Re-Bourne from the ashes. Bourne to be wild. A real… Jason. Lee checks out the fifth Bourne movie, Jason Bourne.
Note: While specifics are vague, one could consider the following review spoiler-y. If you intend on seeing this movie and don’t want it spoiled, watch before reading. If you couldn’t care less, or would need a solid reason before actually watching it, read on.
The Bourne franchise, already proven to be discontent with its satisfying if drawn-out ending for everyone’s favourite brooding anti-Bond Jason Bourne, coupled with its spin-off abortive love labour The Bourne Legacy, has taken its first real foray into eternal establishment with its most eponymous adventure yet, Jason Bourne; toying with the possibility that at some point, like all great franchises, it might even maybe possibly sort-of could supposedly given the off chance, evolve.
It’s a noble endeavour, and around the middle section of this latest thriller, the actual possibilities outnumber the fears and doubts. It seems risky, especially for the big companies that keep pouring money into these films, to consider that the thing people remember most about Jason Bourne, his memory loss, might possibly be pushed aside and someday forgotten. We’d have to try and consider the character from some other angle, maybe analyse him as the human being he continually claims to be underneath all the violence and murder, and stop just feeling bad for him because we don’t understand him.
Ideas are toyed with, and one that struck me as the most exciting was the idea that Jason Bourne might evolve into some sort of positive symbol for reconstruction and political change. Leaving the moping and mystery behind and finally acting on his disestablishmentarian context to become something of an icon for not just talking the talk by pointing out how shady governments are always shady, but actually walking the walk and suggesting how they might be better off not being that.
As a direction, it seems inspired. Bourne films are remembered as the thinking-man’s action movies, so surely letting the character take on a more supervisory role would be a great evolution of his original purpose and even come to feel like some sort of arc that people could agree feels earned. It would mean a huge shift in tone however as Bourne spends more time behind the desk, but the tonal switch and the juxtaposition to his original vision could cement the series as one not firmly rooted in its time period but also forward thinking and genuinely edgy.
Of course, this doesn’t happen in Jason Bourne. It’s too soon; too risky. Instead, seeds are planted, and this promise of inevitable change (or inevitable decline and failure if it doesn’t) turns out to be one of this movie’s strongest selling points. Socio-political name dropping only gets you so much street cred: invasion of privacy by government bodies and social media companies, selling of personal information, hacking and cyber-terrorism, political and military and intelligence agency corruption are all pretty well-established but eternally unresolved issues that exist in our modern world, and we rely on films like Jason Bourne to take the critical fiction route and spell them out as the bad guys so that we, the movie-watching masses, don’t forget. But after a certain point, you have to do more than point at the bogeyman; you have to show us what to do about it.
To toy with the idea that Jason Bourne, the betrayed Bond, could actually do something more than selfishly piece himself together would be a great exploration and opens up so many opportunities. Maybe he succeeds; maybe he fails. Maybe we get a Godfather scenario where he gets drawn in despite his better efforts and becomes the monster he always feared. There’s a lot of wiggle-room for fun character expansion, and while Jason Bourne doesn’t necessarily take these opportunities itself, the fact that it pushes a plot that is nearly dependent on these ideas rather than some memory fixing McGuffin deserves praise. It’s not the most adrenaline-pumping premise for a thriller, but that’s what separates these from your usual spy fare.
That still leaves this movie somewhere just above the status quo line however. Bourne never really gets an arc in this piece at all, going from mopey and unsatisfied to still mopey and unsatisfied, but in a different country. Sure, he’s the man that can’t be bought, it’s a pretty cool status quo to keep, but it’s hard to invest in a character who seems borderline indestructible and who never falters. It could make for some interesting slower-plays, and the film does hit its stride more often with the conversations than the action set-pieces, but as a character study we’re not given much in the way of creative scenarios with which to test Bourne’s mettle.
Director Paul Greengrass, of Supremacy and Ultimatum, returns with his signature handheld style that, in the slower parts actually feels much improved and more experimental than in previous outings, but has never been more chaotic and disorienting in regards to action. Set-pieces and car chases swish and blur to a point where you are only getting a faint sense of what is happening, not a clear image; a concept one could consider fine if it had any discernible purpose other than to be emblematic of the nature of the acts. CIA use tripods and steady, Bourne is uneven but focused, action is swishy and impenetrable; it’s not rocket science, and it’s also not nearly as fun as it should be. That said, the staple Bourne fist-fight with handhelds has never looked better, so quid pro quo.
Mission-babble makes up most of the dialogue, and it has never felt more tame. Nobody interjects humour or witticisms into a single line, which makes sense for Bourne’s character and a few of the upper echelon in the CIA, but hackers and assassins too? Must everyone be so dour? Is this a world of characters we really want to better?
Some exploration of the bigger concepts seem a little undercooked as well. “Patriotism” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and it feels a little mishandled here. Yes, deep down, Bourne wants to save his country from itself, but just because that country is America, suddenly he’s a patriot? Perhaps it’s to distance ourselves from the key players allegedly on Bourne’s side; notably, he never calls himself a patriot. The word embodies something closer to the establishmentarianism that Bourne has been fighting against these last four movies, an ordered Nationalism that somewhat underscores the more sceptical edge the character adorns, and to label him as one seems a little lazy on the screenwriters’ parts.
Throwaway characters, a slow start and a surprising experiment in narrative order, in which the film climaxes on a chase and fight with a character that is certainly more of a grunt than a fully fleshed big boss like the one that gets defeated in the middle of the third act, all serve to draw into question some of the decisions being made here. The latter especially makes for a strange, interesting jumbling of tradition, but also feels a little light and ultimately leaves the final action scenes somewhat anticlimactic as far as confrontations go.
Still, there is a perfectly competent action film here, and the potential for discussion and future films feel more exciting than ever before in this series. Missteps and blurry direction might lose the attention of some along the way, but Bourne’s future as an action icon has never looked brighter.