Often imitated but never surpassed, the aesthetic vision of the “Bourne” series has influenced any number of action-film franchises. Coupling hyperkinetic camera work with densely layered conspiracies and an unsettling ambiance, the first three films in the saga were edge-of-your-seat adventures that revived a moribund espionage-film genre (the less said about the fourth movie, the better).
Discarding virtually all plot elements from the ho-hum “Bourne Legacy,” “Jason Bourne” reunites franchise veteran director Paul Greengrass with star Matt Damon. Longtime Bourne compadre Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) steals a cache of files regarding the various black-ops programs we’ve seen over the course of three previous films, planning to pull an Edward Snowden and leak them online. Naturally, some of the files have to do with Bourne…pulling the off-the-grid superspy back into the fray. Tommy Lee Jones promptly shows up as the requisite sinister intelligence director (bringing a reflective sincerity to his role) and dispatches a legion of faceless forces to bring down Bourne and Nicky.
On one level, this is familiar material – and indeed, all the pieces of a Bourne film, from chaotically destructive car chases to cross-plaza sniper showdowns, are here on full display. There are a few nice change-ups though, as screenwriters steeped in digital culture weave in subplots involving “big data,” social media, and mass digital surveillance (plot points that land better than their analogues in last year’s “Spectre”). And make no mistake: the franchise-staple elements are top-notch stuff. There’s a particularly ferocious motorcycle chase in the film’s first act that takes place in the midst of a violent nighttime riot, a dimly lit hand-to-hand battle that brims with brutal intensity, and plenty of tautly paced assassination attempts.
The acting is a bit more of a mixed bag. To put it gently, this is not Matt Damon’s finest hour: Bourne does virtually nothing other than look sullen and crush through everything in his path. Despite bearing the name of its central character, “Jason Bourne” doesn’t have time to probe Bourne’s own personality or psyche. By contrast, Alicia Vikander – channeling Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd – is the breakout star here, delivering a compelling performance as Heather Lee, an intelligence cyber-analyst with murky motives. And where the villains are concerned, Vincent Cassel (whom I have a hard time seeing as any character other than the sadistic ballet instructor in “Black Swan”) makes for a terrifying counter-assassin and one of the saga’s best antagonists. He stalks the set like an avenging ghoul, emotionlessly tearing through anyone who gets in his way, and poses a satisfyingly substantial threat to Bourne.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to see it, “Jason Bourne” is great fun that follows in the worthy tradition of its forerunners. That said, it doesn’t feel much like a concluding chapter: the Bourne character arc needs a satisfying closing. If there are more films to come, consider me excited for a sequel that pits Damon’s brutal survivalism against Vikander’s precise tactical approach – “The Bourne Redemption,” anyone?
While periodically uneven, this installment proves that the “Bourne” franchise still has some gas in the tank.
Normalized Score: 4.6