Over the last decade and a half, the Bourne franchise’s success has profoundly altered the way spy movies have been made. Bond films in particular felt this influence, changing from weightless capers to brawny actioners, Daniel Craig’s 007 setting a post-Bourne tone for the franchise that will be very difficult to renege on. Thus, it feels only fitting that the latest Bourne instalment, titled simply Jason Bourne, should have learned a thing or two from Skyfall, focusing in on what it means to be a soldier in the field in the age of cyber-warfare while keeping its hero on his toes by stripping away all but his most fundamental skills.
This hero is, of course, the amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne/David Webb (Matt Damon). Nine years on from the end of Ultimatum, Bourne has reclaimed the majority of his memories, but the damage he caused to the CIA in that film means that he’s had to be off the grid for the entire time, making his money beating up large shirtless men in underground fight clubs. It’s incidentally in these scenes that we see another major Bond influence – despite having been in this role for 14 years, Damon has never been more buff than he is here, a continuation of a leading man trend started by Craig’s beach scene in Casino Royale.
Brought back into the world of international espionage by Nicky Parsons’ (Julia Stiles) recent discoveries regarding Bourne’s origins and his mysterious father, he ends up almost immediately in the crosshairs of a rebooted CIA. Parsons’ acquisition of the information was far from legal and the hunt for her and Bourne through a Greek riot is the first classic Greengrass set-piece of the film. As dozens of police and protestors clash, you’re reminded that Greengrass is one of the very best action directors to ever grace the big screen, keeping things clear despite the chaos and shakycam.
Leading the CIA hunt are a group of new additions to the series – new CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and the unnamed Asset (Vincent Cassel, slotting perfectly into the Bourne universe). Clearly, the events of Ultimatum had an enormous fallout – none of the new team appear to have shared interests, all looking to further their careers or settle old grudges, giving Bourne the advantage he needs to take on these three individually formidable characters. Cassel’s Asset in particular provides a genuinely threatening presence, and his eventual showdown with Bourne is the film’s high point.
Unfortunately, it also serves to remind you that Jason Bourne is not at the same level as either Supremacy or Ultimatum. The Asset-Bourne fight is the scene that most reminds you of those two efforts, but the rest of the film doesn’t quite hold up to that incredibly high standard. Then again, Supremacy has one of the best action scenes ever filmed in it, as well as my personal favourite movie ending, so comparisons to it are rarely going to be in a different film’s favour. Jason Bourne still has this year’s best action outside of Civil War though, even if some of the scenes feel a bit like a rehash of the Bourne Greatest Hits.
That said, the joy of watching masterfully directed car chases and fights involving impromptu weapons (this time around a small saucepan gets in the mix) hasn’t dimmed at all since 2007. As a SWAT van barrels through traffic, destroying every car in its wake, you’re reminded that only George Miller’s latest Mad Max has matched Greengrass’ quality when it comes to vehicular mayhem. Matt Damon is also still excellent in the title role, even with very few lines, age proving no obstacle.
Jason Bourne also provides Alicia Vikander with one of her best roles to date, allowing her to be viciously horrible and calculating. As her character’s influence grows, Vikander’s performance gets more and more confident, doing a decent job at making us forget about Joan Allen’s wonderful Pam Landy from the original trilogy, whose absence here is notable. Tommy Lee Jones also puts in good work as the exhaustedly evil CIA director, whether he’s manoeuvring behind the backs of his less cynical colleagues or threatening tech entrepeneurs.
A team with this much quality both in front and behind the camera was unlikely to deliver anything other than one of the summer’s best blockbusters (notwithstanding that this has been a pretty weak summer). Even though it lacks the pure brilliance of Bournes past, this fifth entry both keeps the franchise relevant and works as a great thriller in its own right.