The mixed reviews had reached me before I had a chance to commando roll into the cinema for the latest instalment of the Jason Bourne films tidily titled, Jason Bourne. But with a sizeable wait, seven long years, for director Paul Seagrass to be reunited with Matt Damon as ‘everyone’s favourite assassin’[Amazon] I was more than willing to open myself up to the risk of disappointment.
My feelings for Bourne Identity (2002) and Bourne Supremacy (2004) run deep. Deep enough for me to forgive the off piste Bourne Ultimatum. After all this was the series that through its verite-style camera work, rapid editing and melancholy European sensibility had single-handedly revitalised the action spy genre.
Time has wearied Jason Bourne. Played by a now middle aged Damon his youthful sinewy body has given way to the physique of a stocky boxer: barrel chested, thick necked, a tough ruin of a human being surviving on the margins in the Balkan states. He is the definition of isolation: alone, stateless, at the mercy of intrusive traumatic memories that literally stop him in his tracks.
Revisiting the franchise Seagrass has said that the world would need to have changed sufficiently to warrant reprising the character. Social media and data hacking whistleblowers like Snowden and Assange have furnished the film with techie atmos and context though the film is preoccupied with one story, uncovering Bourne’s true identity and the origin of his transformation from civilian to killing machine.
An hour in to the film, in the nanoseconds I wasn’t in a state of high excitement or high tension, I silently congratulated the creative and logistics team for the thrilling ride: an aerial tour of Iceland, Greece, Germany, England, the USA, a vertiginous number of chase sequences and teams of grey and navy suited analysts chasing Bourne down while they tap at keyboards.
They are overseen by Tommy Lee Jones’ as the sinister CIA boss whose deeply etched and craggy face is offset by his protogee (Alicia Vikander) a gorgeous smooth skinned Princeton graduate with a hard to place accent and a deep commanding voice fulfilling the CIA’s directive to “bring Bourne in” while off-the-books operative Vincent Casel is taking a different set of orders.
There is less self examination in this instalment, fewer pieces of puzzle for Bourne to assemble and reassemble, less ‘down time’ for Bourne to tend to his wounds, no moments of tenderness or affection. If Bourne is compelled by anything it’s the forward momentum of revenge, the only course of action left available to him.
Seagrass’ talent for staging large action sequences with a cast of thousands is in evidence. A chase sequence set against the backdrop of an austerity march that has erupted into violence in Athens is a tour de force. By Las Vegas 90 minutes later, I was tuckered out. What defined the Bourne Ultimatum and Supremacy films and held so perfectly in balance by them – the thrill of the chase, surprising and brutal one-on-one combat in domestic environments, moments of vulnerable reflection – felt somewhat out of balance in this instalment.
When Cassel and Damon confront one another in the poorly lit sewers of Las Vegas at Jason Bourne’s end I was feeling nostalgic for something more ordinary, a suburban Berlin townhouse or an elegant apartment in Paris perhaps. Bourne was so young and hopeful once. There’s no denying his will to survive in 2016. The question is, what for?