Samuel Brace on the Bourne franchise following the release of the fifth instalment, Jason Bourne…
The Bourne Trilogy was a big part of my life growing up. From 2002 to 2007, Bourne reinvented the spy thriller leaving its mark on every other film in the genre. The brutal, down to earth, personal thriller with jet setting tendencies even forced James Bond into change. Bourne, known for its car chases, hand to hand scuffles and hand held cameras, became not only a hit with fans but critics too. Matt Damon became an action star and people actually said things like, “Bourne over Bond any day”. There is a certain style when it comes to these films — particularly the Paul Greengrass directed Supremacy and Ultimatum — that is unmistakable, the pacing, the fights, all of it; you know a Bourne film when you see it. The fun ended in 2007 however with Jason swimming away famously after regaining his memories, the sweet sounds of Moby’s ‘Extreme Ways’ playing into the credits. Bourne was gone and it was sad. But Bourne is back now in 2016, another outing nine years later and he hasn’t changed at all. This is good and also not quite so good.
The not quite so good being that Jason Bourne, the film, comes off as a little lazy. There is some serious use of the copy and paste function going on here, Jason Bourne acts a little like a best of compilation, rearranged just enough to give the appearance of a new movie but really we’ve seen this all before. There is a moment in the first big sequence (one of three), set in Greece, when you suddenly realise that this is exactly the same opening as Supremacy, that the minor details are different, but what is actually happening is just the same, and you can’t help but feel a little disappointed, like “Really? We couldn’t have done something different?” It’s annoying but not enough to ruing anything, as the beauty of Bourne is that you never get a chance to think before something else is happening. This kind of thing is repeated throughout however, structurally goings on are all the same, you could almost predict how things would play out. This really was Supremacy take two, which is not that bad because Supremacy is amazing.
Story has never been the Bourne franchise’s strong point, not the overarching story, not the amnesiac through line, that’s great, but the plot for each individual film has never been anything to shout about, and this time around is no different. But this is not why you watch Bourne, it’s the larger themes and grandiose set pieces that live long in the memory. However, this particular film does feel a tad more lightweight than normal, a natural result of the main mystery of the saga being solved nine years ago. They do find a way to tie in the amnesia, a forgotten moment in time integral to why Jason joined Treadstone, key information to his peace of mind going forward. It’s not bad but they could have done better with this aspect, or you know… just adapt the damn books — this being a perfect time to have done so, but I digress. None of this ruins the film, but it does hold it back for old fans, stopping it reaching the heights we know are possible.
None of this really matters however because Bourne is back and the fact that it’s just the same as ever is good because that’s exactly what we wanted. We like Bourne because it’s Bourne. If they gave us Bond, Reacher, Mission Impossible or anything else it wouldn’t be Bourne. This isn’t a reboot, a re-imagining, or a re-anything else. This is a continuation, which, if we are going to have another film in the franchise, is exactly what it should be, what it has to be. Greengrass hasn’t tried to re-invent the wheel here, he has tried to make an unabashed Bourne sequel, and on this metric he has been successful in every possible way. Right from the start, that familiar music begins to play, as soon as things get going, that non-stop beat that fans know all so well, scoring virtually every moment of the film, keeping the tension throughout, driving us forward through any lull in action, not allowing the audience to rest for a single solitary second. Classic Bourne. Everything we love from the trilogy is present here, CIA control rooms, the mysterious ‘Asset’ after Bourne, the passport photos on the big screen, Jason improvising his way out of tricky spots, engaging in fist fights and car chases, it’s all here and it’s all perfect. This is what we want. This is what we got.
The two hours of the film soared by, Jason found a reason to come back, a loved one perished, the CIA up to no good, he made a new female friend and ended an old grudge with a fellow assassin. Nothing new was here but that’s not why we bought the ticket. We came for the Bourne ride and that’s exactly what we got. The choreography of the fights, including a particularly brutal scrap towards the end was a pleasure to watch. The two main chase scenes were unrelenting, bruising affairs, filled with all the collateral damage we’ve come to expect. Jason solved the problem the film presented him with, while still leaving a hole inside him, knowing that he will never be at peace, not until he’s dead, and things were wrapped up as they always are with an ending scene that teased Jason’s continuing adventures, showing that he is always one step ahead as the famous opening sounds of ‘Extreme Ways’ play once more. Terrific.
Is Jason Bourne worse than the previous three flicks (I refuse to talk about Legacy)? Yes, it probably is, though I do need to watch them all again. Is there a little too much recycling going on? Yeah, no doubt. But is this a damn good Jason Bourne movie? Hell yeah, it is. This movie is the Force Awakens of the Bourne franchise. It was a safety first approach, reminding old fans what they loved while introducing new fans to what Bourne is all about. It did this perfectly. This, like Episode VII, can now allow any future films to branch out and explore more courageous horizons, but for now, this will do just fine. I think Greengrass and Damon will probably realise that more could have been done, that there were one or two moments of regurgitation that could have been avoided, but as far as making a fun, intense and expertly crafted action thriller goes… they knocked it out of the park, making this fan want to dust off the old DVD’s and start the adventure all over again. Go get em, Jason. Extreme ways are back again.