Expectations were high heading into this film, and the start of it is promising. Jason Bourne has spent nine years on the run and off the grid. He looks as cold and as hard as the last time we saw him. He lives rough. He fights for money. But this is no surprise, for what sort of life would such a man live? When we last saw Matt Damon play this character, in 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, he’d finally discovered why he’d suffered from disorienting flashbacks and searing headaches. They were the result of brainwashing. A rogue CIA outfit had turned him into a highly skilled assassin. The people responsible had been brought to justice, but he had fled, to do what we were not sure. He’d also learned he’d had a personal relationship with CIA operative Nicky Parsons. But she was also off the grid, somewhere, staying away from him, staying safe.
The Bourne Ultimatum was the third in a franchise that made good money and won over the critics. They were gritty spy thrillers, full of superbly edited pacy action and fight sequences, and genuinely tense. They set a new mark for the genre that seemed to influence the Daniel Craig led Bond movies which kicked off around that time. Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass famously said after the third Bourne film that they would not return and that the character seemed to have run its course. It would take one hell of a story to bring him back.
The story they have come up with is firmly planted in the present day. It is set amidst concerns over invasion of privacy, over surveillance, and over scrutiny of agencies such as the CIA. Jason Bourne’s story starts with Nicky Parsons, who finds a reason for him – once again – to try to uncover mysteries about how and why he joined “the programme” to be a covert assassin.
So the film makers manufacture a device to bring Jason Bourne back, but the arc of the story, its setting, and its style, are frustratingly familiar. Another CIA bad guy (Tommy Lee Jones) is after Bourne. A new, young character, played by Alicia Vikander, adds a twist but not by much. Once again we flit across European cities. Again, Bourne is the loner. Again he must evade the pursuing agency, using those same well honed skills. Again, he must confront a fellow assassin. The theme music, and the incidental music, are the same. It does not take long before you realise you are on a course that will take you to a familiar place. The actors all do a fine job and the film looks good. It is put together with the same elan and pace as the previous films, but not, sadly, the same impact. The sense of déjà vu is too strong.
What was the film makers’ intention? Maybe they wanted to show that such a tragic character is trapped, and can only live a grim and lonely life. There will never be room for light here. An attempt to give Jason Bourne a love interest, for example, would surely end in death, as it did earlier in the series. That being the case, maybe Damon and Greengrass made the right call at the end of the Bourne Ultimatum. The film ends with a sense there could be another chapter, but at the time of writing the film seems to have had only moderate success at the box office. Maybe this time, Bourne’s run may be over.