Matt Damon is Bourne, again. That’s the main selling point for the series’ return to its roots after a sputtering attempt to branch out to other characters involved in the constellation of CIA black-ops that spread out from the Treadstone program that gave rise to Jason Bourne. I was curious to see where the “extended Bourne universe” would go once The Bourne Legacy kicked it off, but evidently I was the only one.
It seems that Bourne-series scribe Tony Gilroy took the fall for Legacy‘s mixed reviews; he’s out as director, along with the brothers he brought on as co-writer and editor. But in a maddening choice by the producers, Jason Bourne returns Paul Greengrass to the director’s chair. Worse, he’s co-writing the script with his editor, Christopher Rouse. And together they prove that they can write a story that’s every bit as choppy, incoherent, and nonsensical as their action.
They’re also completely unmoored from Robert Ludlum’s actual Bourne novels by now. Legacy at least drew inspiration from Eric Van Lustbader’s spinoff series. What we’ve got here is pure Greengrass, and it’s not pretty. Computers and spy technology are magical; the language around them is laughably bad, and calls into question whether these guys have any knowledge of the internet that didn’t come from evening-news scare stories. Last year’s Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy does a better job of keeping itself grounded in some semblance of reality.
So the order of the day is a reboot, but of a weird, hybrid sort. They want to start over again, but without actually starting over and replacing the one face that keeps audiences coming back. So Jason Bourne himself continues searching for his forgotten
daddy issuespast, but the CIA gets a whole new crew still trying to clean up the old Treadstone mess and keep their newer projects under wraps.
In particular, Julia Stiles has reached the ripe old age of 35, so in Hollywood terms she’s aged out of her role as Nicky Parsons. She gets a few scenes in order to bring Bourne out of the shadows yet again, and then she’s murdered in order to give him character motivation. Which is all that Greengrass seems to think women are good for. She’s replaced by Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) as the new young woman who thinks Bourne can be brought in rather than assassinated, and sees her boss, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), overreaching.
For his part, Dewey is yet another senior CIA officer quick to deploy another black-ops asset (Vincent Cassel) against the one that went rogue. This time he’s got another side project jammed in: a long-secret deal with a tech billionaire (Riz Ahmed) to get spyware inside massively popular social media platform “Deep Dream”. Oh, and don’t worry; the the technobabble is just as nonsensical here. It’s as if Greengrass and Rouse have never actually used Facebook or Twitter but know that the kids are all about them social medias right?
I know I’m being hard on the language, but it really is awful, especially compared to other spy-thriller series. Bond writers at least seem to have read the syllabus, and Bourne was always supposed to be the “gritty”, realistic alternative to 007’s increasingly outlandish adventures. I suppose I should at least be grateful that they managed to replace everywhere in the script that was originally written “AWESOME SPY STUFF” or “INTERNET JARGON HERE”.
But fine, an action thriller isn’t really about its language; it lives and dies on its action. In this case, it dies. Paul Greengrass cannot direct coherent, sensible action sequences for love or money, Christopher Rouse cannot cut them, and it has always been thus. Fights and chases alike disappear into a blur of chaotic, split-second flashes, and all sense of spatial orientations and relationships is lost. Go back to watch the original, Doug Liman-directed Bourne Identity back to back with Greengrass’ Bourne Supremacy, and the difference between good and bad execution couldn’t be clearer.
There is nothing here that Greengrass cannot ruin. Even Alicia Vikander, one of today’s most talented young actresses, delivers a wooden performance with an accent that sounds like it was aimed — without in-story explanation, mind you — towards Ireland, but landed somewhere between her throat and sinuses. Even Tommy Lee Jones has no charisma here. It’s as if Greengrass set out to make the CIA look boring rather than menacing.
I get why the producers decided they had to return to Damon and pretend that he isn’t closer to 50 than 40. I regret it, but I get why Tony Gilroy had to go. But letting Paul Greengrass direct this or any other movie is nothing else but an act of cinematic malpractice.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.