Is JASON BOURNE Back For Good Or Is This Matt Damon's Franchise Swan Song?

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JASON BOURNE in theatres everywhere July 29, 2016.

You know how you absolutely love a show, or a comic book, or a film franchise, but they eventually start to wear out their welcome? The plots become rote, the twists become predictable, and you drift apart. Call it Prequel/Sequel Fatigue, call it milking it for all its worth, call it what you will, but Hollywood has settled into a routine of turning everything that makes a respectable profit into a franchise and then squeezing every last drop out of it. Such has been the case with the Jason Bourne character. Created in the novels of the late great thriller author Robert Ludlum, Bourne had a successful film run in the big screen adaptions of THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004), and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007). I believe it was, at least in some part, the expectation that Ludlum’s novels would be adapted into highly successful films that prompted the producers of the JAMES BOND franchise to take their often campy character into a more serious, realistic realm with the Daniel Craig run. However, THE BOURNE LEGACY attempted to advance the franchise in a new direction, one which simply didn’t measure up. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremy Renner is a tremendous action hero. His Aaron Cross still has strong possibilities, especially if it were to lead to an ultimate showdown between Cross and Bourne. Unfortunately the pace and plot were lackluster and the film ended in the middle of a chase scene, for all intents and purposes.

JASON BOURNE returns the franchise in the direction of the title character, once again played by the ceaselessly entertaining Matt Damon, with director Paul Greengrass and hyperkinetic cinematographer Barry Ackroyd working from a script by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse. Matt Damon once commented that he was done with the character after THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, echoing similar sentiments from Greengrass at the time. Yet ten years down the road, the gang has reunited to examine Bourne in a post-Eric Snowden world. Joining Damon on screen once again is Julia Stiles, who simply isn’t in nearly enough projects to suit me. She’s fantastic in everything I’ve seen her in, and she is strong once again opposite Damon here. New to the fray are the nominal CIA antagonists, consisting primarily of the beautiful Alicia Vikander as Agent Heather Lee, who may or may not be on Bourne’s side as she looks to climb the Agency’s ladder towards CIA Director Robert Dewey’s (the still perfectly irascible curmudgeon Tommy Lee Jones) post. Dewey’s ace up his sleeve is his personal “cleaner” known only as the “Asset,” played by Vincent Cassel. Bourne gets back in the game at the behest of Julia Stiles’ character Nicky Parsons. While Agent Lee and Director Dewey both try to manipulate Bourne to their own ends, Bourne—now with full memory of who he was before the program that turned him into what he is today—is looking to tie up the loose ends of his father’s in-house CIA assassination. Various games of cat and mouse ensue.

For the most part, it’s all perfectly acceptable. The games of cat and mouse are entertaining and reasonably plausible in a real world setting, which cannot be said for the last Bond installment, SPECTRE. Damon is a bit more grim and world-weary this time around, which I found to be a reasonable approach to the character at this point in Bourne’s life. If that’s all you’re looking for—a return to the norm of the early 2000s BOURNE films, you’ll be quite pleased. If you wanted to find a truly new angle, or a  sign that this might point to a 2019 showdown between Cross and Bourne, you might be a little disappointed. For myself, I have such low expectations from Hollywood these days that even buzz of someone doing something new and revolutionary leaves me skeptical. I sat down in the theatre that night looking for two hours and change of pure escapist entertainment, with no mentions of Clintons, Trumps, mass shootings, which color-coded lives matter and all the other junk that seems to assault my senses and sensibilities on a daily basis. That’s what I got, right up to the climax. That’s when they lost me.

The climax begins with a car chase. After spending two hours in a plausibly realistic setting, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief during this chase. It was simply a cartoon—Hanna-Barbera would have been proud. You don’t need to be a SWAT officer to know what a SWAT assault vehicle looks like. They’re heavily armored and can take a pounding. They are not, however, terribly aerodynamic. Some of the stunts they do in this scene were just laughably impossible. Again, don’t spend so much time developing a realistic setting only to suspend the laws of physics in the end. Don’t even get me started on Bourne’s “borrowed” Dodge. All modern cars have airbags—cars in this very same movie have airbags that deployed. Bourne totals that car and at no point along the way does an airbag inflate in his face.  Is this a silly complaint? Hell, probably. I have no problem with Agent Phil Coulson’s car flying up into the sky to rendezvous with a flying aircraft carrier in ABC’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., but that program never attempted to be terribly realistic. I expected more consistency from Paul Greengrass.

The last moments of JASON BOURNE offer the audience a tantalizing vague hint that there’s more stories to be told in this franchise, but if Damon, Greengrass, and company will be back for a fifth installment (sixth counting LEGACY) is anyone’s guess at this point.  I just hope Jason Bourne hasn’t worn out his welcome by the time we get the answer to that question.

3.5 / 5.0