Matt Damon is back in the fourth episode of this grungy spy thriller franchise inspired by the Robert Ludlum novels. The film is decent, if not spectacular and whetted my appetite for the next phase in the series.
JASON BOURNE can be split into four parts, shot in Athens, Berlin, London and Las Vegas. In the opening segment, ex CIA-agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks the CIA and delivers the Black Ops files to Bourne under the camouflage of an anti-austerity riot in Athens. This is director Paul Greengrass' way of injecting some social relevance to the movie, although the post-Edward Snowden privacy vs security debate is far more relevant to the Bourne world than the anti-austerity debate. Regardless, my putting the obligatory chase scene in a city torn apart by molotov cocktails we get some truly breathtaking visuals and cinematography. In fact, this may be my all-time favourite Bourne chase-scene.
In the second part of the film we follow Bourne to Berlin where he gets a Snowden like hacker to open up the files so that he can learn the dirty secret at the heart of the Black Ops programme that recruited him. I'll resist saying more for fear of spoilers. But what we're really setting up here is the relationship between Bourne and Heather Lee - a CIA IT specialist played by Alicia Vikander. The key point is that while CIA Chief Dewey (played by Tommy Lee Jones) just wants to have Bourne assassinated, Lee thinks she can bring him in from his life of bare-knuckle boxing (I kid you not).
Heather gets her chance in the third part of the movie we head to London where Bourne wants to interrogate the private sector IT chief that worked for his father and surveilled Bourne. I felt this was less impressive because the locale - Paddington Basin - is architecturally pretty anonymous - and the characters aren't really pushed forward. Moreover, the character of the security guy is pretty banal and has very little to do.
All of which brings us to Las Vegas and the final showdown between Bourne and "the Asset" - Vincent Kassel's killing machine, ordered by Dewey to take out Bourne, not to mention a hugely famous internet boss (Aaron Kalloor) who's threatening to expose the CIA's plans for mass surveillance. This was the section of the film I disliked most. It lacked the kinetic brilliance of the Athens sequence, and the chase scene through the streets of Las Vegas was way too long, and flipped into absurdity. This was odd from a franchise that has prided itself on authenticity. After all, Bourne isn't Bond. He doesn't drive an Astin Martin and fall into jet planes, but takes public transport and wears a shabby leather jacket. So the Bond-esque insanity of that final chase scene just left me cold.
Overall, the movie is a perfectly fine addition to the franchise. It opens very strong and whimpers out, but provides perfectly good action-entertainment with enough social activism to make us all feel a little smug when we leave the cinema. I like the idea of spending time with a mentally traumtatised and conflicted Jason Bourne who barely speaks. I also liked the ambiguity of the two younger characters introduced in this film - Heather and Aaron. Indeed, Heather was starting to annoy me with her classic "one look at Bourne and I melt, betraying the agency" vibe, but she turned out to be far more interesting than that. The problem is perhaps that we don't get the pay-off of how the moral decisions taken by these two are going to fully manifest. This film is clearly setting us up for the next movie which I suspect will be the better film for having fully rounded characters interact. So JASON BOURNE is fine for now, but suffers a little for being both closure for the first set of films, and set-up for the second.
JASON BOURNE is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 123 minutes. The movie is on global release.