'Jason Bourne' tries to maximise the human factor in the thriller franchise but just ends up being predictably maudlin.

Review Jason Bourne an exhausting answer for why he should have just stayed retiredFacebook/Bourne
Features Hollywood Thursday, August 04, 2016 - 14:38

If there’s one sure-fire way to ruin a good spy or assassin thriller, it’s to give the intrepid hero emotional angst. After all, in the great game, everyone’s got their hands dirty and it’s never quite clear just who’s in the right.

And no, that’s not a declaration against the knowing, introspective agent who finds the time to stop and think about how he, and everyone else involved, got to this point. After all, the superb Tomas Alfredson – who directed “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” – has given us an exemplary benchmark for just that type of taut narrative. But that kind of self-reflection requires an incisive and merciless reading of people and situations. You can’t just make casual nods to personal sacrifices and giant faceless edifices of cruelty and get away with it.

That’s where “Jason Bourne”, the unimaginative reboot to a series that reinvented the blockbuster with its tight, frenetic adrenaline-pushing adventures, falls apart. Of course the first three editions of the Bourne trilogy came with existential angst. But all of it was oriented to Bourne’s (Matt Damon) survival, and the imperative to find something resembling a life, and hence never had to resort to a generic black-and-white morality that pervades this latest installment.

In “Jason Bourne”, the opening nod to that life is a couple of bare-knuckle boxing fights that the former agency asset wins with ease, but which don’t scratch whatever itch he’s feeling. (On a side note, why is bare-knuckle boxing the one sport that so many action heroes from Rambo to Sherlock Holmes turn to on the side?) That itch, as it turns out, is a deep-seated desire to fill in the last pieces of the history Bourne lost to Treadstone training.

The piece he’s missing this time is family history: more specifically, the role his father had played in Bourne’s recruitment into Treadstone, and the secrets behind his death. The imperative is strong enough for Bourne to come out of retirement since these secrets are what led him to Treadstone in the first place. But when the final credits begin to roll, we still don’t know why, since the film has nothing to tell us about Bourne’s father and why he should justify so much angst. Except perhaps an assumed moral axiom that every son will care for his father’s fate.

The film name-drops its way through the violence in Greece, the post-Edward Snowden scenario, and the pervasive presence of social media in our lives. But I won’t bore you with the details of any of this because the film flies through all of this so quickly that you’re left wondering why any of it gets mentioned in the first place. The only thing that stands out from any of it is the appallingly clunky dialogue, filled with utterly boring talk about traitors and selling out your country. What any of this actually refers to, the film doesn’t bother telling us.

And there are the high-octane action sequences too – a mad motorcycle chase through the streets of Greece, and a final climax involving a SWAT tank on the streets of Las Vegas. Paul Greengrass, who reprises the role of director after the second and third Bourne installments, hits all the predictable spots with these scenes. But I keep it for the last because, between the terrible plotting and bad dialogue and tired characters, I just couldn’t bring myself to feel excited about more cars, buildings and people blowing up.

And, oh, the film also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles and Riz Ahmed. But considering that most of them spend their time rarely exercising wooden faces while they spout jargon like “What’s the sit-rep?”, there’s no particular reason to care.

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