It’s been nearly ten years since Matt Damon punched, kicked, stabbed, and shot his way through a Bourne movie, and in the latest installment, Jason Bourne (which sounds almost like a statement of intent), he certainly makes up for lost time, opening the film by knocking a guy out cold, and then never letting up from there. With Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Captain Phillips, United 91) once again at the helm, Jason Bourne locks instantly into its predecessors’ shaky-cam-induced sense of urgency, while boasting a wholly contemporary subtext, with references to Edward Snowden, personal privacy, and the insidious possibilities of the internet as frequent as the car chases and gun play. With brutish forcefulness, Greengrass and Damon seem to be stating in no uncertain terms that they’re back because the time is right for a Jason Bourne movie, and not because the pay cheque was too irresistible.
As Jason Bourne opens, Matt Damon’s once amnesiac former government operative is still on the run, and now making his living as a bareknuckle fighter. But when he is contacted by his friend and former colleague, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) – who is now working for a WikiLeaks-style group of hacker activists – with more details about his foggy past, Bourne is once again drawn into the world of the CIA and its various sub-agencies, and on the run for his life. This time, his chief adversaries are Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA director, Robert Dewey; Vincent Cassel’s unnamed assassin; and Alicia Vikander’s CIA tech agent, Heather Lee; all of whom are tied in with a pioneering software entrepreneur played by Riz Ahmed. As with all of the previous Bourne films, the stakes are high, the action is full-tilt, and Matt Damon grounds it all with his renowned soulfulness and likeability.
So yes, Jason Bourne is, well, very much a Jason Bourne movie. It connects with the previous films (though little is made of the events of the excellent Jeremy Renner-starring spin-off, The Bourne Legacy) while still striking out in new directions, and is peppered with highlights. Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), is teriffic as a very millennial brand of CIA agent, her icy exterior occasionally cracking to reveal the nervy rookie underneath; Tommy Lee Jones puts a different spin on his famed cantankerous schtick; and the film’s constant nods to today’s hi-tech world and its inherent dangers are intelligently and seamlessly woven into the narrative.
But despite the thrilling action sequences, Jason Bourne lacks a little punch. The absence of ship-jumping screenwriter, Tony Gilroy (who worked on the scripts for all of the other films, and directed The Bourne Legacy), is keenly felt, and the sharp pithiness that he injected into his dialogue (as well as his keen facility for narrative immediacy) isn’t replicated by Greengrass and the series’ regular editor, Christopher Rouse, who makes his screenwriting debut here. Vincent Cassel, meanwhile, isn’t given nearly enough to do with his bad guy role, and wasting an actor of his enviable gifts is borderline criminal. But as a continuation of a truly superior action franchise, Jason Bourne is a rock-solid success: it might not soar, but it certainly flies.