Written by Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, based on characters by Robert Ludlum
Directed by Robert Ludlum
Starring Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed and more
Grade: One and a half stars
There might have been more of Bourne's story worth telling, but it certainly wasn't this.
Though the action scenes are engaging, the storyline of "Jason Bourne" feels like it was created out of duct tape, chicken wire, and a desperate desire to get the character back into theaters. It's too pat, tacked on and narratively inconsistent all at once, and overall unworthy of the movies that came before. As enjoyable as it is to watch Damon once again tackle an action movie, he deserved a more worthy script.
Since the nine years between "The Bourne Ultimatum" and this one might dull the memories of even the most devoted fans, the show starts with a deft recap of all the revelations revealed in the original trilogy. The summarized version is that Bourne volunteered for an American black-ops program that turned him into an assassin, then lost his memory and came back to pull the whole rotten infrastructure down.
When we meet him again in "Jason Bourne," it's clear that the poor man has spent the intervening years feeling desperately lost. Matt Damon leaves the character somewhere between exhausted and completely shut down, seemingly haunted by the idea that he'd volunteered to become an assassin. If the movie had been about his quest to forgive himself for that, or to seek redemption somehow for the choice he'd made, it could have been a fascinating sequel.
But no, we get a back story invented out of whole cloth, along with a convenient "traumatizing incident" that not only wasn't a factor in the original trilogy but doesn't even seem like it factors into the first third of the movie. As is usually the case with overly convenient back stories, it's also full of not-so-coincidental ties to major conspiracies and includes shady figures who just happen to show up at exactly the right moment for the hero to do battle with them.
Tommy Lee Jones offers a surprising amount of menace as the CIA director, while Alicia Vikander is unfortunately not allowed to make facial expressions of any kind. The movie alternates between making her a creative mastermind and dense as a block of wood, outsmarting someone in one moment only to miss a very obvious con being pulled on her in the very next scene. I'm all for Vikander as either a clever chess player or an attractive patsy, but filmmakers need to at least be consistent.
They also have real trouble with telling, not showing. About halfway through the movie a theory springs up among the bad guys that Bourne "secretly wants to be brought in," when Damon's entire performance up to that point suggested exactly the opposite. If they meant to have Bourne still feel a tug to the assassin's life, they apparently forgot to tell Matt Damon.
And in this case, I'd trust Damon over the filmmakers. I'm all for him returning to action movies, and I'd enjoy a genuine look at whether a damaged former assassin can find peace with himself. But "Jason Bourne" isn't the place for either.