Some people may enjoy sitting through Jason Bourne, though it will by hard to fathom why. The return of Matt Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass is a soulless, sensually deadening time-suck, like watching a stranger play a video game you used to think was fun while someone vigorously shakes the screen, or perhaps your head.
That’s what it feels like walking out like someone just batted you about the the ears and neck for two hours while constantly reminding you how scary things are in the world.
There used to be tension in these Bourne movies. There used to be a creeping unease, a haunting hopelessness about the guy who didn’t know who he was, yet always stayed a step ahead of some very nasty, very ill-intended dudes. (Heck, even Jeremy Renner’s quest for little blue pills had The Bourne Legacy gnawing at us for something. A-chems.)
Now there’s just very long, boring stretches of boring people doing a lot of hasty walking around. There is much walking. They walk up ramps and down stairs. They walk in squares and they walk in circles. They mix in some running and some trotting and some talking into earpieces.
There are a lot of computer screens and impossibly stable wireless connections. Oh, quite a bit of very fast typing at least 80 wpm. That is exciting.
Did I mention the computer screens?
So many computer screens! Fancy ones.
I mean like, some really fancy ones!
And then then, by god, they break into eruptions of torrid violence that are nothing but loud and disorienting and painful. Bones are crunched, faces smashed, arms twisted and snapped. And then there is the mass mayhem, Fast and Furious-level stuff that the Bourne movies used to be better than.
These are not exotic or exhilarating images they just look like what we see on the news. A chase through a protest in Greece could be CNN on any given night; one of the Vegas scenes hews perhaps a little too close to one of the more recent, excessively harrowing incidents of real-life mayhem the world has had to endure of late.
All the while, Alicia Vikander tracks the action from a computer in the most wooden, charmless performance a reigning Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner will ever give. Vikander is a vibrant and versatile talent, but her Jason Bourne character, as written, directed and performed, is a far more convincing robot than Ava in Ex Machina.
Vikander, a newcomer to the series, mopes and connives her way through Jason Bourne with a bizarre American accent, strangling out silly sounding CIA buzzwords “sitrep” and “asset” like Zooey Deschanel with a lymph node infection.
No one’s telling anyone to smile more here, least of all a uniquely bright and promising actress who just months ago rightfully and resoundingly won an Academy Award for a varied and complex role.
But for the love of Valhalla, is there not another facial expression besides this one?
The truth is, everyone scowls through this thing, it’s not just her. They scowl and growl and grimace and bark orders and grunt, mostly about things that stop making sense after the story loses you 10 minutes in, and you snap out of the daydream you were having and yep more people walking around. More crashing, more bashing, more killing.
The one actor who shows signs of life is Riz Ahmed (star of HBO’s The Night Of), who plays Aaron Kalloor, a Silicon Valley megastar CEO who’s reluctantly in cahoots with the CIA because guess what? He has data. Wow, does he have data. All the data. It’s almost like this movie wants to say something about privacy (ultimately, it doesn’t).
Ahmed actually cracks a smile at one point, and it’s almost jarring. Because these guys!
Matt Damon is too much of a ringer, too on top of his game to screw this up he’s got the Jason Bourne template on lock, no matter how joyless that may be. A few extra miles on the old mug gives the character some welcome seasoning. Boyish Bourne was cool and slick and tough, but Dad Bourne is here and he’s pisssssed. He’s not the problem, really.
Tommy Lee Jones, being Tommy Lee Jones, just looks a little more bored than the last movie he was in. But in this gray, grim slog of a punishing slugfest, who wouldn’t?
When Doug Liman introduced the franchise with The Bourne Identity in 2002, 9/11 was still the undercurrent of everything, and James Bond was still stuck on Pierce Brosnan with Die Another Day. Identity came like a blast of fresh, bracing air it was harsh and immediate, sparking off an era of “realistic” action.
Now that granite facade looks a little shopworn and feels ultimately silly, bringing us back to a tone and time no one was nostalgic for.
Speaking of, Jason Bourne grasps to connect back to its predecessors in flashback, but forgets that a) it’s been almost a decade since Bourne’s story left off and b) no one cared enough to track on it back then, either.
And yet “I remember everything” is Bourne’s key line at least he remembers who he is and what he’s capable of, which takes almost all the desperation out of the equation. What he can’t quite remember is why his father died in a car bombing before he was recruited into the program, or something. It’s really not clear, but it really doesn’t matter. (If it matters to you, Damon did a 90-second video recap that shows someone’s aware that we’ve probably not retained any of this.)
It all comes off like an action-packed but ultimately empty episode of 24, without any of the tensions or motivations. And sure, some people might still enjoy sitting through something like that.
Which will always be an unknown.
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