Normally editors don’t get a mention in such groupings, but Rouse (who has cut all of Greengrass’ films since 2004’s THE BOURNE SUPREMACY) is of particular interest here not only because his cutting style has helped define the series, but also because for the first time he is here also credited as a co-screenwriter. Sadly though, in this particular instance that’s not going to make for a great calling card.
Ignoring 2012’s nearly Bourne-less THE BOURNE LEGACY, it’s been nearly ten years since the super spy was last seen. He’s been laying low, still stricken with guilt over what memories he has managed to retain, while simultaneously making enough money to survive and punish himself by allowing his bare knuckles boxing opponents to land more blows than they would ever realistically have a chance of achieving.
That changes when fellow ex-spook Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), now an activist and hacker, re-enters Bourne’s life with more important information about his past. She also knows what the ‘Treadstone’ program Bourne was a part of is soon about to evolve into: the sinister sounding ‘Iron Hand’. This instantly catches the attention of crochety-old-white-dude-in-charge-of-the-CIA-du-jour Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who again sees Bourne as a threat and wants him immediately removed from the picture by fair means or foul.
JASON BOURNE has no problem providing evidence of the character’s continued relevance, wasting no time in dropping us into an austerity riot in Greece for its first big action sequence (handled, along with the rest of them, as magnificently as we’ve come to expect), and proceeds to deliver an avalanche of instantly recognisable references to all of the big government intrusion issues of the last decade: Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, the recent FBI vs. Apple phone security tussle, etc.. And of course, true to the series we’re constantly reminded of the reach of State-sponsored surveillance, and how easily it can be (and too often has been) abused.
Damon still fits the part perfectly, while Jones doesn’t need to stray far from his comfort zone to fulfill his duties. Bizarrely, the normally super-reliable Stiles appears to have forgotten how to act, turning in a distractingly wooden performance, although in fairness at least part of that should be chalked up to the lumbering exposition she’s saddled with. Getting far better shrift is Alicia Vikander as Dewey’s shrewd Millennial subordinate, who is less than convinced that Bourne needs to die (on a related note, Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy is – unless I missed something - conspicuous by her complete absence). The by now familiar, interchangeable role of 'asset' this time goes to the always excellent Vincent Cassell, while Riz Ahmed makes a good fist of his Zuckerberg-like part.
But for the first time, at the heart of the impeccably oiled action machine there feels a heavy-handedness to the storytelling – familial revelations (not far from Bond’s Austin Powers moment earlier this year, although this hits far closer to the mark than SPECTRE managed) feel like a lowballing plot device, while other genre tropes surface which are so old they actually induce giggles when they’re are dusted off (prepare your spy movie bingo cards now). There’s a lack of attention to realistic detail that the first three movies strove for; as Bourne hammers around Las Vegas in a luxury sedan, its airbag steadfastly refuses to deploy, even as it is ploughed into a casino marquee (despite Vincent Cassel having established earlier in the film that this is indeed a universe where automotive crash safety features do exist and function, even in a significantly cheaper vehicle). Place this against Bourne’s intelligent use of the humble seatbelt as he reverses a Mercedes off of a carpark roof in ULTIMATUM. Similarly, Snowden is sloppily misrepresented every time his name is mentioned.
But it’s all relative, of course: despite its flaws, JASON BOURNE is still a better, more cerebral action movie than most (especially this year), still managing to move with terrific strength and precision, and is worthy of your time – it only feels underwhelming by the near impossibly high standards of its predecessors.
JASON BOURNE is released July 28 in Australia and New Zealand, and July 29 in the US and UK.