11 Nov 2016

Jason Bourne

I enjoyed this, but felt at the same time that it was a standard Bourne-by-the-numbers plot. Maybe the swerve away from the usual style of title in this film series, to simply stating his name, underlines that. I found the Bourne series addictive from the beginning, but with this film I wondered if I'd rather they'd let it lie. Oh, if they make another (ha ha - that's the first spoiler, isn't it - Bourne doesn't die in this film!) I'll definitely go and see it, but hoping against hope that they can come up with something more surprising than this one. Let's pick at a few points.

First, I'm supremely unimpressed by yet another girlfriend being bumped off (2nd spoiler, sorry), purely to give Bourne some motivation. Just as I liked Franke Potente's Maria, so I liked Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons. Both of them great actresses, who made their characters interesting. There's a point in the film where it looks like Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee is becoming drawn to Bourne in a personal manner all too familiar; you'll probably tell me that the story's outcome subverts that expectation, but I'll say, wait and see what happens with any further episode. So: for me, the Bourne series seems unable to make anything of its apparent desire to throw some feminist light on proceedings.

Second, there is a lot of car chasing in this film, which is no surprise. But all the frenetic action is being driven to excess, and one thing I used to like about the Bourne films were the quieter moments. Sometimes, moments of relative safety, which would throw Bourne's tortured persona into relief, his fractured human edges exposed. Alternately, moments of extreme tension, invisible for anyone unconnected to this drama, walking through that square or that cafe, all apparent calm on the surface, but for Bourne, scenes full of meaningful, even threatening detail. However, too much was just noise in Jason Bourne. There's a humongous car chase scene near the end, set in Las Vegas, which seemed to me to be an attempt to break The Blues Brothers's famous record for the most cars smashed up in a movie. But I actually found my attention wandering as it went on and on. Was it possible, that such a spectacular car chase, littered with so many amazing stunts, could become - I hesitate to say this - tedious?

My next reservation is about something which really came to the fore in the third film, and is amply on show here, namely Bourne's near supernatural powers of recovery. In The Bourne Ultimatum, there's a moment which some might like to call 'jumping the shark', when Bourne reverses off the roof of a car park, hits the ground, and yet somehow walks away. In Jason Bourne, our hero takes a lot of damage but not only does he survive but he carries on and more than once that includes chasing and beating up an enemy. In fact, he gets shot and manages that. I've never been shot, but I've heard it convincingly explained that no matter who you are, a bullet is a massive shock to the body. It definitely slows you down for a while.

Lastly, there's the language of the script, and the film's ideas, and I suspect that with both the film's weakness derives from the same thing, the absence of scriptwriter Tony Gilroy whose hand can be seen in the script for all four previous Bourne films. There's something lacking in the dialogue, which was always grating in its perpetual use of alpha-male corporate speak, and now comes across as just one dimensional. You could say that corporate types do talk like this, but the CIA would cease to function if this was all there was. They are, unfortunately, very smart people, but Tommy Lee Jones et al don't seem that way as they bluster and glare - their motivations merely look thoroughly unclever. And in my view for the same reason of a weak script, the film strives, but fails to inject the necessary complexity into the film's supposed major theme of the post-Snowden connected world. The portrayal of what I guess is the film's Facebook surrogate is thin and doesn't convince. All the discussion of that and the internet in general sounds like a poorly understood cobbling together of buzzwords.

Yes, I enjoyed it, mainly seeing a fantastic cast in action, even if they could and should have been given better quality meat to chew on. I guess it's too much to hope that the series could ever hit the heights of The Bourne Supremacy again.