Listening to Paul Greengrass refer to his greatest work as the Bourne ‘Franchise’ had me shed a metaphorical tear. His interview on the Empire podcast showed me that the British director cares deeply about the integrity of his mangum opus, but it has now gone further than the trilogy that I hold so dear to my heart. At a push, The Bourne Identity, Supremacy and most significantly Ultimatum make one of the best movie trilogies out there and paved the way for a different kind of action film, with Jason Bourne a different kind of action man. Yet the allure of returning to the character proved too strong and whether we wanted it or not, we now have it and have to deal with it. Is this now a quadrilogy (doesn’t have the same ring) or simply a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull problem? Fortunately Greengrass had the skills and know how to make sure we avoided such a comparison, but no matter how good this film was it could never bring back the past.
Some years on and finding himself beating up thugs on the fringes of society, Jason Bourne is a man still fragmented by his past, attempting to survive and nothing more. However, a visit from his old confidant Nicky Parsons brings him back into play with information that show the CIA are at it again, and that there may have been more to Bourne’s history they are still hiding from him. Attempting to silence him once and for all is the new and very, very old faces of Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones, but they both know the difficulties they face once Bourne gets on the war path.
Jason Bourne reminds me of that moment in a video game where you’ve already finished the main story but go back to the side missions afterwards because you have nothing better to do. Even though the key ingredients are all there still, with Matt Damon on point and Greengrass showing of technical prowess, there is nothing here that pushes the characters to a point that makes you feel that you needed this sequel. The fact that Damon has only 25 lines of dialogue in the film shows he himself has no story to tell. There is a strong sense that for the first time his character is reactive, going through the paces simply because he knows no better. In the original trilogy Bourne always had a purpose, a reason to take on his past. Other than finding out more about his dad Bourne gains little else, and as an audience invested in the character you feel cheated by that.
Greengrass would have succeeded more with Jason Bourne if he had gone with the idea of Bourne missing a sense of purpose outside of Treadstone, playing with the idea that, as unrighteous as it was, under the program he was doing something for his country and deep down he remains a patriot. They dip into that idea on one or two occasions but on the whole it remains unexplored. Instead they go back to unveiling more about his past which has no further benefit than that which was revealed in Ultimatum.
Though it probably doesn’t come out in my ramblings, Jason Bourne is a good film. Compared to other action movies it is still above 99% of the competition and that’s because Greengrass has the spy thriller down to a tee, and this one is an explosive assault on the senses that is captivating at the least. Vikander and Jones are also great additions despite their characters being duplicates of those in prior films. However, my incredibly high expectations could never be met. Jason Bourne is a nice reunion tour and plays all the hits but proves nothing new, leading me to state of denial in which the Bourne trilogy remains exactly that.