As Jason Bourne’s fellow action spy James Bond once said, never say never again as the former CIA assassin emerges from the shadows to deliver his own particular blend of gritty retribution.
The sight of Matt Damon’s amnesiac swimming away to an uncertain, but seemingly triumphant future at the conclusion of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum perfectly capped off a trilogy which redefined action cinema.
That was it right? Damon certainly seemed to think so, pointing out in numerous interviews that this chapter in Bourne’s story had reached its natural end. The door was admittedly left ajar (Damon and director Paul Greengrass have been open about how much they love working together), but Ultimatum‘s denouement was the franchise’s perfect top and tail, while its poorer relative The Bourne Legacy suggested the well had been tapped enough.
Almost a decade on, however, and Bourne’s back; older, just as tortured and surviving on the fringes of a world that is almost unrecognisable to the one he swam away from years earlier. Whilst Bond gets around this by flipping the reset switch to make way for a new era and a new actor, Bourne’s return is a continuation of where we left off, with his fellow CIA-agent-turned-fugitive Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tracking Bourne down in Greece to tell him that he still has unfinished business and that his former employers are, surprise surprise, up to no good.
Bourne just wants to be left alone, but finds he must once again go in search of answers and confront the CIA’s shadiest characters, in particular Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones – exhibiting capital ‘C’ craggy features), while up-and-coming Agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) seemingly has somewhat muddy motivations.
In keeping with the overarching thread of the series, previous deeds have continued to echo throughout the Bourne franchise, whether it be the similar way certain ‘assets’ are dispatched from film to film (strangulation), the aftermath of the car chases in Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy when he confronts his respective nemesis, or even the scene in Ultimatum when Nicky dyes and cuts her hair which harkens back to Marie having done the same in The Bourne Identity.
In Jason Bourne, these echoes continue to reverberate, from the tragic fate of a character who gets caught in the hunt for Bourne, to the European locations he revisits in his quest for the truth (Berlin, London).
Many have criticised this latest adventure for ultimately leaving Bourne back where he started – a fugitive who must stay off the grid in order to survive. It’s an argument that certainly holds some water, but when it’s executed with as much adrenaline-fuelled effortlessness as it is here then this ‘problem’ feels largely insignificant.
Did we really need to know any more of Bourne’s past? Probably not; too much information has a way of diluting what makes the character interesting in the first place. However, Greengrass and fellow screenwriter Christopher Rouse, much like in the original trilogy, have managed to deliver a full-throttle action movie that taps in to the societal and political concerns of the day; in this case unrest with austerity and our ongoing unease with the impact on privacy in the rapidly evolving digital world (personified here in a plotline involving Riz Ahmed’s social media magnate Aaron Kalloor).
The extended opening salvo in Athens is masterfully handled, with Bourne and Nicky trying to evade Vincent Cassel’s unrelenting asset whilst the city descends into anarchy in the wake of an anti-austerity demonstration. Likewise, the cat and mouse game played out on the streets of London is reminiscent of the inspired Waterloo Station sequence from Ultimatum.
Of course, no Bourne movie would be complete without a car chase and this latest chapter delivers its biggest one yet. Bigger doesn’t always make better, however, as the scene involving a destructive SWAT vehicle ploughing through the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas not only outstays its welcome , but also has an incredulity to it that certainly wasn’t there in the previous films.
It’s a duff note, but one that doesn’t spoil what is a hugely enjoyable hurrah for the franchise and a superior action movie in a summer that is sorely in need of one. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, eh?