At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Jason Bourne “2016”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Thriller/Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Ato Essandoh, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles, Scott Shepherd, Bill Camp, Vinzenz Kiefer, Gregg Henry, Stephen Kunken/ Runtime: 123 minutes

I think it should be said right off the bat that distinct film helmer Paul Greengrass’ third entry in the Bourne series from 2007 known as The Bourne Ultimatum is significant for a couple of reasons. That’s because not only is this distinct slice of cinematic pie just a genuinely great film when looking at it based on its own merits as a film, but it also made for a truly riveting conclusion to a phenomenal (at that time) trilogy. Indeed this is because, following darn near 3 whole movies of looking for both who he was and his past, our main hero finally was able to engage in certain actions which resulted in other actions finally becoming a possibility and even got to learn what his real name is which turns out to be…what it turns out to be (what? you actually thought I would reveal certain key plot points to that movie in this review? Nahhhh; nice try though). Be that as it may be, it still should be said that (even without giving anything away) The Bourne Ultimatum really truly was a fairly well done and riveting resolution that also left this franchise in the unique position that it didn’t really need another follow-up which had Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne at the heart of it. However in the aftermath of 2012’s Bourne Legacy not exactly living up to either fans nor critics’ expectations despite Jeremy Renner giving a fairly good performance as potential new series lead Aaron Cross, the fans were soon excitedly given the news that Damon and Greengrass were going to be returning for another Bourne movie with Bourne at the heart of it. Sadly, I really really wish they hadn’t. Not that everything is bad about 2016’s Jason Bourne. I mean there are some fairly taut and engaging action beats, the supporting cast is not that bad, and Damon is fine in reprising the role of Bourne. It’s just that by and large this slice of cinematic pie is one that from the very start right until the credits begin to roll literally reeks and oozes the vibe of being a downright unnecessary and forced follow-up to a trinity of films that were just downright phenomenal as is thus making this one viewing experience feel a whole lot longer than it honestly should have been given the pedigree both in front and behind the camera.

The plot is as follows: Operating in real time and picking up darn near a solid decade after the events that went down in the movie The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne gets its “riveting” narrative underway as we see that our tortured and stoic titular protagonist has been residing in solemn anonymity in Greece and making a living by engaging in, based off how his fights in this slice of cinematic pie turns out, clearly one-sided bare knuckle boxing matches due to not really being able to free himself from the grasp of all the violence and chaos that was all but crammed into him by his handlers in the intelligence community. Yet we soon see Bourne’s self-exile is interrupted when former Treadstone operative/occasional ally Nicky Parsons seeks him out since, in the time that we last saw her, she has been working with a notorious hacker and his team at breaking into the CIA’s top-secret files about their various black ops programs. Yet whilst doing so, Nicky has also inadvertently uncovered some new and crucial intel about the long-since shuttered Treadstone program. That of course being that it was actually co-created by someone our hero before his memory lapse held very near and very dear to his heart. Of course, very much in the same vein as any potential audience member who is still onboard and watching this distinct narrative unfurl like a tangled up flag that has been in the basement for far too long, our hero finds himself completely blindsided and befuddled after this reveal is hurled his way. It also incidentally proves to be the catalyst for him to not only undergo a new mission, but also sees the CIA once again attempt to hunt him down. This time we see that the CIA’s representatives in what is perhaps one of the longest cat and mouse games they have ever been a part of are an Agency computer whiz by the name of Heather Lee, an unnamed Asset to the Agency who has his own personal vendetta against our hero, and the Agency’s new Director, one Robert Dewey, who wants nothing more than to see Bourne swiftly either brought in or eliminated with no middle ground in between. The reason incidentally for why Dewey wants this handled so quickly is because the CIA (surprise surprise) is on the precipice of launching a new black ops program known only as Iron Hand that involves a tech whiz by the name of Aaron Kalloor and a new social media web program he has been working on known as a Deep Dream which may or may not be tied to the CIA and some fairly nefarious machinations they have up their sleeves so of course it should come as no surprise to learn that it’s up to Bourne to get to the bottom of things and kick some serious butt in the process….

