Skip to main content

Why would he come back now?

Jason Bourne
(2016)

(SPOILERS) The Bourne Jasonity, as it is also known, makes one wonder a bit. Did the added luxury of time, notably absent from the pressure-cooker production schedule of the previous Greengrass-Damon Bourne efforts, ultimately have a negative effect on the end result? Does Bourne need conflict and up-against-it difficulties to make something special (there were copious reshoots on Identity too, of course)? Because Jason Bourne isn’t anything special. It’s a serviceable thriller, but as a Bourne movie, and the high standards by which the series is rightly judged, it’s something of a disappointment.


Which leads one to doubly question the wisdom of blowing the cobwebs off Damon’s most iconic role, and leading the faulty-memory man, greying of temples but even more relentless of physique, back into the fray. I haven’t rewatched it since, so I may come up with a different response when I do, but on first impressions the much maligned The Bourne Legacy is a more interesting picture than this one, for all the derided greens and blues and the failure of Jeremy Renner (not really his fault) to fashion Aaron Cross into an effective replacement black ops operative.


Perhaps the greatest failure of Jason Bourne (and that title, so utterly lacking in creativity or enthusiasm, sadly reflects the final product) is its inability to exert a relentless pace, a driving plot that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, compelled to push on to whatever may happen next. While there are individually superior set pieces, up to the standards of the series’ past achievements, there is little sense of cumulative, wholer vitality running through the this third/fourth sequel. This is most clear in the piecemeal fashion by which Greengrass and Christopher Rouse have failed to fashion a narrative justifying the re-emergence of the former David Webb.


To wit, he has now been retrofitted with a father in charge of the project, to give Bourne a measure of personal investment, the kind of unnecessary retooling we have also (bizarre to draw this comparison, but symptomatic of studios struggling to feign validation for milking every penny out of a potential or moribund franchise) seen this summer in Finding Dory. More damaging is the dogged desire to be topical, since it is manifested in an almost out-of-touch, dodderingly parental fashion, contrasting to the manner in which such material appeared germane, vital and congruent when addressed in previous pictures.


Greengrass and Damon want to address the surveillance state, but do they have anything to say about it? Not when they come out and say it, no. When they show it, in terms of the added weight that can be brought to bear on tracking Bourne at every turn, it’s incredibly potent (not just watching him, but wiping his secrets-laden laptop simply by hacking a nearby cell phone). When they say it, or overtly plot it, all resonance crumbles. Snowden is name-checked, but if feels like weak bandwagon jumping rather than keen understanding.


There’s the Google-type head of Deep Dream (Riz Ahmed as Aaron Kalloor), whose software/platform has been compromised from the get-go, but is now having qualms about further prospective intrusiveness, which frankly seems like a limp plotline set in motion after the horse has bolted. Bourne should be cynically assuming any and all means of access are already in place, whatever protests service provides offer in the media, and that a head of company doesn’t need to be on board for the intelligence services to have all the access they want. It’s a problem when you get a conspiracy-minded movie that is too level-headed for its audience, that ought to push the conspiratorial aspect further because it isn’t credulous enough. No one would be surprised any more.


It’s also there in the balanced-but-unenticing debate over the push-pull of state surveillance in aid of fighting the forces of darkness (the results are no more than the average media think piece comes up with in terms of rigour). How much is the construct of the argument justified and how much is it manufactured, might be a more provocative place to come from, rather than the lightly poised indifference of Bourne or the judiciously dismissive riposte of Tommy Lee Jones’ CIA Director Dewey, responding to Kalloor’s qualms.


It doesn’t help matters that this plotline barely intersects with Bourne’s mission, at least until the Vegas-set finale, further reinforcing the sense that the movie has been awkwardly built upon a shopping list of elements the makers are seeking to address (or pay lip service to) in order to demonstrate their passionate social consciences, rather than in the service of a clearly defined tale that “needs” to be told.


Greengrass is on firmer ground when referencing the financial crisis obliquely, setting Bourne’s flight from the limelight against a backdrop of Greek unrest (it can be no coincidence either that Nicky Parsons is pulling off her Snowden hack from Iceland, the country that most instantly and overtly suffered fallout from the crisis, and also seen to be one of the few willing to actually prosecute anyone over it). Really, though, this is symptomatic of a movie casting a wide net and coming up short of even a light haul. There’s a would-be assassination at the climax, the blame to rest on a lone Iraqi gunman, and the old corrupt CIA regime is replaced by a new corrupt CIA regime, but Greengrass is unable to summon any drama, urgency or immediacy from the intrigues. 


