Jason Bourne review: Sequel offers ’Matt Damon is back’ thrills but not much more

Christopher Hooton
Tuesday 26 July 2016 10:40
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When The Bourne Identity arrived in 2002, its protagonist was like a shot of benzodiazepine in the arm following the pun-spewing tomfoolery of James Bond and similar spies, but, actually, Jason Bourne is a pretty throwback character.

He belongs to the hardboiled, get-the-job-done leading men of action films past, but even in this time of increasingly progressive heroes remains incredibly popular for his steely, charisma-not-necessary aloofness - so popular in fact that the franchise was resurrected after Jeremy Renner nadir The Bourne Legacy for a fifth film some 14 years after the original just to bring the real Bourne back.

I get it. I like him too. I like how he walks entirely purposefully no matter where he is, as though he has literally every road and building complex on Earth memorised. I like how he can beat up an entire room of henchman armed with just a sheet of A4. I like how he prefers to just stride away from conversations rather than end them.

It is undeniably a thrill having Matt Damon back in the role, right from the moment he turns up inexplicably one punch K.O.ing Serbs in some dusty central European town (I like to think he swam all the way there after his rooftop jump in The Bourne Ultimatum).

Crucially, Supremacy and Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass also returns along with his idiosyncratic fight scene style. While other action film directors rely on vertiginous stunts, CGI and/or gore to stun audiences, Greengrass manages to make incredibly simple violent encounters thrilling. One punch is worth a whole clip of bullets in any other film, all landing with such satisfyingly messy semi-realism that the action feels real and tangible. You may recall Bourne previously dispatching with an enemy using a biro - in this one it’s a table leg.

Jason Bourne wisely mines uncertainty over Big Data, social media privacy and information leaks for its plot, rooting it to 2016 and adding a real world context that was a little lacking in the trilogy, the central threat revolving around the government’s overbearing influence on Mark Zuckerberg-esque ‘Deep Dream’ CEO Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed). Having been lying low pretty much since the internet was invented, Bourne has zero time for this new age shit, and doesn’t trust the CIA operatives trying to bring him back in (or else off him). The CIA here is led by Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), your one-dimensional, gung-ho director, with support from new second-in-command (special chief of something or other, I forget) Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Vikander does a good job with the sparse dialogue she has, and, ultimately straddling the line between goody and baddy, leaves the door open for sequels should there be any more.

It’s a kinetic film, but unfortunately all that motion ends up feeling like going through the motions, and by the Las Vegas chase denouement I’d somewhat lost interest.

As (spoilers ahead, but not really, let’s face it) Bourne again walks off into the sunset as that Moby song plays, the feeling is very much ‘ah that was nice, but let’s just leave it there shall we’.

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