When The Bourne Identity was released in 2003 it felt like a revelation. It launched Matt Damon into the Hollywood stratosphere and fundamentally changed the way action movies were made. Paul Greengrass took the mantle with two sequels (Supremacy and Ultimatum) and added his unique frenetic camera, pace and tone. The trilogy is an action classic, a repetitive yet dense romp through the European countryside as our favorite amnesiac is searching for a past full of moral rot. 9-years and one bizarre, misguided sequel later Greengrass and Damon are back to dust off Jason Bourne to uncover yet another conspiracy.
Unfortunately this may be one conspiracy too many. Instead of being a welcome return to form, Jason Bourne plays like a bizarro version of the previous films. Everything looks and feels the same – shady government organization, assassin’s conspiring and our hapless hero running headfirst into the fray. Even the action beats feel correct. And that’s precisely the problem. Maybe we thought we wanted this, Damon and Greengrass to give it another go. But did we? How many times can Bourne outwit the government – being one tiny step ahead of their every move before this starts to feel like self-parody? The answer apparently is 4 movies.
Jason Bourne isn’t just a retread, it’s a high school cover band. Gone is the conspiratorial intrigue replaced with a half-assed grab at modern relevancy. Julia Stiles returns as someone I vaguely remember to pull Bourne back into the real world. She’s hacked the CIA and is planning on exposing a new, super-double secret ring of bad stuff but needs his help because, well, she’s not a super soldier.
So the only reason Bourne is exposed at all (he seems to be loving his life as an underground bareknuckle boxer in Greece) is because a vaguely recognizable character from his past asks him to hold a thumb drive (conveniently labeled “encrypted.”) Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander are on the other side of this hack, chasing Bourne and his top secret usb keychain. They use “hacking” and guns to constantly find Bourne only to have him outwit their operatives and slip away.
This wouldn’t be a review of Jason Bourne if I didn’t mention the sad excuse for computer hacking portrayed in this film. In a post-Mr. Robot world – a show that takes such care to ground hackers in realism – it is positively hilarious to watch this film’s version of what that is. At one point Vikander must hack through three firewalls to get to some files – how do they show that? A computer screen with three lines titled, “firewall a,b,c” – as Vikander furiously types away. If Mr. Robot is as close to Anonymous as we can get, Jason Bourne is a 3rd graders vision of what hackers do.
And despite the unintentional comedy Bourne is so utterly lifeless. The formula that worked so well in Damon’s original run can’t sustain this story, or barely even half the runtime. Damon’s physicality can carry the action, which remains as competent as ever, but with absolutely no consequence the man might as well be a Robocop. Jason Bourne is a Hollywood money grab at its most obvious. I thought Damon and Greengrass could maybe overcome that fact but not even the eternal Jason Bourne can stay one step ahead of this disaster.