Now if non-spoilery narrative components such as “daddy issues”, “former colleagues with axes to grind”, and “Big Brother Monitoring Social Media” feel less like riveting plot ingredients and more in the vein of easiest possible ingredients to utilize in order to unnecessarily keep a perfectly ended franchise ongoing, then you have already by and large figure out just what in the world the main issue with this distinct slice of cinematic pie really truly is at the end of the day. That’s because although the original trinity of films from 2002, 2004, and 2007 respectively are taut and fairly on point and riveting members of the action thriller subgenre of movie magic, this entry is honestly the first one that takes the tropes and just hangs them out in the open for all to see thus resulting in a movie that really gives off a vibe that seems to be equal parts recycled as well as run of the mill (a pair of adjectives that really do pack quite the punch incidentally when you take into account the fact that both star and director in interviews said time and time again they would only revisit this character if there was a compelling enough story worth telling). Yet more than anything, I just feel like this movie gives off the aroma of a desperation bouquet on the part of Universal who, no matter the cost, just desperately wanted a new “Bourne movie” that actually had Jason Bourne in it. Yet it also doesn’t help that by and large that aside from the work done in this by Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander the performances in this are just as forced to a large degree as the overall film itself. This is true not only for an actor in the vein of Vincent Cassel even if he does bring a surprisingly fair amount of energy to his unnamed operative character, but especially true for Julia Stiles in the returning role of Nicky Parsons and who literally looks surprised she’s even in another one of these movies as well as Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Director Robert Dewey. Indeed there’s no denying that Tommy Lee Jones (when not being a complete jerk off camera) can be a terrific actor when given the right material. However if he is not on board with your material and/or would rather be anywhere else but your film set then this is also a man who can sleepwalk through a role like the best of them. Suffice it to say that this is exactly what he is doing here and in the process really proving to be a fair step down from the other wonderfully slimy top agents we’ve gotten in past installments of this franchise from such actors as Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, David Strathairn, and Edward Norton which really is a shame because I feel with the right material he could have brought something truly special to the part.

Now to be fair, when you have a film helmer as brilliant and skilled as Paul Greengrass in charge of your cinematic 3-ring circus things can’t be downright horrible. Suffice it to say that this is true for this slice of cinematic pie as well since Jason Bourne does actually have some very intriguing elements to provide within this overall straight up mess of just head-scratching creative choices. At the same time though, these choices do also give this film a degree of exasperation that makes for a wonderful companion to the viewer and their vibe of dismay. To be more specific, and without going into spoilers, this slice of cinematic pie presents us with some riveting questions about just where Bourne’s mind is and if, despite the events of the Bourne Ultimatum, what he did during his time at Treadstone is fully in the rearview mirror as it were. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: Bourne is still very much a lost soul when we reunite with him in this movie, and this slice of cinematic pie is able to brilliantly take advantage of how adrift he truly is on a psychological level courtesy of a fairly intriguing dynamic that the film chooses to explore between Bourne and Lee courtesy of her going through his personnel files and starting to wonder if, rather than eliminate him, maybe the Agency should instead try to devote its time and resources towards bringing Bourne back into the fold as it were (with said question being given a fair and wonderful degree of gravitas thanks in large part to the potent work from both the returning Matt Damon as well as series newcomer Alicia Vikander). Yet even though this is one idea that the movie takes the time to both explore as well as actually give a resolution to, it’s also so smothered by the rest of this movie’s troublesome script that it doesn’t ever feel as fulfilling as it ought to. Going along with this philosophy are the action beats that this movie presents us with since yes they still are fun, but they also seem to a bit more sparse when looking back at prior installments. Indeed film helmer Paul Greengrass does most assuredly give us some top-flight action beats in this including a chase through the streets of Las Vegas that sees literally every car in its path all but annihilated, a chase scene through an increasingly violent government protest in Athens, and a final brutal bout of fisticuffs between Bourne and the Asset, and they are all done in Greengrass’ trademark visceral if not slightly nauseating shaky cam style to the extent that you’re either on the edge of your seat or looking for the nearest barf bag. Yet even with this fairly well-made action beats, this slice of cinematic pie still isn’t quite able to match the standard that the other installments had set up with the level of riveting insanity that was seen in key moments of either The Bourne Supremacy or Ultimatum. Thus when you really stop and think about it, yes this movie had some big shoes to fill, but the fact that it doesn’t even try to keep the standard of excellence that its lead star and director previously established alive and well is fairly disheartening.

All in all even though I am very much aware of my outlier status as someone who was able to see and appreciate the positives that could be found in 2012’s quasi-sorta spin off/ franchise extender The Bourne Legacy, I can still say that I definitely counted myself among the masses who were fairly excited to hear the news that Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon would be returning to the franchise with a genuine sequel. Indeed their creative partnership on both Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum really has come to be seen by many as the definitive entries for this franchise in terms of both tone as well as creativity. That and if I am also being perfectly upfront and honest with you dear reader I also think these 2 professionals are both immensely talented to such a degree that no matter what I will always find myself interested in any new projects they work on either together or individually. It is when you take that into consideration however after giving Jason Bourne a view that you actually might find yourself wondering if we might not have benefited more from either another solo movie featuring Aaron Cross, a proposed team-up movie that would have featured both Bourne and Cross, or both. I say this not because Jason Bourne is a complete and utter failure. Far from it. Rather, it’s because of the fact that despite the positives this movie has going for it it’s still at the end of the day a completely unnecessary and forced sequel to a trilogy that ended perfectly and it shows in every single minute of this slice of cinematic pie’s 2 hour and 3 minute runtime. Make of that therefore what thoust will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Jason Bourne “2016” a solid 3 out of 5.