Jason Bourne Opinion - The Difficult Trade-Off Between Action & Thriller
Jason Bourne boasts of glorious off-the-rails action sequences, but ultimately feels like it has lost its former thriller glory and has morphed itself to something that at times almost feels like its not a Bourne film, even though it makes for a smarter-than-average action film.
The Bourne franchise has always been snuck away in that sweet spot that lies between a niche phenomenon and a pop culture phenomenon. From Doug Liman's "The Bourne Identity" through Paul Greengrass's 2 sequels, the films have always strived to create their own gritty yet realistic atmosphere and place Jason Bourne, an ex-CIA assassin who had forgotten who he was, into that environment to go about his adventures in a way that is smart and cool. Greengrass in particular has, in his previous two Bourne films, succeeded in blending together the taut, thriller narrative provided in Tony Gilroy's scripts with some grizzly genre-defining action and fight set pieces coupled with that ever-lasting shaky camera work. He himself had joked soon after the 2007 release of "The Bourne Ultimatum" that if he ever made a sequel, it would be titled "The Bourne Redundancy". Yet here we are in 2016, nearly 10 years after Ultimatum and Matt Damon and Greengrass have united once again to give us "Jason Bourne". Although Greengrass's direction and handling of the frankly insane action set pieces coupled with Damon's reassuring performance as Bourne makes for a match in heaven, Jason Bourne sometimes feels like its not a Bourne film. It boasts of glorious action set pieces that would make it a relatively smarter action film than most, but it has somewhat lost the taut thriller narrative that used to permeate across the previous franchise entries.
Jason Bourne opens with a helpful flashback to Bourne's three years on the run from the Agency whilst trying to remember and find out who he was, and then cuts to Bourne himself waking up from said flashbacks while en-route to some Greek border illegal fist-fighting duel, where he presumably has been ever since the end of Ultimatum. A more or less acceptable way to open up, although, given how much importance was placed in prior instalments on Bourne's disappearance, it seems both fan-satisfying and anti-climactic at the same time. The film's main story begins when Nicky Parsons, who has been with us since The Bourne Identity, uncovers some more CIA dirty secrets using a hacker group's help and discovers some more information on Bourne's recruitment. What follows is a story that seems almost decidedly created with the purpose of extending the franchise's length, which is not necessarily all bad by itself. Studios will obviously want to extend the reach of their properties as far as possible without being too heavy handed, and if the story works, why not right?
Bourne is thrown back into the mix and finds himself yet again on the run from the agency whilst trying to uncover more secrets from his past. Seeing how much importance was placed on the closure at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, the reasons for Bourne to reappear seem a bit too tacked on to be as compelling as the former films. But this is a franchise with a dedicated, slightly-smaller-than-average fanbase that truly loves the Bourne films for what they were: Smart, taut thriller films that made the viewer feel like the events that transpired felt as real-life as possible in a film that also had great action sequences that helped support the plot. So, if Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon provide us (I do include myself in that fanbase.) with a Bourne film, we will go to watch it without haste because of our confidence in Greengrass and Damon. The only difference here is Tony Gilroy is not at the helm of the screenplay or story, instead we have both director Paul Greengrass and editor Chris Rouse writing. Both of them undoubtedly have good intentions and have put in a huge amount of work into returning us to the world of Jason Bourne. A lot of time in this film is spent following the main characters through large chaotic environments with huge crowds of people, from a violent government protest in Greece to a tech convention in Las Vegas, and Greengrass shines the most during these scenes. He manages to keep tight control of the events that transpire between main characters whilst creating mighty tension through the use of chaos and crowds. This is what makes Jason Bourne better at being an action film than it is a thriller, or more specifically, a Bourne film. The writers have placed a higher priority on creating enough reasons for the purpose of having an action sequence rather than writing action sequences that help further the narrative they are trying to build.
At the end of the day, however, this is still a very watchable action film, even though I'm not quite sure this is a Bourne film. Matt Damon, although aged slightly compared to his Ultimatum days, proves that he can carry a film with the stern yet keen sense of awareness that he constantly provides us in the film. The film also has a top notch supporting cast that includes the great Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander, whom I first saw in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and subsequently in Ex Machina, where she shone. Jones and Vikander work off each other rather well, but I'm not sure Tommy Lee is given enough screen time to justify his presence in the film. Its not too hard to think that his role could have been played by any old dude with a permanent frown mustered from seniority, but his presence is nonetheless a welcome one. Alicia Vikander does her role justice, and that's just about what I can say. I think her performance was relatively subdued due to the very nature of the role she had, and she plays it quite well.
We now have the third Greengrass directed Bourne film, which is exciting in and of itself. Unfortunately it remains the third best Greengrass directed Bourne film, which is not a fault of its own, but more due to the superior quality of his previous Bourne films. It still remains, on its own, a relatively smart action film with really great action sequences, even though at times the Bourne fan wishes that the writer's would have put more thought into writing gripping thrills instead of succumbing to the needs of a summer box office hit.