Man Seeking Movies: “Jason Bourne” is often thoughtless, sometimes compelling

Director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon bring our favorite amnesiac spy back in a mediocre sequel.

By Jack Cronin | Aug. 9, 2016

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With the return of Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, it was easy to feel optimistic about “Jason Bourne.” After all, the two seemed to be the key ingredients to the “Bourne” franchise’s success.

But the newest installment is almost as disappointing as the forgettable spin-off from 2012. In fact, “Jason Bourne” seems to have more in common with “The Bourne Legacy” than it does with the original trilogy. Despite having different directors, writers and casts, the pair of the action franchise’s newest films are both characterized by fairly thoughtless stories that don’t add to the series and frankly didn’t need to be told.

Since exposing Operation Blackbriar in the 2007 film “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has disappeared off of the CIA’s grid. Although he seems to have recovered his memory, Bourne is clearly discontented in isolation, prompting his participation in illegal fighting rings.

Meanwhile, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) has continued covert operations, independent of governmental intelligence agencies. When she hacks into the CIA’s database, she discovers some files that may be of interest to Bourne. Thus, she departs for Greece to find him. Closely trailing, though, is the CIA led by director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and cyber ops specialist Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

While this may sound like a standard plot for the spy film genre, the writing is pretty atypical for the “Bourne” franchise. Unlike the original trilogy, the characters generally lack clear motivations and often inexplicably jump to conclusions. Nicky falsely expects Bourne to be interested in what she’s found; Dewey and Lee assume his involvement based on nothing more than history. Even Bourne himself is suspect to illogical choices, with little reason to rejoin the world of special intelligence.

Likewise, much of the plot does not progress naturally. Many details in both narrative-building scenes and action sequences feel far too convenient. Otherwise good moments are often undermined by those that prompt viewers to think, “Oh, what a lucky coincidence!”

Most importantly, though, the central narrative is manufactured and uninteresting. Where the original trilogy focused on Bourne’s exploration of his past life and his choice to start a new one, “Jason Bourne” plays itself as a thoughtless revenge thriller. Bourne doesn’t necessarily grow or develop through this movie, but rather confirms his distrust for the CIA. In fact, the newest installment has changed the franchise only by introducing new players and adding one detail to Bourne’s past.

Truth be told, all of these criticisms may be excessively harsh. Yes, “Jason Bourne” is an imperfectly written film. But it still works fairly well as an action film thanks to its cast and the filmmakers behind it.

From Matt Damon as the returning lead actor to Alicia Vikander as his new CIA counterpart, each of the characters do the best with the material they’re given. Damon continues to play his amnesia believably well while the recent Oscar-winner Vikander excels as a character that may otherwise seem cheesy. Even the deft Tommy Lee Jones manages to strike a balance with a fairly thoughtless, irrational villain.

Though the actors certainly garner respect, most of “Jason Bourne’s” successes should be credited to director Paul Greengrass. As one of the great action film directors, he injects suspense, thrills and intrigue into a narrative that otherwise has none. With his chaotic, shaky-camera approach, the film keeps a quick, gripping pace during both action sequences and scenes of dialogue. Beyond action sequences, Greengrass also understands how to play characters’ emotional moments with subtlety rather than overplay them.

In “Jason Bourne,” Paul Greengrass and his cast have created a solid action movie that is fairly compelling in a visual capacity. Unfortunately, the lackluster writing and mindless plot keep it from stimulating any higher level thinking, making it a second consecutive disappointment to what was once a great franchise.

MOVE gives “Jason Bourne” 3 out of 5 stars.

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