Monday, 1 August 2016

Jason Bourne

(M) ★★★

Director: Paul Greengrass.

Cast: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed.

Matt Damon spotted Jimmy Kimmel in the crowd.

FOURTEEN years on from his cinematic debut, it’s easy to forget how big an impact Jason Bourne had on the world of movie spies.

While James Bond was driving invisible cars around ice castles and Ethan Hunt was in between impossible missions and unfathomable stunts, Bourne burst on to the scene, punching and headbutting his way into the hearts and minds of critics and fans around the world.

He was a gadget-free, CG-light breath of fresh air that blew some much-needed grit, blood and brutality into an increasingly tired genre. It led Bond and Hunt to have a look in the mirror and change what they saw – there would be no Casino Royale without The Bourne Identity, and M:I3 would likely have been a very different film.

Across a consistently great and under-rated trilogy, Bourne made Damon into a superstar, with the series even spawning a surprisingly okay non-Damon ‘sidequel’ starring Jeremy Renner.

But the question has to be asked – why is Bourne back? What more is there to do with this once-amnesiac assassin, having neatly wrapped things up with three films and an unnecessary spin-off?

To paraphrase Michael Corleone, just when Bourne thought he was out, they pull him back in, with Nicky Parsons (Stiles) returning to do the pulling. Having gone rogue herself, she entices Bourne out from the cold with some stolen CIA documents she claims reveal more details about Bourne’s life before he became a US government-sanctioned killer. This inadvertently shoves Bourne into the thick of it, with a CIA director (Jones), an analyst (Vikander) and an assassin known as The Asset (Cassel) hot on his tail.

As with Renner’s The Bourne Legacy, this film is entertaining yet redundant. It adds nothing vital to the Bourne mythos beyond filling in the superfluous details of what he’s up to post-The Bourne Ultimatum (illegal boxing matches apparently) and more of what he did pre-The Bourne Identity. It’s a sequel looking for a raison d'être but is unable to find one and carries on regardless.

This isn’t an entirely bad thing. Jason Bourne does everything you expect a Bourne film to do – the up-close punch-ons and improvised weapons, the insane car chases, the oh-so-clever spycraft, and the hi-tech espionage techniques that border on wizardry are all pleasingly on display.

But five films in, the Bourne saga has hit the problem all rock bands face on album number five – do you reinvent yourself and do something new, potentially failing and alienating your fans, or do you stick to what you do best and keep pumping out same-sounding albums, potentially boring your fans?

It’s a tough choice and either way you will draw flak. Greengrass (who directed Bournes 2 and 3) opts for the latter route, so while it is probably unfair to criticise him for sticking to a winning formula, it’s the biggest downside to Jason Bourne. As entertaining as this fifth film is in places, it adds nothing new to the saga, making it ultimately unnecessary and far from vital, washing over you in a sense of unmemorable déjà vu.

Amid the blur of edits and shaky shots – a technique The Bourne Identity helped make de rigueur 14 years ago – there are a few moments of real spectacle (the car chases are notably awesome) and Damon is still a commanding presence in the titular role. Vikander can do no wrong, Stiles is again sadly under-used, Jones does what Jones does best (which is grumble with authority), and the whole thing is smooth and efficient.

Like The Bourne Legacy, this is a decent time-killer and probably as good as you can expect it to be, but when it comes time to argue over which is the best Bourne movie, no one will be picking Jason Bourne.

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