Here’s one sequel I was actually looking forward to this year: the new Bourne movie!
The creatively named Jason Bourne takes place now, years after our amnesiac hero got his memories back and took down the corrupt CIA agents who ruined his life. These days, he’s making a living as a semi-professional fighter, while Nikki Parsons is still on the run, trying to expose more of the secrets behind Treadstone and its related programs. She contacts Bourne when she finds some new info about his past, which takes him on another globe-trotting journey in search of truth, revenge, and car chases.
I love the Bourne movies. Far more than any instalment of James Bond or Mission: Impossible, they’re my standard for all spy thrillers. Part of the reason is because they’re so simple. I don’t ask for much in my Bourne movies–just Matt Damon fighting people with things that aren’t meant to be weapons, some smart stuff with phones, and at least one epic car chase. So on the surface, Jason Bourne has everything I could have asked for. Some of the things that get used as weapons in this movie include: weights, a chair, a gas can, and several cars (by which I mean a statistically unlikely number of cars get dropped onto people from great heights in this movie). JB doesn’t get quite as clever with cell phones this time around as he has in the past, but he does give and receive several unwanted calls, and records at least one conversation without permission. The car chase at the end defies every law of U.S. traffic and several laws of physics. And Matt Damon is as perfect as ever in the title role.
But now I’m thinking maybe the original movies weren’t so simple after all. Because, despite fulfilling all my basic criteria for a good Bourne movie, this one felt disappointing. Maybe because it was a bit too familiar. Instead of moving on to a new plot with new enemies, Jason is back uncovering more about his past, facing more corrupt CIA agents and fighting more of their ruthless assassins. Tommy Lee Jones is barely distinguishable from the last few evil black ops directors (I’m actually kind of surprised he didn’t get that role earlier), and Alicia Vikander plays a younger, hipper version of Pam from Supremacy. This year’s model of the ruthless assassin at least gets a little illuminating backstory, but he’s still not as cool as any of his predecessors.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting tired of action movies trying to be relevant by incorporating current anxieties about privacy on the Internet. They’re so terribly bad at it. A major threat in this movie is that the CIA is poised, through a secret deal with a social media mogul, to unleash a new program that would give them access to the personal data of pretty much everybody on the planet. Except it’s hard to play that as a threat when numerous scenes in this movie and the previous ones make it clear that their version of the CIA is already “watching everyone, all the time.” If they can do the “zoom and enhance” thing to security footage from all the way around the world, it’s hard to imagine what more harm they could do with John Smith’s profile picture.
Maybe it’s because this movie uses Nikki to motivate Bourne in exactly the worst possible way. In the original trilogy (can I call it that now?), she had lots of character development and was pretty cool in her own right, as well as being a handy partner for Bourne. Here she’s reduced to a plot point, much the way Maria was in Supremacy. And it made me angry. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Mainly, though, I think this movie was disappointing because it was so hollow. Without Bourne’s amnesia driving the plot, there wasn’t any real sense of urgency behind his feats of derring-do. In earlier movies, JB had a clear goal: recover his memories and expose the people who turned him into a killing machine. Each movie peeled back more layers of the conspiracy, until we finally got to the source and Bourne finally got some closure. In this movie, it wasn’t all that clear what he was fighting for–to get some more revenge? To expose more evil CIA programs? We’ve already seen him do all that, and it was incredibly satisfying, but now this movie is telling us it wasn’t enough. Several CIA agents in Jason Bournetalk about how he has “lost his purpose” ever since he left Treadstone, and I’m inclined to agree. Bourne needs a new purpose–a reason to beat up assassins with furniture that goes beyond bad memories and dead girlfriends. Maybe he’ll find one in the next sequel…but I’m not holding my breath.
On the bright side, at least he’s still better than Jeremy Renner.