Film Review | Franchise re-fresh that rings hollow

In many ways, Greengrass’s entire film is an extended exercise in tacked-on elements, some of which work, but most of which feel as though they’re hanging on a prayer • Visually speaking, all of Greengrass’s shaky-cam grittiness just about masks some really poor directorial choices

9 August 2016, 7:41am
Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne
Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne
By Teodor Reljic

The latest entry in the Bourne franchise quite literally pulls out all the stops, both in front of and behind the camera, doing its utmost to deliver a hi-octane slice of gritty espionage action, with the help of the people who have made this adaptation series of the Robert Ludlum novels such a global success.

But the best intentions – to say nothing of financial incentives – may not in fact be enough to resuscitate the necessary excitement to justify it all as bona fide storytelling, and as returning director Paul Greengrass (who helmed the first two sequels in the series, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) over-applies his trademark shaky-cam to nearly every shot in this installment, it all starts to look little more than a desperate attempt at corporate brand-management.

The biggest draw for audiences is another prodigal son of the series, however: Matt Damon. An attempt at continuing the series without the star behind the titular character – The Bourne Legacy (2012), in which Marvel’s Hawkeye Jeremy Renner played a not-Bourne agent with a similar plight – was something of a non-starter, so Paramount Studios must have gotten a boost of self-confidence after they managed to bring Bourne back in from the cold.

It’s a situation that oddly mirrors the narrative of the film itself, as we see Bourne eking out a miserable existence as a drifting prize-fighter while trying to leave his past as an amnesiac CIA agent with a kill list as long as his (chiseled) arm. But he’s pulled back into the game when his former friend and collaborator Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) uncovers the next corrupt initiative by the Agency – spearheaded by Agency Head Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his second in command Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) and seeks out Bourne to help her expose them. But if anything, Bourne is more interested in what his project could reveal about his ever-mysterious past; particularly in his father, David Webb’s (Gregg Henry) role in the operation that shaped him into the killing machine he is today.

Meanwhile, the Agency dispatch their equally deadly ‘Asset’ (Vincent Cassel) to contain the situation, while also wrangling with social media mogul Aaron Kallor (Riz Ahmed), whose ready-to-launch initiative ‘Deep Web’ is set to revolutionize the online experience, at no risk to users’ privacy. But this contradicts Kallor’s earlier deal with the CIA, and now, Dewey is coming to collect.

Alicia Vikander and Matt Damon
Alicia Vikander and Matt Damon
The post-Snowden world has become a rich new vein for the espionage thriller, with even last year’s James Bond outing Spectre dedicating a sub-plot to it. But here it’s a tacked-on attempt at strained relevance, made all the more pathetic by the memory that it was Bourne who led the trend in the early noughties, with the Brosnan-era Bond struggling to catch up.

And in many ways, Greengrass’s entire film is an extended exercise in tacked-on elements, some of which work, but most of which feel as though they’re hanging on a prayer. Visually speaking, all of Greengrass’s shaky-cam grittiness just about masks some really poor directorial choices – obscenely clichéd close-ups, for one thing, which would have been too much even for a soap opera – and the story (penned by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse) only has the veneer of topicality, with the character beats – both for Damon and Vikander’s morally ambivalent CIA operative – being so archetypal that they may as well be in Star Wars.

When it works – such as a climactic dirty tussle, the likes of which Greengrass was last seen delivering to great effect in The Bourne Supremacy – it works like a treat. But the good moments can’t possibly compensate for the rest, which is a slog of two kinds: you’re either bored by people anxiously looking at various computer screens, or by confusing set pieces that feel like The Blair Witch Project on the concrete floors of various European cities.

On top of it all, there’s not a single moment of levity in sight. Nasty, brutish and not so short. Was bringing back Damon really worth the trouble?

VERDICT: JASON BOURNE (12A) ★ ★