Thursday, July 28, 2016

'Jason Bourne' review

Universal loves the Bourne franchise. And after all, why wouldn't they? The series was a cash cow for the studio throughout the 2000s with each sequel grossing more than its predecessor. 2002's The Bourne Identity was a decent hit with $121.6 million in the US and $214 million worldwide, but by the time that 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum rolled around, the franchise had grown exponentially. Ultimatum grossed $227.4 million in the US and $442.8 million worldwide, which is a remarkably good total for a film that only cost $110 million. Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass moved on after the third installment, leaving Universal in a strange predicament with one of its biggest franchises. They opted to do a spin-off of sorts with Jeremy Renner, but unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy was a relative misfire, proving once and for all that the appeal of the franchise was Matt Damon.

After 9 years, Damon and Greengrass are finally back with Jason Bourne, the fifth film in the acclaimed series. There's only one small problem- the story of Jason Bourne kinda ended with Ultimatum. Really, if you watch that film, there aren't many places left to go with the character. Bourne isn't like James Bond- you can't just shove him into any adventure. But money always talks, and it's hard to deny that the existence of this movie is primarily for financial purposes. And yet, it's still pretty good. In fact, compared to some of the other films that have hit theaters this summer, Jason Bourne is a damn masterpiece. It pales in comparison to its esteemed predecessors, but with high-octane setpieces, a propulsive, action-driven plot, and the expert direction of Greengrass, Jason Bourne is a highly entertaining trip to the theater.

Jason Bourne took down Treadstone, but what came next for the former assassin? His mind was still in shambles, his past a mystery. Well, it turns out that Bourne pretty much ended up wandering the Earth, engaging in street brawls for cash and living with no sense of direction. However, Bourne is brought back into action after a visit from old friend Nicky (Julia Stiles). Working with a hacker group, Nicky has discovered some of the CIA's darkest black ops secrets, including several pieces of Bourne's past. CIA director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) wants to take out Nicky and Bourne for good, considering that both are traitors in the eyes of the association. Bourne's out for revenge, the CIA is out to protect their assets (and for revenge), agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) is making her own power play, and things could crumble at any moment. Will Jason Bourne ever be able to escape the crazy world that he was brought into?

In a weird way, Jason Bourne feels like Paul Greengrass' attempt to make his own version of Mad Max: Fury Road. Before you call me crazy, hear me out for a second. No, Jason Bourne does not even come close to matching the glorious thrills of Miller's vision. But the similarities are there. The fifth entry in the Bourne franchise is light on plot details and blatantly expressed character development. The story moves and vibes completely through the bone-crunching action scenes that the filmmakers put together, and there aren't many moments where things calm down. For 123 minutes, Greengrass and his brilliant technical team deliver a hard-hitting movie that is both thrilling and punishing. Jason Bourne is Greengrass' experiment in 100% action-driven cinema.

On top of that, Jason Bourne feels like a slightly more existential examination of the famed action hero. When we meet Bourne, he's pretty much in hiding, doing nothing with his life after taking down the people behind Treadstone. As he continues to piece together his past in order to take revenge on those responsible, the franchise begins to beg the question- will Jason Bourne ever be able to escape the CIA? Will the rest of his life be one long chase? Is he a pawn in a bigger game? Believe it or not, Matt Damon's Bourne totally feels like a secondary character in this film. He's out for revenge and all that Bourne-y stuff, but throughout most of the film, he gets caught up in a bigger plot involving Jones and Vikander's characters, a vengeful assassin (Vincent Cassel), and a social media mogul (Riz Ahmed). Bourne is trapped in a universe that doesn't belong to him, and the whole film builds to him taking control of the situation. It's a unique and markedly different take compared to the previous films, where most of the secondary characters were at the mercy of a highly dangerous individual. That's not quite the cast this time.

But let's face the facts here- you're not going to Jason Bourne for an in-depth examination of a character that really wasn't all that complex in the first place. You're buying a ticket and spending your hard-earned money to see big action sequences where Matt Damon kicks ass. And I'm here to tell you that you won't be disappointed. Paul Greengrass is still one of the most proficient action directors on the planet, and he finds his groove with this film. His distinct shaky cam style is on display during every scene of this film, which begins as a bit of a distraction. Unlike some of Greengrass' other films, the camera work in Jason Bourne doesn't initially seem to flow with the action (an early setpiece in Greece feels especially choppy). There are early moments where it seems like a cheap camera trick, which never managed to happen in the previous Bourne films.

Thankfully, Greengrass and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd eventually hit the mark, melding their trademark style with the constantly moving plot of Jason Bourne. The action builds to a crescendo, culminating in a massive Las Vegas showdown that alternates between small-scale face-offs, and huge, car-smashing action. The Vegas car chase has been touted by the producers since Cinema Con in April, and it doesn't disappoint. It's big, loud, and grounded in a brutal realism that gives it a shocking impact. A fistfight between Damon and Vincent Cassel also plays really well, delivering the kind of graphic intensity that made the Bourne franchise famous. The action does feel like it's taking a few more cues from Fast and the Furious, but there's no question that the film delivers some of the best blockbuster moments of the summer.

The esteemed cast also brings their best to this thrill ride with Damon leading the charge. He doesn't have much dialogue and there's a bit too much conflict with his character arc, but Damon is stellar once again, bringing a weariness to the role that shines even during the totally unrealistic moments. Tommy Lee Jones seems to be having fun playing.....well, Tommy Lee Jones. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there isn't a whole lot to Dewey beyond the usual curmudgeonly snarls of Jones. Riz Ahmed's stock as an actor continues to rise, while Vincent Cassel proves to be a formidable opponent. And finally, Alicia Vikander pretty much steals the show. The Oscar-winning actress commands your attention, as Heather Lee manipulates, kills, and works her way to power and influence. I'm looking forward to the inevitable future showdowns between Bourne and Lee.

Judging by the ending of this installment in the Bourne franchise, a sixth entry isn't far behind. And with what they've set up, the potential for a revenge-seeking Bourne with a more structured plot could make for a great movie. But for now, I'm more than content with what Greengrass and Damon have delivered here. Jason Bourne is a fast-paced piece of Hollywood entertainment that constantly engages its audience. It doesn't sit on the screen passively or wait around for something to happen. From the opening scene, Jason Bourne is a jolt of adrenaline, delivering the kind of kinetic energy and momentum that has been missing from much of this summer. That sense of purpose and flow is enough to make this one of the better blockbusters of the summer, another solid entry in a consistently good franchise.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+                                            (7.8/10)

Image Credits: Coming Soon, Indiewire, Joblo, Joblo

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