyes on target!” It’s like a bunch of bodybuilders are doing a flash mob at random locations throughout Europe. I would call the cops on people doing what they do in this movie. It is a strange dichotomy between these buffoons and the nigh-omnipotent government power they work for – the people who are casually ordering hits across the globe and tracking every cell phone in the world somehow. I’m unclear on the thugs’ backgrounds though. Are these ALL graduates of the Treadstone program? Shit, I hope not. What a waste of time and money. Total amateur hour.
Greengrass missed an opportunity to make a comment on how the world has changed since Bourne last surfaced and how he has too. Remember the classic image of a bus driving in front of Bourne and then he’s disappeared when the bus moves on? I think they do it in all the previous movies. They have that shot set up and I’m ready for it. Practically salivating for some of that good old Bourne stuff. Bourne walks away from camera. The bus drives across screen and… Oh, he’s still just walking away from camera. I thought it was supposed to be clever or funny or something about how he’s too old to pull that disappearing act anymore. I was wrong on all counts. His advancing age is never an issue in the story and it was obviously not a joke. Obvious because the movie has no sense of humor. These are fairly serious films, sure, but Franka Potente’s disbelief at Bourne’s abilities in the first one was a bit of precious relief from all that seriousness. This movie has none of that what-the-fuck perspective. Everybody is an insider, no “normal” people are a part of this anymore, and nothing is amazing as a result. It’s expected. Almost run-of-the-mill. The blurry shakycam 1.5sec long fist fights are back and distracting as ever. The car chase of the finale is exciting, but it is not interesting in the slightest. And let’s forget about the nonsensical way it’s put together, with no clear lines of action to be found. It’s more that the actual bad guy of the story has been dealt with by then and the only thing left is wanton destruction. Not a thing is at stake. They smash through blocks and blocks of Las Vegas traffic, probably killing more people than Bourne has in his whole assassin career, all in the name of pointless revenge, which is not what Bourne is supposed to be about as a character, and there’s not even a goddamn Ocean’s 11 reference.
Look, I don’t need a Bourne movie to occupy the same space as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or the campier James Bond movies. All I want is the people in Bourne movies to react to situations like human beings instead of exposition vending machines. The best we get is Tommy Lee Jones, who at least has something to play besides, ‘There’s Bourne! Shoot him!’ He gets to be a mean old Washington man who is having his career threatened by a young, ambitious, forward-thinking *gulp* woman! Maybe it’s not a villain that will be remembered for years to come, but literally every other character is stoic to the point of boredom. Paul Greengrass directed and co-wrote this movie. He has made some incredible films and I think he will again. It seems that he was so focused on remaking The Bourne Ultimatum that he forgot to make a movie about people. We got a movie about easily hacked computers and indestructible cars instead.
Jason Bourne earns four fatal car wrecks on the Vegas strip out of a possible ten. Now I’ve got “Extreme Ways” stuck in my head. Damn, you Moby!