Friday, July 29, 2016

Damon & Greengrass Are Back, But The BOURNE Formula Has Grown Stale

Now playing at a multiplex near you:


(Dir. Paul Greengrass, 2016)

Since the previous BOURNE entry, THE BOURNE LEGACY, was such a bust, it was initially good news to hear that Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass were returning to the series.

One would figure that they must have a killer story that would want to make them come back for more, right?

Surely director Greengrass, co-scripting with the film’s editor Christopher Rouse, who won the Best Editing Oscar for THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, came up with some new-fangled premise that would make us forget the misguided attempt to replace Damon with Jeremy Renner and get the franchise back on track, right?

Sadly, but no, for JASON BOURNE is a by-the-numbers, standard sequel bore that only succeeds in showing that Damon has gotten back in shape, and has completely shed the “dad bod” image that tabloids got a lot of mileage out of a few years back.

We get this upfront as we re-meet Jason Bourne as he engages in some shirtless street fighting for cash in rural Greece. Meanwhile, Bourne’s analyst contact Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles reprising her role from the original trilogy), in hiding in Reykjavik, Iceland, hacks into the CIA’s black ops file and finds info about evildoing afoot in the relaunching of the Treadstone program that birthed Bourne, and how his father was mixed up in all of it.

Nicky’s hacking is detected by the CIA’s Cyber Ops division head Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander (EX MACHINA, THE DANISH GIRL), and Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey – both new characters to the series.

So the chase is on –Nicky travels to Greece to meet with Bourne which results in a chase through Syntagma Square in Athens involving Bourne and Nicky motorcycling through the fiery riot of political protesters as Vincent Cassel as a sniper only indentified as “The Asset” targets them from a rooftop above.

Mixed up in all this spy stuff is a Mark Zuckerberg-esque social media mogul named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) who’s doing shady surveillance business with the CIA through his Facebook-like platform, Deep Dream. This subplot doesn't make much of a timely statement or have much impact, but Ahmed is good in it.

Between Bourne bouncing from Greece to London to the big climax in Las Vegas, he has flashbacks to his father Richard Webb’s (Gregg Henry) assassination, each time learning a little bit more until he figures out who killed him.

The film is well paced, but the plot just isn’t very interesting. All the kinetic energy that is the series’ trademark is there, but it’s in service of a routine series of action set pieces. Cassel makes for a boring antagonist, Vikander’s American accent doesn’t wear well on her, Stiles gets shafted early on, and Damon, now graying at the temples, is again such a serious slab of intensity that not once does he smile.

Only Jones appears to be having any fun with this material – I think he owns the movie’s only humorous moment – but not enough for the movie to be much fun.

All the things that were so cool about the BOURNE movies - the shaky-cam, quick-cutting drive, the tech savviness - have been done to death in so many high-octane thrillers in the fourteen years since THE BOURNE IDENTITY that it feels old hat here. They really should’ve called it THE BOURNE REDUNDANCY like so many folks, including Damon, have joked.

JASON BOURNE is already a huge hit (it’s currently #1 at the box office), so there will be likely more BOURNE on the horizon. Here’s hoping that next time, Damon and Greengrass and Co. will be more inspired.

While the first three films are essential genre exercises, this and THE BOURNE LEGACY come off like artificial extensions of the BOURNE brand. The formula has grown stale, but it maybe die-hard fans will still find it consumable. Since I’m not that big of a fan, I was just bored for the most part by this round of BOURNE.

More later...

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