“Bourne” again: Damon’s return underwhelms

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Matt Damon once again portrays Jason Bourne in this mildly involving sequel.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

It’s been nearly nine years since CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) disappeared at the end of the “The Bourne Ultimatum.” The film was the impressive closing chapter to a superior espionage story, tying up Bourne’s mysterious past and exposing the program that created him.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood couldn’t let a good story end — first with Jeremy Renner’s “The Bourne Legacy,” and now Damon’s own return to the franchise: “Jason Bourne.” Alongside him is Paul Greengrass, director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” who takes charge of this diverting but underwhelming chapter of the “Bourne” saga.

The film starts when the retired Bourne is drawn back into battle. He’s tasked by old friend Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) with stopping CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) from creating an invasive surveillance program. With the help of another CIA agent, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), he uncovers more information about his past along the way.

Bullets and bloodshed abound, as “Jason Bourne” throws its titular character into the familiar territory of car chases and fistfights. Greengrass shows he still knows how to make an action sequence with over-the-top intensity during Bourne’s frenetic, destructive pursuit of an enemy assassin (Vincent Cassel) down the Las Vegas Strip.

But there’s less meaning to the violence this go-around: The big mysteries surrounding Bourne’s shady past have already been solved, and the film is forced to come up with an uninspired personal angle to make its story relevant. Bourne’s quest becomes bogged down with daddy issues as he discovers the truth about his father’s death – as if viewers couldn’t guess the answer he finds. The conflict doesn’t show the audience anything new about the character; it’s just an excuse for Bourne to shoot some people and wreck property.

Just as it fails to justify its existence, “Jason Bourne” also doesn’t work as a smart thriller. The movie talks about why surveillance is bad, but that’s all it ever does: talk. It doesn’t weave its messages cleverly into the story, choosing instead to deliver them through clunky, on-the-nose speeches. There’s a distinct divide between when the movie decides to be “relevant” and when it decides to be “fun.” There’s never a moment where they go hand-in-hand.

On the bright side, Damon is a strong enough presence for the story to remain somewhat engaging, and it’s still fun to watch him outsmart his onscreen enemies. Bourne isn’t interested in espousing some “Big Idea” — he’s here to kick ass and look good doing it.

Younger and less experienced than “Bourne” mainstay Parsons, Vikander’s Lee becomes a replacement of sorts for the former. She’s distinguished by her icy demeanor, but Vikander offers glimpses of warmth when Bourne shows Lee some vulnerability. It’s left to the audience to decide whether her moments of humanity are genuine, though.

Disappointing compared to its predecessors, “Jason Bourne” is still a mildly involving romp that delivers a worthwhile bang for a matinee price. Universal plans to produce more sequels, but perhaps it’s best to let Bourne retire from service.

 

  • “Jason Bourne”
  • Running Time: 123 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Score: 3/5 stars