** SPOILERS **
Jason Bourne is back. He doesn't want to be, but after 9 years off the grid, Jason Bourne is dragged
kicking and screaming scowling and killing into this decade, with the secrets of his past dangling in front of him like a carrot on a stick. Jason Bourne reunites Matt Damon, harder and more grizzled than ever before, with his maestro director Paul Greengrass, who helmed the terrific The Bourne Supremacy and the even more terrific The Bourne Ultimatum, the best action films of the aughts. Jason Bourne is not quite as terrific. Jason Bourne, Damon, and Greengrass all feel like they've lost a step. This newest installment feels inevitably redundant. While packed with slam-bang action, it all falls just short of the propulsive, giddy inventiveness of the previous films. Tony Gilroy, who penned the previous Bourne trilogy, then wrote and directed the odious Damon-less spinoff The Bourne Legacy, is off the grid here. The screenplay by Greengrass and Chris Rouse feels like Bourne fan fiction, answering questions about Bourne's past no one was asking, not even Bourne, while placing Jason Bourne awkwardly in our current political and cultural conundrums of WikiLeaks/Edward Snowden-like whistle blowers, Internet privacy, and data mining via a Facebook-like app called Deep Dream.
Even though Joan Allen and everyone at the CIA whom he knew a decade ago is either dead or gone, the new faces in the agency like CIA Director Tommy Lee Jones and his protege Alicia Vikander prove equally adept at manipulating events and murder to discredit or attempt to eliminate Bourne. Jones gradually reveals himself to be the most over the top super villain in the Bourne saga. Has there ever been a CIA Director who overtly planned to have the world famous head of a global tech company -- and his own subordinate Vikander -- murdered on stage in a televised tech conference in Las Vegas? Imagine if the head of the CIA planned to have Mark Zuckerberg murdered on televison at the Consumer Electronics Show. To her credit, Vikander clearly understands how evil and insane Jones is and works with Bourne to eliminate him. The idea of Bourne and Vikander teaming up in future Bourne movies is so appealing, our hearts sink when she reveals herself to be as duplicitous as anyone else at the CIA.
Thing is, Jason Bourne just wanted to be left alone. He was
perfectly happy content existing in Greece, eking out a meager living knocking people out in underground fight clubs and having constant nightmares consisting of clips from the previous Bourne movies. Meanwhile, the lone friend person he knows from the previous trilogy, ex-CIA computer whiz Julia Stiles, hacks the CIA's database and pulls all the hidden files of the CIA's various secret black ops programs, including Treadstone, which created Jason Bourne. Turns out Bourne's father Richard Webb was more than merely an analyst and had a more direct role in Treadstone. Richard was then murdered to ensure his son David would "volunteer" so he could be transformed into Jason Bourne, the CIA's greatest, most uncontrollable killer. When Bourne learns all of this, his reaction is basically: "Well fuck. That sucks." There is nothing more to be done with this revelation and information except kill the Asset who murdered his father, Vincent Cassel, in an absurdly destructive car chase, demolishing casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.
All of this navel-gazing into Bourne's past ultimately lessens Bourne himself. The magic of Jason Bourne lays in him being a tabula rasa, with the audience able to project themselves into Bourne's base simplicity and underlying sense of goodness while vicariously thrilling to him being the greatest fighter, stunt driver, and killer alive. Heaping piles of tragic backstory onto Bourne's shoulders feels unnecessary and redundant. The poor guy's life is ruined enough. Bourne, alone in the wind, never moving on after losing his only friend and lover Franka Potente, is unfortunately better off this way. Jason Bourne also doesn't shy away from the effect that time has passed for Bourne. It's jarring how many photos and video, digitally manipulated or previous Bourne movie footage, Jason Bourne utilizes showing young, babyfaced Matt Damon from over a decade ago. By the end, we and Bourne realize he's caught in a perpetual hamster wheel, that the world isn't big enough for him to hide in before being dragged back into the agency's clandestine murder and madness. Bourne's only solace is his magical ability to just walk away undetected from any crime scene. Until the next movie. Until whatever semblance of peace Jason Bourne finds for himself falls apart, like it always does.