Rumor has it that best-selling author Robert Ludlum sold the original 1980 Bourne novel, The Bourne Identity, with a one sentence pitch: “What if James Bond got amnesia?” Seems like it’s no accident that both heroes’ names start with the initials J.B.
It’s also probably no coincidence that, when left with a choice between Henry Cavill (soon to be both the new Superman and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – co-created by Bond inventor Ian Fleming) and Matt Damon doppelganger Daniel Craig, the James Bond film producers chose the latter to play 007 in Casino Royale (2006). To select insiders, Craig was known thereafter as the “Bourne-again Bond.”
The initial Bourne movies (2002’s The Bourne Identity, 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum) breathed new life into an increasingly tired spy-vs-spy formula, but eventually started to succumb to the law of diminishing returns. So much so that Damon turned over his angst to the Daniel-Craig-esque Jeremy Renner for 2012’s The Bourne Legacy. Sadly, the limp plotting and pacing of that missed opportunity has infected the newest effort.
Even the title, Jason Bourne, seems tired. No The Bourne Resurrection? The Bourne Retreat? The Bourne Retread? How about The Bourne Paycheck? Perhaps the title was meant to be lean, since this new film is essentially a technical exercise by director/co-writer Paul Greengrass to stretch one long chase sequence out to two hours. It certainly brings the tennis-game-of-inspiration full circle, since the film’s tagline, “You Know His Name” appears to be directly lifted from Casino Royale’s David Arnold/Chris Cornell’s theme song, You Know My Name.
By any name, Jason Bourne is an okay movie if you’re into lean, mean, humorless, emotionless, movement edited to within an inch of its life. If you’re looking, like I was, for some interesting plotting, character development, insight, wit, smarts, and maybe even a spot of closure, perhaps it would be wiser to check out Star Trek Beyond (aka Star Trek Out of Darkness) instead.
The same story constipation that afflicted Legacy envelops this one too. Bourne is still looking for the “truth” of his Winter Soldier-like creation, and CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is still out to terminate him with extreme prejudice, no matter how much collateral damage (read: innocent bystanders) it entails.
Toward that end, he makes ample use of “The Asset,” – a vindictive, homicidal hitman (Vincent Cassel). Complicating Dewey’s life are an initially cooperative Steve Jobs-esque app wiz (Riz Ahmed) who doesn’t want his new tech to be used by the CIA as a universal peeping tom, and an ambitious CIA rising star (Alicia Vikander). Multiple assassinations, as well as double, triple, and even quadruple crosses, ensue as Greengrass splays out this killer chess game in propulsive, but uninvolving, terms.
Perhaps the film’s greatest failing, like The Bourne Legacy before it, is its flat unwillingness to reveal its cards. Both Damon and Greengrass seem to know their end game, but are so obstinate about showing more than a sliver that the whole endeavor comes off like, to paraphrase the Scottish play, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
To make matters worse, Bourne himself is infected by MMA-itis. Where once, in previous films, he was empowered with sharp fighting skills, this one starts with him winning a fight club battle with an unimaginative, unintelligent, single, closed-fist punch (ooooo, how macho), then never really develops beyond that. Not only are all the battles edited with a shredder, but they are essentially all the same: interchangeable, generic, and flat – ending not because any fighter is smarter or better, but because the script says so.
For a second, it looked like the film would climax with an exciting new direction for any subsequent Bourne to take, but then, no. I don’t think it’s any spoiler to say that maybe any sequel should be called The Bourne Back to Square One.