Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. Lots and lots of gun violence, which may hit viewers particularly hard given everything going on in the world lately. Numerous people die; various fist-fights; a car bomb; mentions of torture; some cursing; and a couple of very destructive car chases. Also some discussions about security vs. privacy.
‘Jason Bourne’ brings original star Matt Damon back and revisits the franchise’s initial questions about individual privacy vs. national security. But the narrative is so narrow and moves forward so marginally that ‘Jason Bourne’ feels stuck in the past.
By Roxana Hadadi
Twelve years ago, Matt Damon jumped into the role of action hero with “The Bourne Identity,” playing amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne—fluent in hand-to-hand combat, numerous languages, and making the American government tremble in fear of exposed secrets. He returns to the franchise with “Jason Bourne,” but the film doesn’t feel like a celebration of Damon’s return. It’s just going through the motions, with only a few solid action sequences that liven up an otherwise one-note entry into the “Bourne” series.
In 2012, the “Bourne” franchise left Damon behind with “The Bourne Legacy,” which was a not-bad attempt at rebooting the series with Jeremy Renner. But “Legacy” is almost fully ignored in “Jason Bourne,” which focuses so fully on its titular character that the plot works itself into various contortions to make every single thing about him.
An important secret about the origins of the U.S. government program that spawned Bourne? Caused by him. The torture of another character, who is out for revenge? Caused by him. The death of a friend? Caused by him.
In the preceding Bourne films, the assassin was of course a major element, but there were other things at work—murky international relations, nuanced motives for supporting characters—that gave the material some complexity among all the fistfights, car chases, and scenes of American secret-keepers fearfully barking orders and accusations at each other.
But in “Jason Bourne,” even with all its narrative pretzels, Bourne himself has very little to do—Damon has only a couple dozen lines in this whole thing!—and the film trots out the same old franchise tricks to diminishing effects. From the return of Julia Stiles as Bourne ally Nicky Parsons to the repetitious use of flashbacks to connect Bourne with his past as David Webb, “Jason Bourne” only rarely does anything new.
“I remember everything,” says Bourne (Damon, of “The Martian”), who is living off the grid, fighting other men for cash, and plagued by flashbacks of his last day with his father, Richard Webb, who died in a terrorist attack years ago. But there’s much he doesn’t know, as discovered by ex-CIA hacker Nicky (Stiles, of “Silver Linings Playbook”), who gets into her old employers’ database and steals a variety of files about their secret programs, including Treadstone, of which Bourne was a part.
“We can’t live like this much longer,” Stiles tells Bourne when they meet up in Greece, and soon Jason is pulled back into a faceoff with the CIA. Now led by Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, of “Lincoln”) and his protégé, computer expert Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander, of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), the CIA is conflicted about what to do with Bourne: Dewey wants to take him out, but Heather thinks they can bring him back in.
At the same time, they’re concerned that Bourne will leak the secrets from Nicky’s hack, so Dewey sends in the Asset (Vincent Cassel, of “A Dangerous Method”) to take care of Bourne. While Bourne is evading the CIA, Dewey and Heather are trying to one-up each other, too, and those varying conflicts span from Greece to Germany to Las Vegas as Bourne tries to take back his history.
When the Bourne franchise started more than a decade ago, the conflict between personal privacy and state surveillance was a new one, but in the years since, so many films—like this summer’s blockbuster “Captain America: Civil War”—have tackled those themes that “Jason Bourne” needed to do something different to set itself apart. Alas, it doesn’t, and the clichéd dialogue that the film uses to explore this divide (“Personal rights vs. public safety, this is the great question of our time”) demonstrates that superficiality.
The film doubles down on present-day relevance by mentioning Edward Snowden, civil unrest in Greece, and tensions in Syria, but “Jason Bourne” only pays lip service to those issues and to the idea that “privacy is freedom.” Its attention on Bourne is practically single-minded, and while Vikander works well with viperish ambition, Jones delivers some excellently patronizing sneers, and the chase scenes through smoky Greek alleys and the neon Las Vegas Strip are thrilling, the film leans too much on Damon’s character and then gives him too little to do.
With Damon back, is “Jason Bourne” a reset for the franchise or a conclusion? In trying to be both, “Jason Bourne” only sometimes succeeds.
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