The age of Bond is over. Sure, they just made another movie last year, and we are currently in the earliest stages of development for the next entry in the decades spanning franchise, but the Bond of today is not your father’s Bond. The gritty veneer of the last four entries into the franchise has made that quite clear. Jet packs and jaunts to the moon are things of the past. Today’s Bond is one entrenched firmly in reality, and for much of that we have to thank Jason Bourne.
It felt like a breath of fresh air, watching the original Bourne Trilogy over a decade ago. It was a wonderful blend of the fantastic and the real with its mind-control narrative and shaky-cam exterior. It was a revelation for spy movies—it was possible to be a superspy and be realistic at the same time. The reframing of Bond was in large part a reaction to these movies, and it’s quite possible the entire superspy genre as we know it may never be the same.
As it turns out, however, Bourne had only enough juice for its original trilogy. The attempt at building a sort of shared universe with The Bourne Legacy failed to make any sort of lasting impact, but anticipation for Jason Bourne, which sees the return of Matt Damon in the titular role, has been high. As good as it is to see the series return to its roots, the roots appear to have gone bad in the near decade since The Bourne Ultimatum. The latest entry into the franchise has, unfortunately, become a pale imitation of its once groundbreaking self.
Narratively, Jason Bourne sits as close to incomprehensible as possible without ever teetering over the edge. It makes just enough sense to follow, but the sense you can make of it makes you wish you’d never even bothered to try. It’s a convoluted mess that feels rather like the script was cobbled together from the ashes of other failed scripts and shoehorned into the Bourneverse for maximum profits and viability. None of that amounts to anything we haven’t already seen before, however, and in the end it feels like little more than a greatest hits package.
There are grand ideals about cybersecurity and cyberwarfare and privacy in the information age in a subplot involving a nebulous new social media app (whose purpose is never explored or explained, but pay no attention to that) and their possible connections to the CIA, which somehow also connects back to Jason Bourne’s search for peace in the face of vengeance against his one-time masters in the CIA. This also involves Bourne’s father, somehow? The connections made between the various subplots are tenuous at best, with naught but the most basic of threads tying them together.
In between, Bourne punches, stalks, sulks, and spies his way through various enemies, led equally by Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA Director Robert Dewey and his young protégé, Alice Vikander’s Heather Lee. As villains, both characters fall remarkable short of menacing, with Dewey being little more than a self-serving bureaucrat and Lee being little more than a ladder climbing stone heart. It’s hard to be scared by bureaucrats, no matter how high they may sit within the CIA hierarchy, and the movie suffers as a result.
Neither Jones nor Vikander bring much of anything to the movie; Jones has reached the point in his career where he can get away with doing little but merely existing. Vikander uses a puzzling fake accent that sounds like a drunken impression of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs more than it does any discernible regional affectation. The decision to use a fake voice is baffling, and the actress is clearly uncomfortable with it.
Damon, too, does precious little but exist within this movie. His Spartan lifestyle is reflected in his handful of lines, most of which are either “Where is he/it” or “What about my father”. He’s got the mood of Bourne down, to be sure, but he seems mostly on cruise control as the film moves from one chase scene to the next, all while desperately searching for anything resembling connective tissue.
While the trademarks of the Bourne series are all present—shaky cameras, rifle scope shots, one punch knockouts—it all feels rather rote and uninspired at this stage of the game. Fans looking for mindless action will be more than pleased at the car chases and spy-jargon that are liberally peppered throughout the film, but the substance of the original films, the existential drama of Jason Bourne as he discovers who he was, who he is, and who he wants to be, has been abandoned for the sake of by the numbers, cookie cutter scenes of cat, mouse, and explosions.
Though better than the Jeremy Renner starring The Bourne Legacy, Jason Bourne still pales in comparison to its predecessors. It’s nothing new, nothing special. It is what it is, and what it is is little more than an attempt to cash in. It’s decent enough to stare at for two hours, but it’s sorely lacking in the meat and potatoes of what made Bourne great in the first place. Hardcore fans will most likely be pleased enough by the movie, but the latest Bond movies have out-Bourned Bourne, and maybe that’s the real legacy of the series.
Jason Bourne is now playing in theaters everywhere.