Tuesday 30 August 2016

Movie Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

Star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass return to the series, and offer more of the same. Jason Bourne teases out a promising story that adds depth to the central character, but is otherwise obsessed with ridiculously over-the-top action set pieces that defy all laws of physics and human endurance while occupying copious amounts of screen time.

Former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the agency's network and uncovers evidence that Jason Bourne's father Richard Webb (Gregg Henry) was instrumental in instigating the ill-fated Treadstone covert program. Nicky alerts Bourne (Matt Damon), who is in self-imposed off-the-grid hiding, reduced to bare knuckle fighting to make a living. Nicky's hack is detected, and CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) tasks Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), the ambitious new head of the Cyber Ops Division, to clean up. Heather activates a hit man known only as the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to track and kill both Nicky and Bourne, and he almost succeeds in a chaotic Athens.

The Asset bears a personal grudge against Bourne, but after delving in Jason's files, Heather starts to believe Bourne can be brought back into the fold rather than killed. This puts her on a collision course with Dewey who just wants Bourne terminated for self preservation reasons. Meanwhile, Dewey's newest illicit program has him partnering with technical wizard Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), the CEO of social media giant Deep Dream, to harvest massive amounts of global personal information. Bourne starts to investigate the role his father played in his troubled career, all while evading the Asset and wondering whether he can trust Heather.

The fifth film in the Bourne series, the fourth to feature Damon and the third directed by Greengrass, Jason Bourne is glossy, professional and undoubtedly exciting. But the film also barely brings anything new to the table. The action moves from Athens to Berlin to London and then onto Las Vegas, but all the hyper-kinetic, micro-edited scenes of carnage now fall into familiar territory.

The motorbike chase, the chaotic crowd scene, the narrow escapes, the hand to hand combat to the death and the ridiculous car chase: they are all here, they all go on for too long, and they've all been seen before in this very series. Bourne has a narrow escape or cheats death at the rate of once per five minutes, and has the resilience to routinely survive collisions with fixed and moving objects that would reduce mere mortals to a vegetative state. And most tiresome of all are more retreads of scenes at CIA HQ, with multiple monitors flickering and grim faced operations commanders like Lee and Dewey barking orders and moving assets into position like pawns on a digital chess board.

On the more positive side, the film tries to include some new wrinkles to keep the series relevant and aware of current events. There are nods to the refugee crisis in Europe, and a toe-dipping into the grey world of mass surveillance using back doors within social media apps. The backstory related to the role of Bourne's dad in the agency and a deadly explosion in Beirut add good context to the convoluted Bourne family history.

Damon remains smooth in the role, projecting just enough emotion at the right times to serve as a reminder that there is a person in the middle of all the projectiles. Vikander is a welcome addition to the series. Tommy Lee Jones finds the weathered look of an old man ready to cut to the chase of kill or be killed, Dewey no longer possessing the patience for drawn-out strategic encounters. Vincent Cassel infuses the hitman role with more texture than usual, but further details on his story and background would have been appreciated.

Greengrass stubbornly sticks to his jerky, hand-held, up-close-and-personal style, the action amplified into a million edits none lasting for more than a split second. The eye catches glimpses of what may be going on and leaves it to the brain to try and make some sense of the fractured mosaic. It is undoubtedly artistry in editing, but nevertheless remains an annoying celebration of choppiness gone mad.

Although undoubtedly slick and efficient, Jason Bourne's biggest battle is against familiar motions and seen-before visual tactics.

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