Bourne is back and better than ever.
Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon return to the Bourne franchise in fine form, with a nine-years-later sequel full of intrigue and, most importantly, relentless action that will have your blood racing.
Jason Bourne takes place several years after The Bourne Ultimatum. The titular character (Matt Damon) has been participating in underground fights off the grid since walking away free from the killer life he was trained to live by the CIA. The agency’s director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) has been searching for Bourne, with help from young CIA agent Heather Lee (a compelling Alicia Vikander). However, Bourne resurfaces when accomplice Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) walks back into his life, revealing an agency plan that might help answer the questions Bourne has about his past. This hack piques Lee’s attention, and the chase is on to capture or kill Bourne, using the skills of a hit man code-named Asset (Vincent Cassel), before he reveals the CIA’s shadiest secrets.
The brawn of Jason Bourne has not changed, as we see him in the beginning knocking prizefighters to the ground with one giant swinging fist, a visual representation of the fact that Bourne has not lost his touch. No one dare come across him lest they wish to get acquainted with the ground. There’s a certain visceral thrill that comes with seeing Damon take down those who wronged him. That thrill begins and never lets up. With the signature style of Greengrass’ camerawork and unrelenting pacing, Jason Bourne is an incredible action film.
Of course, the draw of the Bourne films has always been the intrigue. Specifically, the mystery of who this man is and why he does what he does. That is given some additional depth in this film, though it is one of the film’s weaker points. A bigger figure in Bourne’s life is hinted at in flashbacks, but that figure’s impact does not feel as massive as it should, nor is the payoff all that rewarding. Riz Ahmed plays the tech guru head of a social network that plays into the bigger conspiracy, but not so much so that it feels necessary. The film works better when you think about this as Bourne’s revenge story. When the focus is there, the taut storytelling from a script by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse (who also acts as editor) is at its strongest.
The action sequences are some of the best I’ve seen this summer. In particular, a motorcycle pursuit through the alleyways of a riot-torn Athens and a climatic vehicular showdown that demolishes the entirety of the Las Vegas strip are highlights. The revving engines are complimented by handy camerawork from cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and snappy editing from Rouse, making these chases feel fast and exciting. Series veteran John Powell and newcomer David Buckley go out on the drums and techno beats in a score that is as heart-pumping as the on-screen action.
Damon maintains a physical presence as the title character, something he can do in his sleep by now. He is not given many lines, instead letting his body language do most of the job. At this point, it feels easy to typecast Jones as the seen-it-all crotchety agent, but there are some layers to him that make him seem vulnerable. Stiles does good work returning to the character of Nicky and Vincent Cassel exudes the same stoicism Damon does, but it makes the meeting of these two characters completely worth all the build-up. However, the true standout is Vikander, who can balance her character’s ambiguity while still showing emotional moments. Is her face as much of a blank slate as everyone else’s? Yes, but there’s a powerful presence whenever Vikander is on screen; it’s hard to look away. She is truly one of the best up-and-comers in the industry today.
There is no one who can do visceral excitement quite like Paul Greengrass. There’s a beautiful rhythm to the on-screen action, the frantic camera, the loose editing, and the hyperactive score that makes for perfect harmony. Despite some lack of focus in the script, there’s no use in resisting. Jason Bourne takes you by hand, shakes you to infinity, and lets your adrenaline take over. Bourne is back and better than ever. | Bill Loellke