When The Bourne Legacy came out in 2012, audiences and critics were quick to dismiss the Jeremy Renner-lead spin-off for the egregious lack of its titular character, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), and the dubious means in which it connected, however loosely, to the series. These complaints were warranted, to be fair. While I enjoyed Tony Gilroy’s film more than most, it was ultimately a bit of a cash-grab, and it lacked the intensity, ruggedness and gritty craftsmanship that made the original three films — the first, 2002’s The Bourne Identity, directed by Doug Liman, the other two, 2004’s The Bourne Legacy and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, directed by Paul Greengrass — such a global phenomenon, particularly in a post-9/11 world. But if they had known what was in store in Jason Bourne, Damon and Greengrass’ unexpected return to the property, maybe they would have been kinder.
The fourth film in the series, the first to feature the lead character in nine years, isn’t necessarily bad. Greengrass is among the most distinct and intelligent filmmakers working today, and even his weakest efforts, like 2010’s Green Zone, bare his signature touch. Jason Bourne is no exception. But with expectations high and the country at more unrest than seemingly ever before, the results are unexpectedly stagnant and formulaic this time around, in ways the franchise has never been before — even under The Bourne Legacy‘s watch.
It lacks the same drive and pulp that made the past three installments so electrifying, exciting and terrifically entertaining to watch, providing a disappointingly sleepy return. Damon and Greengrass really needed to bring the lightning, especially after so much time spent away from the franchise. Instead, they merely bring the occasional burst of thunder, in a film that rumbles instead of shakes — even when the camera suggests otherwise. But I’ll get to that more in-depth in a moment.
After living in seclusion for years, Jason Bourne is back, and the government isn’t happy. Called into action by his former partner, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), Jason finds himself running towards answers regarding his past, particularly relating to his dead father, which CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) doesn’t want Bourne to discover. Assisted by Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a rookie tech wiz, and Asset (Vincent Cassel), an ace shooter with a bone to pick, they track and corner the trained agent around the globe.
And while he’s not getting any younger, Bourne finds himself no match to drones, lethal snippers and cell phone trackers. Though he might be more vulnerable to resistance, his thirst for the truth can never be quenched, even if Lee thinks the CIA can use Bourne’s fragile existence to their advantage. Bourne isn’t afraid to stand up for himself, but as things get more comprised, he’ll realize that his own well-being isn’t the only one on the line. When tech billionaire Aaron Kallor (Riz Ahmed) threatens to upset Dewey’s plans towards infringing national privacy, Bourne will need to protect the identity safety of the free world, in addition to searching almost endlessly for his own true self.
Damon and Greengrass felt it was important to give Bourne a timely purpose to return, and while Bourne’s relevance in a social media age post-Snowden is interesting, it’s ultimately left mostly unexplored in the service of punching, kicking, smashing, dashing and general action beats, which grow more tiresome over the course of this 123 minute sequel. With the exception of one truly extraordinary Vegas-based car crash, leading to one of the most impressive practical stunts seen on-screen in years, the action feels like a retread of what we’ve already seen before, notably from Greengrass’ trilogy capper. It’s no longer fresh or exhilarating, and it expects us to be thrilled by the same camera tricks and physical feats that we’ve already seen before. But that’s not the only thing that rehashed.
Jason Bourne essentially plays as a soft reboot of The Bourne Supremacy, to the point where it recreates a key spoilery moment from that specific installment (which, apparently, was leaked in the newest trailer). It suggests that this fourth film is the start of a new trilogy, but with the last few films not far in our own memories, and without anything truly interesting or unique to derive from the series, it just feels cheap and lazy. While Damon is never less than committed to the character, both physically and professionally, the general vibe of this new film is unenthused and sluggish. Greengrass is too talented and prideful a filmmaker to make something completely half-assed, to be sure, but the plotting is less defined, the writing isn’t as sharp and it lacks a firm, beating heart this time around. Despite what The Bourne Legacy‘s biggest detractors might say, Jason Bourne feels like the most soulless Bourne film to date.
I’ve never been a big shaky cam fan, but the way it was used in Supremacy and Ultimatum felt purposeful and engaging. It brought an intensity and intimacy that wasn’t found in other films prior. But here, it just feels uninspired and dodgy. While it’s stylistically in-sync with the other films, it now comes across sloppy and undefined, especially as other, lamer action films have tried (and often failed) to mimic the style, ad nauseam, throughout the past decade. Which is ultimately kinda indicative of this third sequel as a whole.
Jason Bourne is not without merit. The cast does a noble job on the whole, although Ahmed is perhaps the biggest standout. The Nightcrawler actor continues to prove himself on HBO’s The Night Of and, while he’s given only a limited amount of screen time, he continues to astound. Additionally, the grounded scenery is lived-in and appropriately gritty, in ways only Greengrass and Michael Mann’s films have been for productions of this scale. And the editing, from co-writer Christopher Rouse, is fast and hard-hitting, as it has always been in this series. But in a summer filled with disappointments, this one is particularly discouraging — particularly since it has no real right to be as mediocre as it ends up. Jason Bourne has finally returned, yes, but he makes an unremarkable comeback. I think some people owe a formal apology to The Bourne Legacy.