Of Bourne himself, Matt is dependably grim-faced and taciturn, but the attempts to motivate the character don’t entirely convince. Bourne doesn’t, it appears, now remember everything (like Dory, it comes back to him in carefully apportioned chunks, as the plot demands). There’s an attempt to seed the idea that he might return to the agency, to come home, right up to the point where he pulls a Pamela Landy-esque reveal on new head of operations Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), but we’re not really falling for it.


The more powerful motivating force, never really picked up on, is the pointless, perfunctory killing off of Julia Stiles’ Nicky (I expected this, as that’s just the sort of thing they would do, and the trailers seemed to be very sequential about her involvement), but it gives him no impetus whatsoever (perhaps they thought it would be too much of a rehearsal of Supremacy, or Lethal Weapon 2 before it, but it’s much worse that Bourne seems entirely unaffected). Nicky is dispatched with kind of incidental disregard reserved for Paddy Considine’s journalist in Ultimatum, ignoring that she had survived as the only other constant in the series besides the title role. It’s not a case of not killing off beloved characters, but at least make it matter.


So Bourne is left doing stuff because he’s Bourne, pretty much, thrown the spectre of a persuasive parental force (Gregg Henry, a good fit facially) and an antagonist who is… laughable. Not that Vincent Cassel doesn’t play him with commendable conviction (if ever they want someone to play Rod Hull in an Emu biopic, he’s a shoe-in), but anyone alarmed at the suspension of disbelief required for Legacy’s lead’s drugs of choice will have a field day with a character who makes it his mission to create as much collateral damage as unfeasibly possible on any given assignment. Most risibly – the kind of thing you worried Star Trek Beyond was angling towards with its crashed starship but recovered from by making it integral – Cassel’s Asset is not only bent on revenge against Bourne for exposing him (and in so doing getting him tortured) as a result of the info dump in Ultimatum (Bourne’s like Snowden see, traitor or hero, depending on your perspective; not so clever that), he’s also the guy who put paid to pappy all those years back.


This is the kind of rudimentary plotting that makes you rather wish they’d made things up on the fly; under a show of hands they’d all surely have gone “Nah, no one would buy that, too convenient” rather than going through a drawn-out discussion where they convinced themselves it was not only acceptable but even a good idea. Also aboard with the pervading sense of unwelcomely familiar tropes is Tommy Lee Jones playing Tommy Lee Jones for the umpteenth time in a Tommy Lee Jones-through-and-through hard-ass authority figure role. There’s precious little point clearing the decks of previous characters if you then go and replenish stocks with ones even more stock.


On the plus side, Alicia Vikander is really good as Lee, striking an impenetrably ambivalent tone that turns out to be all about climbing the career ladder and nothing to do with what’s best for her country (or Bourne). Scott Shepherd, who made a lot from a little in last year’s Bridge of Spies, is unable to repeat the miracle as National Intelligence Director Russell, while Riz Ahmed is also defeated by slipshod characterisation (the last we see of him is a face palm moment where he informs the media he will not further divulge the cancer at the heart of Deep Dream, as if the most elementary guesswork couldn’t reach a conclusion).


And what of the action? Bourne indulging bare knuckle boxing, taking out opponents in a single punch, is what we want to see, the instinctive machine mind that knows what to do in any given scenario, and the early conflagration in Greece, as he appropriates a police motorcycle and avoids protesters, police, CIA personnel and the Asset is thrillingly coordinated. Later in London, his subterfuges enabling a meeting with a surveillance operative (Bill Camp) are also the stuff of classic Bourne lateral thinking.


Unfortunately, the final car chase along the Vegas strip fails to live up to Diamonds Are Forever. The preceding piece of Bourne play, as he bursts into the convention hall (holding a debate on privacy rights) and distracts the Asset, is far superior. Whose bright idea was it to have a SWAT vehicle up against a Dodge Charger, as the altercation never feel other than silly? It’s partially saved by a superlatively brutal fight in a tunnel between the two veteran operatives, but Bourne isn’t a series that satisfies through being glass half full.


The picture I most came away thinking off was not prior Bournes but the previous damp squib collaboration between Damon and Greengrass, Green Zone, a movie with many commendable elements, but ultimately stymied by its desire to be pertinent, relevant and laudable, and which arrived virtually obsolete as a result of such misconceived diligence. For all that Greengrass can be fired up and propulsive in his political conscience (Bloody Sunday) he can equally come across as slickly superficial (Captain Phillips). I’d have taken slickly superficial in Jason Bourne, or just plain slick. Honestly, it might have been more interesting, all told, to have seen that second Aaron Cross movie, with the promise of Justin Lin at the helm (particularly given Lin’s work on the recent Star Trek movie). I know, I know, I’ll just keep popping those Greens and Blues.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …