Jason Bourne was created by Robert Ludlum for his book the Bourne Identity in 1980 – which was actually first adapted for TV in 1988.
In 2002, the novel was loosely adapted into a feature film starring Matt Damon and directed by Doug Liman. It is the best example of the shift in action-movie leads from the giant, larger-than-life heroes of the 80s and 90s (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, VanDamme, etc.) into a more realistic, skilled, everyman. The movie style also signified a shift from the bombastic action movie to a smarter, more thriller-type action movie, which took itself far more seriously and was more tightly directed – less ‘splosions, more self-doubt and introspection.
Matt Damon was a unique choice for Bourne, having been mostly recognized for really smart independent dramas up to that point. In the novels, Bourne was a much older man, but Damon really suited the part for this confused hero. Bourne wakes up after being rescued by fishermen in the Mediterranean Sea; he has no memory of who he is or why he was unconscious in the water, but he suddenly realizes he has a very particular set of skills. Following clues starting with a laser pointer embedded in his hip – he begins to realize he was a hitman working for the CIA under Operation Treadstone. Treadstone seems to be a program that was brainwashing and enhancing ‘volunteers’ to create the perfect soldier…or several soldiers. Along the way, he gets help from a woman named Marie Kreutz; and in a roundabout way from another CIA associate Nicky Parsons. The movie wraps up pretty tightly, with Bourne helping to expose Treadstone, and retiring to Mykonos with Marie.
That was all pretty great, and if you haven’t seen it in a while – watch it again. Of course, it did really well, and since there are a whole bunch of the Bourne novels – we got three other movies.
The Bourne Supremacy in 2004 and the Bourne Ultimatum in 2007 were both directed by Paul Greengrass (there was also the Bourne Legacy in 2008 with Jeremy Renner, but it was both connected and unconnected, and that’s a little confusing). Greengrass took Liman’s tight action style to heart and developed his own trademark style. And by style – I mean completely ignoring the fact that the Steadicam was invented and instead shooting everything with handheld cameras. This results in the audience feeling like they are part of the action, inside the fights and chases with Bourne. It’s a style I hate, but that others love – which is fine, to each their own. Personally, I prefer the action and fights shot from a distance (with a Steadicam). The actors worked really hard on that fight choreography – pull back so that I can see it. Don’t stick the camera in between them so that I feel like I’m getting punched. I’m not here to get punched or be in the backseat during a car chase – I’m here to watch a bunch of actors get punched or be in a car chase.
In any case – the movies continued Bourne’s search for himself and the cause of his strife – which really kept being varying levels of CIA Black Ops programs. Supremacy wasn’t great, and Ultimatum wasn’t bad – I particularly like how it tied up nice and neat with Bourne floating in the water, the same way he had started this mess. It seemed like a great end to the trilogy, so I think you’ll understand when I refer to this new movie as mostly unnecessary.
We pick up a decade after Bourne exposed Blackbriar/Treadstone and then disappeared – he’s basically wandering around the world participating in underground fights to make some money…as you do when you’re a spy with amnesia.
Ex-CIA analyst, Nicky Parsons, is busy hacking the CIA and dumping all their black ops programs online when she accidentally discovers something about Bourne’s father – so requests to meet up with him in Greece during a huge protest. Well, the CIA is on to her pretty quickly, and the head of their cyber ops division, Heather Lee, and the CIA Director, Robert Dewey, start tracking her down so they can get Bourne. Dewey pulls another ‘asset’ to eliminate Bourne, while Lee asks if she can instead attempt to bring him in. The ‘asset’ is all about going after Bourne, because due to Bourne’s actions in exposing Treadstone, the ‘asset’ was captured and tortured years ago – so he’s harboring a major grudge.
Parsons gets eliminated pretty quickly, but manages to get Bourne a key, which he follows to a locker and finds her research, which leads him to another operative, which the CIA tracks again. He grabs the former operative in London – and learns that his own father was the one who came up with Treadstone/Blackbriar, and was killed once he protested his son’s recruitment into the program. And all this time, Bourne thought he was volunteering – but his father created the program and the CIA went after him in particular! This all came out of nowhere, and was never mentioned in any of the other movies, but hey – whatever.
While all this is going on while Dewey is making a deal with Aaron Kalloor, the CEO of a social media enterprise company called Deep Dream, to allow the CIA to use Deep Dream to essentially spy on everyone all the time. Kalloor is beginning to regret his decision to partner with Dewey, and is thinking about pulling out.
After Bourne evades capture by Lee in London – he gets back in touch with her to learn that Dewey is behind all this and he’s about to be on a panel with Lee and Kalloor in Vegas (what? Is the CIA director really doing tech panels in Vegas?). In any case, Bourne also heads to Vegas the same time as the other ‘asset’, who Dewey has now reassigned to kill Kalloor, Lee, still Bourne, and really anyone else who gets in his way.
Bourne gets there just in time to prevent the hits, take out Dewey in his Aria hotel suite, allow Lee to let him get away, then have an unbelievably epic car chase with the asset up and down the strip before finally crashing into the Rivera; defeating him, and once again walking away. He meets up with Lee in Washington D.C., who seems to be about to get a big-time promotion, and records her as she offers to either bring Bourne in, or put him down if necessary. Then he walks off into the sunset as Moby plays – again.
Greengrass is once again behind the handheld camera here, and while I found the camera shakiness annoying in some of the others, I found it almost unbearable here. The extensive car chases with the shaking were actually on the verge of making me nauseous. I get that he loves that as a device, but it’s so unnecessary in every single scene. There are scenes in this movie where characters take out a cell phone to read a text, which the audience is supposed to also read, but the camera is shaking so much you cannot read it. No need to use a handheld there and no need to use handheld for simple conversations. That aside, the story also felt unnecessary – no mention of Webb’s (Bourne’s real name) father had ever come up in any previous movie, so to make the whole point of this movie a revenge story since Dewey was the man who hired the asset to kill Bourne’s father felt really forced. In terms of the cast, they were all very good – I honestly have no complaints there.
- Matt Damon is still fantastic as Bourne. He’s confused and angry – mostly angry because he’s confused. In this one he continues to get angrier once he find out his father was murdered. I am a fan of Damon, and I like him in these movies. Think about how much better BvS would have been with him as Lex Luthor – with a more quiet, intelligent, menace…
- Tommy Lee Jones plays CIA director Dewey – and he’s great, but you’re never fooled by him into thinking he’s a good guy – he’s pretty villainous almost the whole time, but he’s great at that, so I’ll go with it.
- Alicia Vikander plays Heather Lee, and I actually really liked her very cold, calculating performance here. Similar to her Ex Machina robot – but less emotional! For a moment, you think she may be on Bourne’s side, wanting to help him by bringing him in, but then you realize that she’s using it as career-boosting power, which really makes her more layered and interesting.
- Vincent Cassel plays the ‘asset’ who spends tons of time chasing Bourne around. He’s got very little to do, which is a shame, because he’s really an interesting guy. I couldn’t help but think when they were running around Vegas that he did the same amount of running around Vegas in Ocean’s 13. If you want to see what he can do – watch Brotherhood of the Wolf – it’s a French movie starring Cassel and his wife Monica Bellucci, and it’s really weird but good.
- Julia Stiles plays Nicky Parsons again – and she felt really flat in this. I couldn’t tell if that was as choice, or simply her, but either way, it didn’t seem to match the intensity of the information she was trying to pass on, since that’s really what gets Bourne out of hiding and back into the game.
- Riz Ahmed plays Aaron Kalloor, the head of Deep Dream, who is basically a Silicon Valley character. If you’re not watching Silicon Valley on HBO – you should be.
- Ato Essandoh plays CIA agent Craig Jeffers – and his job is really just to go around with Dewey and give him updates on where Bourne is and what he’s up to.
Overall, the whole movie just felt unnecessary, which is a shame, because I was really looking forward to it. The action might have been good, but the camera was shaking so much I couldn’t really see it. The car chase at the end went on forever, which is interesting if you’ve ever spent any time on the Vegas Strip – you know there’s almost no way to have a car chase there, first because of traffic, and second, because it’s not really as long as it seems to be in this movie. I enjoyed the cast, for the most part, and I wanted it to be better – but really, skip this one and just rewatch the original.
4 out of 10 – removing extra points for the shaky camera work.
Bonus – Brotherhood of the Wolf, so weird and French – but really entertaining!