Jason Bourne film review

7 August 2016 by , No Comments

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The inherent problem with Jason Bourne as a character and, by extension, every movie he appears in is that he has no reason to keep existing after he solves his problems. He’s not like James Bond, a classy-looking attack dog Great Britain can point in the general direction of a soon-to-be-mauled problem, he’s just a guy who doesn’t have any memories of who he is and his hounded by his former colleagues because of nebulous stuff that he may or may not remember. As such, every Bourne film since the original has always struggled to answer the question of, “Why are we still here?”

Now, I enjoyed the original Bourne Identity because it took a pretty archetypical super spy and stripped him of his usual support network comfort zone. The title character was forced to find his way in the world with only a gun and his girlfriend at his side, all the while battling against the sort of people we’d usually be rooting for. It wasn’t the most original movie out there but it knew what it wanted to be and stuck to that gun so much that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Ever since then, though, the Bourne films have just been one flimsy excuse after another to drag this man back into the ridiculous conspiracy of some shadowy government types.

The only way in which Jason Bourne differs from its predecessors in this regard is that it seems to have become self-aware about how much of a mess the overall story has become. There’s a scene in the first act where one of the supporting characters whose name I can’t remember because it’s been over a decade since I saw The Bourne Ultimatum more or less says, “You got involved in this plot because my mate went out to get some files about the super spy program you used to be a part of and decided to involve you before posting them online.” In other words, the only reason why Jason Bourne is even in this movie is because someone decided to go about things the long way around. Granted, there’s some nonsense about Jason’s daddy who was secretly in on another stupid conspiracy and got killed because of reasons and he has to find out the truth by reading the files but, considering that the good guys in were going to post these files online in the first place, one can’t help but wonder why they didn’t just do that first and then tell Jason where to look them up. Because that would have saved a lot of time, money, and – most importantly – lives.

Granted, I use the term, “Good guys” in the loosest possible sense because that implies that we’re supposed to be rooting for them, which is extremely difficult considering that each and every character in this film is about as sympathetic as a tapeworm. The very first thing that we see Jason Bourne do is punch people in a street fighting ring and it’s never explained if he’s making any money on this or if knocking people’s teeth in is just the only way he can get his jollies after a lifetime of fighting. Tommy Lee Jones returns as a CIA director so obviously evil and unwilling to listen to reason that he might as well be chewing on a baby’s leg and wearing a Donald Trump t-shirt in every scene. The mysterious new character referred to only as “the Asset” is a bloodthirsty psychopath who seems like they might have some depth to their character since they have a legitimate grievance against Bourne but then their backstory is revealed in full and it’s revealed that, no, they’re just a dick. How disappointing. Also, there’s a new girl character whose vital roles in the story are being a girl, being ignored whenever she suggests that maybe bringing Bourne back to the program is a better idea than killing him (until Tommy Lee Jones decides in the final act that maybe they should try that after all), being a girl, and delivering all of her lines like she’s just come out of an amateur chainsaw lobotomy. I know that women don’t really do much in these films beyond look pretty and act incompetent so that Matt Damon can look all the more badass but come on. On the plus side, we also have a Middle Eastern gentleman whose character I can’t remember because Tommy Lee Jones chewed it to bits along with the rest of the scenery whenever they shared a moment together (which is a lot) but the fact that he’s the only person who seems to have an actual moral compass made me like him quite a bit. Sadly, his personal arc is a little on the silly side – he’s developed this social media platform that the government wants to control because surveillance states are bad and, hey, it’s not like Tommy Lee Jones’ character could get any better so why not just have him go full Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain(TM) at this point?

If it sounds like I’m being unusually bitter about this movie, it’s only because I’m thoroughly disappointed in how it didn’t live up to what is actually a pretty interesting premise. The idea that Jason Bourne has been in his murdering lifestyle too long to ever readjust to a normal one is a surprisingly aware interpretation of the character and one that, had it actually been focused on, might have led to some unique development. Unfortunately, what we ultimately get is another mediocre action movie in which Matt Damon grimaces a lot while shooting people with a script that tries to make some vague political statement about privacy and freedom of information without ever exploring the question or providing much of a real answer to it. You know that meme where Steve Buscemi walks into a room dressed up like a bad 90’s cliche and asks, “What’s up, fellow kids?” It’s the action movie equivalent of that - and the action isn’t even all that good. Granted, there is one third act car chase that starts off pretty decently but the rest of the film’s “exciting” bits are some of the most forgettable trash we’ve seen in years. Hell, it hasn’t even been 24 hours since I saw the movie and I’ve already forgotten most of it because there is only so much shaky-cam that I can tolerate before my brain shuts down and tries to evacuate through my ears. I don’t know if Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse are necessarily the actual guys who started this awful trend but I do feel like they’ve helped to popularise it and, for that, I think they both deserve a few good slaps upside the head with an inflatable cricket bat because this is exactly the sort of big dumb action nonsense that I should be enjoying with a great big stupid grin on my face but I can’t because I can’t see what’s going on half the time.

Mind you, having said all of that, there were a few moments in the movie where I couldn’t help but be reminded of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and how much better that movie did action and a story about privacy and personal information and government control. I also remember writing that movie off because it copped out of making any solid political point by making all the bad guys Nazis, thereby giving Cap’s side the win by default, but here I was positively begging to return to those half-baked plot ideas and underdeveloped characters. So, I guess that if this stupid, stupid movie really wants to say it accomplished something, it can say that it finally made me lower my standards. Good job, guys.

And, again, there’s no reason why this movie had to be so painfully poor. You want to continue a successful franchise, I get it and I won’t begrudge you for wanting to make money. That’s not what I’m disappointed about. I’m disappointed in the fact that this movie had Matt Damon, a good actor with some smart things to say, and a story with more than a few interesting ideas about what is otherwise a pretty standard tough guy character, and yet it still turned out to be impossibly average. No excuses, guys, not with that $120 million budget. You can be better than this. Be better.

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