For years fans, critics even, have been clamouring for more Bourne action, a follow up to the most intelligent and enjoyable espionage action series in many a year. Star Matt Damon held out until gun-fu guru director Paul Greengrass was ready with the “right story” – well, be careful what you wish for, because this disappointing add-on, whilst not exactly besmirching what came before it, is as forgettable as agent Bourne’s previous life history when he was first plucked out of those icy waters.
The script by Greengrass, his editor Christopher Rouse, and with input from MATT DAMON! himself, tries to update Bourne’s struggle to the Snowden era of digital surveillance. However, the dual strands of Bourne’s fellow off the grid run-away Nikki Parsons’ (Julia Stiles) exposure of yet more CIA black-ops programs (“I remember everything.” “Oh YEAH?!”), with a trendy young Search Engine guru (Riz Ahmed: “Your privacy is safe – honest!”) in bed with the CIA, don’t mesh convincingly. In fact, it’s hard to really care about anything going on. One of the worst sins of the plot is a degree of retconning, and the annoying trope of “everything’s connected” – Bourne, or rather David Webb as was, is no longer the unquestioning patriot who signed up to Treadstone but had last minute doubts. Here, he’s doing so out of a sense of revenge. Also, the nameless “Asset” (Vincent Cassel) on his trail has his own ulterior motive and has an even further connection to Bourne. The contributing author of all Bourne’s pain, to coin a phrase from James Bond series rival SPECTRE, is sadly missing – Tony Gilroy. It’s as if they came up with the set pieces first, and fitted a story around them, which was never really what the Bourne series was ever about. There’s also a dumbing down of the way information is doled out, as if the audience, like Bourne spin-off character Aaron Cross, are off our chems.
When we first meet Bourne he’s bare chested, ripped, bare knuckle brawling on the Greek – Serbian border. One half expects John Rambo to enter the baying ring, the two monosyllabic monoliths duking it out, atoning for their sins with a mutual mauling. It doesn’t take long for Nikki, who we last saw with appearance changed, now inexplicably looking exactly like she was in her CIA days, to draw Bourne (why does no-one on his side now call him David?) back with her hacking revelations. This leads to the suspense and action piece de resistance of the film, a night-time cat and mouse chase amidst an anti-austerity riot against police in Athens, Bourne thrillingly and convincingly butting up against on the pulse politics (The Brexit Identity?). The action here is crisp, exciting, and easy to follow, Greengrass channelling his documentarian background to great effect. A later Las Vegas set –piece with an armoured car is more choppy, glossy, and confusing, and has an unfortunate on the nose commentary of its own, in light of the recent horror in Nice.
One of the great elements of the Bourne films has been the oily, layered CIA top dogs, and strong female characters, like Nicki and Franka Potente’s Marie, and especially the great Joan Allen as hard but increasingly sympathetic Pam Landy. Here there is no such buffer –predictable bulldog casting in the case of Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy Director Robert Dewey, hardly stretching himself here, and plain miscasting of Alicia Vikander as his ambitious protégé Heather Lee. The talented actress is too young for this in my book, even if she is a bright spark in the emerging cyber warfare end of the agency. She seems to adopt the Sean Connery Untouchables school of acting, in adapting a half-hearted establishing scene accent, then quickly dropping it as too much effort. She displays very little nuance of a character hiding her own agenda, probably a weakness of the script.
The spooks seem to have an even more omniscient grasp of everything, and Bourne equally seems to have got lazy, easily espied through a warehouse window at one point. Laughably, a sniper’s scope cross-hair view of Bourne is replayed EXACTLY on a giant screen – does The Asset have bionic eyes? What on earth are CIA chiefs doing onstage at a tech conference with Ahmed’s character? I’m sure it was explained but it still doesn’t make sense. An odd point occurred to me as I dutifully watched the film – surely in the years that have passed, Bourne’s many fake passports would have expired?
“Look what they ask of you,” Bourne said to a Blackbriar goon in a satisfying coda to round-up the series in The Bourne Ultimatum. With the disappointing return to the well of Jason Bourne, it’s too much for me. To quote our hero again, “I’m on my own side now.” [Discards earpiece] *Cue Moby*