Film Review: ‘Jason Bourne’ begins to show diminishing returns

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jason_bourne_ver2I completely understand why the Bourne franchise needs star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass. Anyone who saw The Bourne Legacy clearly noticed what was lacking. At the same time though, I’m not sure why Damon and Greengrass need this franchise anymore. Jason Bourne is a serviceable enough action film for the most part, but it’s a highly unnecessary sequel that doesn’t compare to what has come before.

While looking similar to the other Greengrass helmed outings The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, this one has more in common with The Bourne Legacy, which isn’t a particularly high grade. In some ways, Jason Bourne is a retread of all of those, along with The Bourne Identity, showcasing how this team was truly out of ideas and right to leave when they did. Now, this is still more effective than not and serves its purpose, but you have the right to expect more from the group and the franchise on the hole.

When they keep this one smaller, it mostly works, give or take the plot not exactly being original or too knowledgeable about technology/modern surveillance, but that’s not the real issue. The problem is the third act, which gets progressively more ridiculous, unbelievable, and underwhelming. When a Bourne film resembles a wannabe Fast and Furious sequel, you have an iffy proposition at best.

The film picks up with a similar period of time having passed in the cinematic world as in ours since the last true installment. Our hero, the title character (Damon) has been in hiding, carving out a meager existence off the grid, still a mess of jumbled memories. The emergence of a familiar face in Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) draws him out, having found information about his past while trying to expose CIA black ops projects to a Wikileaks type of group. This puts Nicky on the radar of CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), as well as an up and coming analyst named Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

Dewey has her run point on various operations to bring Bourne in, while employing a more lethal agent (Vincent Cassel) to end Bourne once and for all. Of course, Bourne just winds up on the run, searching again for answers. The plot gets needlessly complex, including a giant tech company with ties to the government, but in the end, it just comes down to Bourne fighting for his life.

Jason Bourne (2016)Matt Damon is incredibly comfortable in this role by now, as you might imagine. He never sleepwalks through the part, but it’s definitely not quite as dynamic a performance as it could have been. He’s nearly silent in this installment, which is an interesting change of pace, but the plot removes a large amount of his tortured nature, which just makes him a flatter character. The answers he finds aren’t interesting, with too much put towards making this again a continuing story.

Again, Damon isn’t bad, but we’ve seen him be much better. The same goes for everyone else too, as Tommy Lee Jones appears bored, while Alicia Vikander is fine but struggles with her American accent, oddly enough. Aside from the aforementioned Vincent Cassel and Julia Stiles, notable supporting players include a wasted Riz Ahmed, along with Bill Camp, Ato Essandoh, Gregg Henry, Vinzenz Kiefer, Scott Shepherd, and more.

There’s a definite confidence to Paul Greengrass and his direction that helps make the action feel dynamic in Jason Bourne, but it’s a case of diminishing returns. Part of it is the script that Greengrass co-wrote with Christopher Rouse (also the editor here), as it’s not quite as savvy as it thinks that it is.

Underwritten characters and a complete lack of a reason for this to exist are chief among their issues. Barry Ackroyd‘s cinematography, along with Rouse’s editing, are certainly well utilized with the action, but when they go big at the end, it becomes more generic and less like what the franchise has always successfully trafficked in. It’s all just a touch too bland and a little more like a run of the mill action flick than it should be. You have the right to expect a cut above with this series, but the movie just doesn’t deliver.

Overall, Jason Bourne isn’t a bad film at all, but it’s definitely a disappointing one. The franchise has always been reliably dynamic and gritty, and while one has shades of that, it’s again a situation where we have diminishing returns on our hands. Fans of the franchise will probably notice the difference in quality, but it’s also not an unwatchable mess or anything of the sort. It’s just far more disposable than you’re used to. With a summer that’s lacking in quality large scale entertainment, this could pass muster for some, but it’s yet another letdown for the 2016 blockbuster season. Jason Bourne tries to skate by on reputation, but it’s ultimately not something I can recommend.

GRADE: (★★½)

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

About Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of Indiewire's Criticwire Network as well as the Internet Film Critics Association.
  • Joey Magidson

    You could do worse, but sadly, you can do better as well.

    • Luke McGowan

      I had a feeling it would be bland when I saw they couldn’t even think of a good name for it.

      • Joey Magidson

        True story.