By James Kenney. Originally Published in 2016 at Whatchareading.com
Ten years on, maybe we’ve realized the Jason Bourne movies were never so great. They have always had a good rep, because of the talent behind the scenes. Paul Greengrass brought a gritty, critically acclaimed documentary style to the second Bourne film, Bourne Supremacy, that seemed fresh and vigorous at the time, if fairly nauseating in all its shaky-cam integrity. I found Bourne Supremacy a tougher, more memorable film then Doug Liman’s original worthwhile Bourne Identity, with Damon’s isolated character’s unbending quest to track down an unremarkable Russian girl whose parents he had killed years earlier, and simply apologize, an unusually affecting story line. It culminated in an atypical, rather remarkable climactic scene involving Bourne enlightening her that the murder-suicide she grew up believing in, and which had likely emotionally crippled her, was a lie.
That, coupled with the frenetic but impressive action sequences, made Bourne Supremacy a notable and intelligent action picture. What was missing was the first Bourne film’s sense of humor, where Damon and sidekick/romantic partner Franka Potente had to deal with his uncovering skills in himself he didn’t know he had, but the impressive cast and Greenglass’ filmmaking craft put Supremacy slightly in the lead on my personal tally board.
Therefore, anticipation was high for the Bourne Ultimatum, what seemed to be the final film in an impressive action trilogy. Greenglass was back, and I was certainly willing to go along with Jason Bourne as he continued to attempt to find out who he was and where he came from. However, I felt like a solitary soldier on guard duty on a frostbitten morning when I came out of the theater decidedly unimpressed.
Bourne Ultimatum was simply a remake of the Bourne Supremacy, minus the impressive shock surprise in the first third of the Bourne Supremacy, and the unique climactic confrontation with the Russian girl so impressively played by Oksana Akinshina. Instead of an incredible Moscow car chase, we got a pretty good New York car chase. Instead of the tough assassin directly responsible for Bourne’s girlfriend’s death, we have another tough assassin (who I can’t now recall what made him so menacing). We had more overpaid quality character actors such as Albert Finney and Scott Glenn to replace Brian Cox and Chris Cooper as the evil white aging CIA males from the previous films. We had Joan Allen reprising her role as the one voice for sanity in the CIA, and we had Julia Stiles taking on a bigger role now that Franka Potente was no longer there as Damon’s foil and the audiences surrogate. It was certainly highly competent, but somewhat disappointing to see those we expected more from simply rehashing the previous film.
The final beat of Ultimatum was nice enough, but I couldn’t help feeling that Greengrass and Damon should have tried a little harder to come up with something fresh. These two were BAFTA and Academy award winners, dammit! Still, as time passed, all three Bourne films stood up as superior examples of high-end Hollywood engineering in comparison to the lame and endless sequalization that resulted in a bunch of lousy Pirates of the Caribbean movies, a bunch of lousy Twilight movies, and Lethal Weapon 4, which I still argue might be the worst movie ever, if it weren’t for Whoopi Goldberg’s Fatal Beauty (trust me, it’s that bad, don’t see it!) and The Apple (trust me, it’s that bad, you must see it!). But I digress.
Worst. Movie. Ever. But fun bad, not bad bad like Lethal Weapon 4.
So 10 years on, when I heard Damon and Greenglass were returning to make Jason Bourne, I was mildly interested. I thought Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy was a pretty decent flick, albeit lacking a true ending. I had assumed Damon and Renner would team up for this new sequel, and when I learned Renner had been left out in the cold, alarms rang. Why had Damon and Greenglass decided to return belatedly to this franchise?
It couldn’t be simply to cash in, could it?
No, if they were going to do another Jason Bourne film, they must’ve come up with a fresh take on it. Always liking Damon, and generally being a fan of the series, it was the one film Hollywood came up with this summer that I was willing to take a chance on.
I want my money back. Jason Bourne is competent all right, but it is also cynical, lacking wit, and deficient a single fresh idea. Instead of Joan Allen, we have Alicia Vikander, the current quality flavor of the month due to Ex Machina, playing a suspiciously young agent who is the closest thing to an ally Damon has in this picture; the problem is that Vikander is playing a wholly amoral and self-involved character from the get-go, and I couldn’t have cared less about her wants and needs, which take up much of the film’s running time. Fantasy construct as she may have been, Joan Allen’s quote unquote “good” CIA agent was sorely needed to give the film some kind of moral compass. In this film, all CIA agents are pure rotters, perfectly willing to kill multiple civilians any time they are aggrieved, and even Damon seems okay with doing stuff in the name of “patriotism” (although this isn’t developed enough for me to even understand Bourne’s muddled position).
Instead of Finney, or Glenn, or Bourne Legacy’s Edward Norton, we have an elderly Tommy Lee Jones’s playing the amoral white male CIA bad guy, and man, he is a stinker. Stiles shows up briefly, but since you saw Bourne Supremacy, (you know, the first, good sequel) you can imagine what happens to her. There isn’t a new idea in Jason Bourne, and it is almost comical when 10 years later Jason Bourne decides he has to find out more stuff about his past. Who cares?
Certainly not Damon, who while physically fit, seems mostly embarrassed and hardly in the action sometimes. It generally feels more like Vikander’s film than Damon’s film, and his monosyllabic mutterings are no longer fresh the fourth time around. He’s likable all right; Damon always is. But I was as angry at him as at anybody because the Academy award-winning screenwriter of Good Will Hunting must have known this script was cockeyed doo-doo.
No, Damon did this for a guaranteed payday and by the final third of the film, where Bourne is in yet another one-on-one showdown with yet another ruthless assassin who has a personal vendetta against him (this time Vincent Cassel), and they get involved in another noisy, endless car chase, this time in Las Vegas (which is no New York or Moscow, let me tell you), I didn’t have to pee, but I sure wanted to go to the bathroom just to see if anyone had liked a recent tweet of mine or something.
Again, the film is watchable, but the rampant immorality, easy cynicism, and lazy rehashing of themes and sequences from Bourne Supremacy irritated me greatly. The film, of course, leaves room for a sequel, but I think it’s time Jason Bourne disappeared into a crowd for good. Find a nice wife, teach disabled children, or maybe look up that depressed Russian girl from Supremacy, see if she’s worked it all out. Hell, start a romance between him and her, make it a nice romantic drama; just don’t hire Kurt Russell or Bruce Willis to play the next aging sociopathic head of the CIA who decides he must kill Bourne despite all evidence demonstrating Bourne is unkillable. If they need a chase, have Damon do some cool stunts on a bicycle as he attempts to give Akinshina the purse she left behind on the way to working at the pharmacy or whatever. I have no doubt Damon and Akinshina could pull it off.
But don’t be fooled: Jason Bourne is simply a remake of the Bourne Ultimatum, which was a remake of Bourne Supremacy. Renner’s Bourne Legacy took some initiative. While reheated pizza is sometimes better than pizza first served, reheated reheated pizza is just a bad scene, man. Move along, nothing to see here.