‘Jason Bourne’ review: Matt Damon film a paint-by-numbers action movie

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Jason Bourne is back… again.

The main question is why. Surely, at this point, by the fifth movie in the franchise, there should be some grandiose point to be made. Maybe Bourne (Matt Damon) is finally going to find out the true origin of his CIA assassin past. Maybe he’s finally going to get revenge on those who made him this way. These things happen to some degree in Jason Bourne, but because we’ve danced this dance so many times before, the proceedings are — believe it or not — dull.

Jason Bourne seems like an exercise in expanding the franchise, trying to squeeze as much as possible out of a pretty standard, thin premise. The movie ticks off each box in the action-film checklist, from a car chase going the wrong way in traffic to the ubiquitous underground parking lot cat-and-mouse game. Don’t forget the madcap chase through those crazy cobbled European streets! The only thing missing here is the love interest, and frankly, the movie could have used it.

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How is Matt Damon?
As always, Damon’s performance isn’t the problem. He’s fine as Bourne, right at home. The issue is why Bourne has to keep suffering. The CIA spends the entire movie simultaneously trying to kill him and bring him back into the fold, and it’s nearly impossible to understand the motivation for either party. Yes, Bourne is sucked back in with the promise that if he complies he’ll discover the truth, but is it really worth it to traverse six countries (at least) and kill numerous people as collateral all for one target? This is the CIA, after all — and they have no qualms about silencing whoever else stands in their way.

Sure, they could just kill Bourne, but according to this movie’s gospel, he’s untouchable. He gets shot, is involved in multiple head-on collisions, falls five storeys, gets pummelled in numerous fistfights, but is still in fine running condition. Bourne is special, we know, but he’s still human; no human could possibly endure all of this physical trauma. It takes away from the movie knowing that our hero can never fall.

What about the supporting cast?
The supporting cast is stellar as well, but mostly wasted. Alicia Vikander is Heather Lee, a new CIA agent, still idealistic and unfamiliar with Bourne’s past. She seems ruthless in some scenes, and in others a docile lamb. There are some romantic tinges between she and Bourne, but they’re never explored. The end of the film leaves that open, with potential for (yet another) Bourne movie.

Julia Stiles is Nicky Parsons, another character shoehorned in to push Bourne into action. Tommy Lee Jones is CIA Director Robert Dewey, and he spends the majority of the film grumbling and obsessively chasing Bourne. Vincent Cassel is “the asset,” who is magically in every country when needed to help out Dewey. How these remarkable actors ended up here is a big question mark.

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There’s an interesting side-plot about internet security and privacy concerns — an engaging premise in this age of Google and Facebook that could’ve carried the movie in a far more fascinating direction — but like the supporting cast, it’s used as a vehicle to get Bourne in the crosshairs.

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Surely the action is good.
It’s not that it’s not good, but if you’ve seen one action film, you’ve seen all of this before. When a car chase along Las Vegas Boulevard at night seems contrived and dull, that’s not a good thing. Action movies are best when they’re innovative and not ridiculous. The viability of a car chase in a very constrained underground parking lot (which we’ve seen umpteen times) is just nil, especially when it goes on for 10 minutes. Did I mention that Cassel is driving a SWAT truck during one chase?

OK, so what’s the film’s saving grace?
The cinematography is beautiful, and if anything, the movie fuels some serious travel lust.

What’s the bottom line, then?
Bourne fans will most likely enjoy this latest iteration, and fans of action (who are less nitpicky than this reporter) will get a kick out of the chases. People who are on the fence about the franchise can probably skip it.

The open-ended finale leaves room for a potential sixth Bourne movie, so there’s a possibility, if audiences and box-office numbers are positive, that this isn’t the last time we’ve seen Jason Bourne.

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