Join ScreenCritics Adam as he takes on the latest Jason Bourne outing. Should Matt Damon have stayed away from the franchise?
I am very angry with the Bourne franchise. Not because of The Bourne Legacy, though it is worth being angry about that nothingness of a film, but because of the Bourne legacy. As in what the franchise has done to cinema. Because of the innovative way they filmed action, everyone else tried to do it. And because not many directors are talented enough to pull it off, what ended up happening was a tonne of action scenes where it was completely incomprehensible as the camera shook about while a fight might be going on. Or origami, I don’t know. Anyway, now we have another Bourne film in Jason Bourne where we can see how shakycam is meant to be done.
While hacking the CIA mainframe, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, 10 Things I Hate About You) discovers details about how Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, Saving Private Ryan) was recruited into the Treadstone program. She goes to tell Bourne who is in hiding, but is tracked by a fellow ex-Treadstone program recruit the Asset (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) who is working for the CIA and looks to stop the information getting out.
I just want to take a moment to tell you why Paul Greengrass‘ (Captain Phillips) shakycam works rather than other films. Firstly, it’s not all about the shaking. It’s about slight movement to make us feel like we are also going at a quick speed in the chases, hence pulling us into the action even more. Greengrass also knows that you need to stop the shaking at some points so we can see what’s going on, though even he sometimes fails at this. There’s also art to the zoom in with Greengrass. What he does is deliberately place his camera in an awkward spot and then when the action reveals itself, zooms in to give us the clear picture. This is very much done to replicate news crews, where they have no idea what’s going to happen but will work quick to make sure they get it filmed. This takes an incredibly skilled crew, and luckily Greengrass has one.
This means much like the rest of the Bourne films, there are lots of exciting action scenes in this. The film is stingy with them, there’s three major set pieces and two come in the conclusion, though the odd minor bit of action is chucked in elsewhere, but that makes you savoir them all the more. The action is great for reasons I’ve already mentioned, the exciting cinematography and the way that is used to draw you in, but there’s a lot of stakes to it as well which make us care what happens to the characters. Just like the other films, you want Bourne to win and find out more about the past, mainly because you also want to know where he came from. Especially as where he came from helped him to win fight club matches in one punch.
All of this is triggered by a hacking plot which should feel very relevant. After all, we live in a post-Snowdon world where it appears that hacking has helped win an election for the current President-elect. This stuff should hit like a brick. It doesn’t. The film kicks off with the hacking of the CIA and it should be exciting, there’s lots of running around and technobabble being shouted out which may or may not make any sense, but it isn’t really as it’s written in that early 2000s way where it’s only used as a way to move things forward. And as soon as the hack details get to Bourne, the hacking is forgotten. None of the consequences explored, which may mark this film out as something different but we’ll get to that, just Bourne trying to find out the truth. It’s a huge missed opportunity.
But the worst thing is that this is the fifth Jason Bourne film. And yet apart from Damon being in it and being a bit older, you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from any of the others. There’s some exciting action, Bourne runs around and makes ridiculous jumps, the CIA are being shady and technobable is rife, just like the others. And while none of this is bad, none of it pushes the series forward. The Bourne franchise is now 14 years old, but there’s been very new ideas since then, ideas that worked anyway. So a lot of the time you are just wondering why you aren’t watching The Bourne Ultimatum, as that one was just better and mostly the same.
And that brings me onto another point, the point of this film. Jason Bourne’s story was pretty much wrapped up, and everyone agreed that the experiment that having operatives other than Bourne getting loose and wanting to find out the truth didn’t work after the failure of The Bourne Legacy. Maybe if they focused more on the hacking and what that means in a post-Bourne and Snowdon world they could have made it a bit more relevant, but everyone here is just trying to do the greatest hits and sounding a bit tired. This a film that shouldn’t have been made, Greengrass and Damon should move on to other things and wow us with new things rather than relying on the same old same old. We know they can wow us, so they should do exactly that.
With the film itself, there aren’t many flaws in Jason Bourne. It still has pulsating action, and everyone is very good in their roles. If this was the first in a series, you’d probably call it a promising start and look forward to the sequel. But this isn’t a franchise opener, it’s the fifth in a series that has been going for 14 years and has spawned many imitators. And that hurts it, because no one here is trying anything new. Maybe this is a franchise that could only do a few films, and we should just leave it as a very fond memory, which is pretty ironic as Bourne doesn’t have any of them.