Jason Bourne (2016) Review

In 2002, The Bourne Identity changed the face of action cinema. It’s kinetic pace and quick cuts became so influential that the next two 007 movies, the codifier of the spy genre, tried to be more like Bourne than Bond. But today, 14 years after Identity, and 9 since the conclusion of the trilogy with Ultimatum; instead of reinvigorating the action genre, Jason Bourne is lazy and uninspired, and embodies everything wrong with contemporary action thrillers.

Jason Bourne is less of a movie than a series of increasingly tighter close-ups on people’s faces as they talk or look sternly past the camera. Most shots in this movie are so close that you can’t see a person’s chin and forehead at the same time. And these incredibly close zooms aren’t for dramatic effect, or to punctuate a reaction; if a character isn’t fighting or jumping off something, they’re in close up. To the film’s credit, we do get every angle of close-up: portrait, left-profile, right-profile, from under the chin, from above the eye-line, ¾’s of both sides, over another person’s shoulder; if there’s an angle of somebody’s head, they shot in in Jason Bourne.

Also, related to close-ups, Jason Bourne has a character call for an image to be “enhanced.” Yeah, I thought that died in 2005, or at least lived exclusively on NCIS, but nope, it returns for Jason Bourne.

Luckily, you never have to stare too long up any particular actor’s nostrils at once, as this movie is cut as though someone ran a lawnmower over it and had to tape whatever fit together back into order. I wouldn’t be surprised if the only shots in this entire film longer than 3 seconds are either when there’s something they expect the audience to read, or a single shot of someone walking down a hallway near the end. This, along with a generally shaky camera makes action illegible, whether it’s hand-to-hand combat which follows a pattern of Bourne bumping into someone and a cut to that person on the ground; or car chases that feel like cars teleporting in and out of proximity of each-other. The movie is quite literally a blur. And that one cool shot of Bourne knocking out a guy with one punch from the trailer – not in the movie. For some reason they chose a completely different, and much worse, angle to put in the theatrical cut.

And if you’ve noticed that we’re some 450 words in and I still haven’t talked about the film’s story yet, it’s because there’s not much to talk about. Jason Bourne has been lying low, getting by from participating in underground boxing matches in Greece when he’s tracked by a former partner of his who has hacked some Black-Ops stuff from the CIA that contains slightly more information about Bourne’s past and some new shady shit the CIA has planned involving legally-distinct-but-equivalent-to-Facebook. This alerts the CIA to Bourne’s location, and so now they’re after him, trying to kill him before the info can leak.

Jason Bourne suffers from a lack of stakes and unfulfilling character motivations. We know that Bourne has pieced together the important parts of his past in the previous films, so the stuff added in this one feels like fluff; and beyond wanting to not-die, Jason has no reason to be a part of this plot other than being dragged in. And the CIA’s other Black Ops thing in this movie is never adequately explained enough to feel like something that Bourne needs to prevent. If anything, it’s business as usual for the CIA, and this film doesn’t explain why that’s a bad thing beyond “because they’re the CIA.” Unless you’ve watched the previous Bourne movies, you’ll have no idea why the CIA wants Bourne dead so badly, and the main players in the CIA have almost no personal motivations or character unto themselves. Frankly, neither does Bourne, who has barely any lines in the film named after him.

I wish I could say that the film’s cast at least did a good job, but everyone seems to have phoned it in for this one. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne feels completely uninterested in anything this entire film, and barely changes expressions even after supposedly traumatic flashbacks. Tommy Lee Jones as the CIA director plays a smarmy kind of evil but isn’t given anything to really do. And Alicia Vikander, who plays the CIA agent leading their chase of Bourne, doesn’t seem to care about the role enough to keep her accent straight for a single line read. And honestly, given that the actors probably had an idea how this movie would be edited, I can’t fault them for not doing anything more than the least amount of effort they would need to earn a paycheck.

I couldn’t tell you why Jason Bourne was made, besides profit, that is. Despite having government involvement in social media and privacy concerns as a main plot point, the film doesn’t actually have anything to say on the topic, instead just hoping its audience already thinks this is bad enough to justify an entire film without further explanation. It seems like none of the actors cared about their non-characters enough to do much acting; and the director and editor decided to chop the footage up as much as possible in an attempt to make the viewers confuse number of cuts to quality of story. Jason Bourne is barely worth the 900 or so words in this review, and certainly isn’t worth the cost of admission.

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