I just got back from seeing the new Jason Bourne movie. The fourth in the series with Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass, also starring Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassel and Alicia Vikander.
I am a huge fan of all the earlier Bourne movies. Well, not so much the Bourne Legacy which starred Jeremy Renner as another Bourne-type assassin figure which tried really hard but ultimately failed to contribute to the Bourne universe. But the other three Matt Damon movies – I literally just can’t get enough of them.
Not only is Matt Damon just fun to watch kicking ass and taking names, but the movies told a complicated story from one to the next as they uncovered layer after layer of deception within the CIA’s covert operations bureaus and how the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. Bourne’s quest to uncover the truth about his own identity and history blew the truth out into the open about the agency that had made him into what he was and some not-so-good people were exposed in the process, the kind of people that we know exist and who are willing to do some pretty bad things so we can all maintain our pretty good way of life in the USA.
One thing I liked about these movies is while they were high-octane adrenaline rushes with some amazing fight sequences and chases, the story mattered and when you were looking at the bad guys, they were not always so obviously bad men who were trying to destroy the world. Just the opposite in fact. Jason Bourne was a complication in their operations not because he was a good guy out to take them down, but because he was one of their own who they had lost control of and who no longer followed their party line. We identified with him because he was presented as a sympathetic character who didn’t understand who he was or why people were out to kill him, so he was something else than these nefarious black ops government agents who are willing to do anything to defend God and country. Plus he was Matt Damon.
Once it became clear that he had once been fully on board with those folks and had even killed a nameless faceless person in cold blood simply because he was told to, and that he had volunteered to be part of a government kill program, it became clear that he wasn’t actually so innocent after all. This made the Bourne movies a cut above your standard, old-style Stallone or Schwarzenegger beat-em-ups of the 80s and 90s. In those movies, the hero just needed some excuse, any excuse, to shoot people and blow things up and we would cheer him doing it because we liked the simplicity of such a story.
I come back around to those old-style action movies because here’s the disappointing part about the new Jason Bourne movie. While there is no problem with the action, the fight sequences or the chases, it seems to me that in this go-round, they parked their brains at the door.
That may be too harsh, actually, because as I’ve been reminded lately, some of these action and superhero movies are meant to be escapism and we as audience members aren’t meant to take them too seriously. I am not going to get into spoilers because this movie just came out, so all I can say is that there were technical errors and plot elements in the first fifteen minutes of the movie that threw me right out of it and made me wonder whether a 7th grader had written it.
I’m a writer so good writing and an intelligent story is important to me. People who have seen my earlier reviews may note that I come back to this again and again. I’m happy to park my own brain at the door when I know I’m watching mindless fluff or a movie that is made specifically to throw gratuitious sex or violence at us for pure popcorn munching fun. But with a franchise like the Bourne series, you have a history of intellgent writing so I can’t help but hold it to a higher standard.
When a story is unfolding and it has things in it that just don’t make any damn sense or has characters doing or saying things that are either inconsistent, ill-timed or just plain stupid, I start asking myself why they are doing that and when I can’t come up with any plausible explanations, I am not happy. When too many coincidences start stacking up that are clearly only happening because they have to in order to move the story along, I get distracted and in this film, there were a LOT of those, a couple of them so implausible that I literally said “Oh come on” to myself as I was watching. And when government agencies are shown to be willing to execute their own agents and United States citizens at random simply because they are standing in the wrong place or are inconveniencing the bad guys in some way, I shake my head and think that we have crossed a line that definitely was not crossed in earlier Bourne films.
By this I mean that in the earlier Bourne films, covert operations were run as covert operations, collateral damage was kept to the barest minimum because every effort was being made on the part of the spies to maintain cover. Here all of that is given lip service but Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent Cassel basically kill whoever they want whenever they want including their own people. That just doesn’t make any sense.
But regardless of what you may think about any of that, when a story is weak, it doesn’t hook you or connect you with the action. You can’t really care what is happening if the leads aren’t somewhat interesting or intriguing or sympathetic. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to care what is going on with them. In this, Jason Bourne has racked up a lot of cred from the earlier films so you do care about him from the very beginning, but the single most interesting question this movie throws out there as to his morality and where he is going with his future is given short shrift. Again, I won’t spoil what that question is, but I will say that the movie veers sharply off that and instead, too much time is spent giving us platitudes about internet security and privacy without really drilling down and tackling that issue head-on either. It’s like it’s trying to sound like it’s making statements about important issues, but it’s really not because it doesn’t follow through on any of them.
So is it worth seeing? Well, you should go see it and I’m sure that nothing I’m saying here is going to stop you from doing so. The Jason Bourne franchise is too well loved and this movie is too anticipated to ignore it. So all I can do is throw a warning out to you that while I’m sure you are going to love the action sequences in international locations around the globe and are going to love seeing Matt Damon pick up the mantle of a superhero kickass assassin, don’t expect the same level of intelligence or nuance that made the Jason Bourne films stand out before as something special. This is a good movie, but it’s the worst of the Matt Damon Bourne movies so far and for that reason, I can only give Jason Bourne a rating of Meh.
I’d love to hear your feedback and comments after you’ve seen it. Tell me what you think. And if this review discourages you from seeing it, well, there’s definitely some better things you can do with your time this weekend.
Thank you for watching.