There’s an action sequence in Jason Bourne that is a thing of such cinematic beauty that nothing the director Paul Greengrass could have shown later on would have made me regret watching the film. In the sequences, the tension is first slowly allowed to simmer, as you’re familiarised with the setting—in this case, a civil war in Greece. The police are ready with their bullets and barricades, the rioters with their molotov cocktails. Nicki Parsons (Julia Stiles), meanwhile, has a bomb of her own to drop on Bourne (Matt Damon)… specifically about his past. The situation is now boiling. It is also at this time that CIA’s corrupt head, Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), has arranged for an asset to close Bourne’s account (that’s CIA speak for assassination). And then, it all explodes… into the frenzied, pulsating action that we have come to love in the Bourne films. In its refusal to rely mainly on CGI, this entire sequence is a throwback to good ol’ fashioned action.
The story also—despite the attempts at retrofitting by bringing in the Edward Snowden angle and CIA’s ever-looming threat of privacy invasion (the riots in Greece ring all the more relevant, as the country is after all the birthplace of democracy)—harks back to the old Bourne films, all of whose plots can be simply described thus: Bourne resurfaces from hiding to learn more about his past before going off the radar again . Quite ironically though, this film begins with Bourne saying, “I remember everything”, the same line he utters at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, directed by Greengrass himself. But as Nicki helps him see in Jason Bourne, memory and knowledge are two different things, and he still has a lot to know about himself and his father.
The problem though is that the lack of this knowledge doesn’t really make him seem vulnerable, and I’ve always liked him the most when he’s in doubt... when he’s human. Like in the opening scene of The Bourne Identity , when he wakes up riddled by bullets and without any memory of his past. However, once that engrossing sequence in Greece gets over and with it, his relationship with Nicki, Bourne almost becomes insuperable. You almost begin to feel sorry for all the assassins sent to take him down.
The emotional beats disappear too. His relationship with his dad isn’t really established well for you to feel any sense of loss. And in any case, it was his dad who put the whole chain of events in motion, making it hard for you to relate to Bourne’s sense of revenge. More interesting is the power struggle between Dewey and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), an ambitious CIA agent. I enjoyed that you could never tell what Heather’s motivation is. Is she playing the game because she likes Bourne, or is she interested in furthering her career? Or wait, perhaps she’s in it for the good of the world, and simply wants to stop Iron Hand, the upcoming invasive CIA program that’d give it access to omnipresent surveillance tools. Iornically enough, CIA seems scarily invasive even without the new program, be it using a traffic camera in Germany to watch Bourne, or controlling a satellite to learn about Bourne’s movements in Greece. So, what’s the fuss really about?
Jason Bourne is an action film after all, and so, Greengrass doesn’t linger too long before shifting the action to… Vegas, where tension again simmers just like in Greece. But the Vegas sequences lack the atmosphere, and the inventiveness. I didn’t understand why Bourne, after taking down the main adversary, still had to go on a never-ending chase to take down a lesser threat, the CIA’s asset, who takes control of a S.W.A.T truck and plays his version of Carmageddon on the roads of Vegas. But by this time, the film is simply going through the motions and hurtling in auto-pilot mode towards its rather predictable end. In all this, they even manage to sneak in the possibility of Bourne returning to CIA. But as Heather realises, he’s Bourne… not Bond.