Jason Bourne (2016)

07/30/2016  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

It’s been nearly a decade since the world has seen Jason Bourne.

Since then, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have become political buzzwords, their names shorthand for the way we deal with government intelligence. Similarly, Bourne is our new standard for shakycam action sequences and serious political thrillers. Combining all of those elements into a singular experience, Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass reunite for Jason Bourne. Co-written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, the film manages to work Assange and Snowden into a hamfisted plot revolving around cyber-terrorism, Big Brother-esque surveillance states, and the ethics of online security. It’s also about as hackneyed and boilerplate as all that sounds while still featuring Matt Damon kicking the shit out of everything.

When former CIA technician Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) resurfaces to steal documents relating to the Treadstone project, she stumbles upon a key piece of Jason Bourne’s history. Bourne (Damon), meanwhile, has been living out his days as a bare-knuckle boxer in Greece, still haunted by his experiences in the program. When Parsons approaches Bourne with this new information, the CIA is ready to pounce. Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) puts an assassin known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel) on Bourne’s trail, much to the chagrin of Cyber Ops head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). Lee recognizes Bourne’s desire to stay neutral, but also believes he can still be of some use to the agency.

Once again, half the movie is people watching stuff happen on giant video screens.

In the nine years since The Bourne Ultimatum, the idea of the internet as a tool for government surveillance has exploded in the public consciousness. Whistleblowers like WikiLeaks have brought these issues into the cultural conversation in a way that didn’t really exist in the mid-2000s. Paul Greengrass apparently saw an opportunity there, putting Bourne into contact with a weak Julian Assange analog named Christian Dassault (Vinzenz Kiefer). He agrees to decrypt Bourne’s encrypted thumb drive if Bourne agrees to let him keep the files. The way Kiefer plays him, it makes Dassault seem like a vampire who feeds on information. It’s the one moment of cartoony weirdness in an otherwise dreadfully self-serious thriller.

Elsewhere, the film’s primary subplot involves a Mark Zuckerberg type named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) promoting the launch of his new social media platform Deep Dream. CIA director Dewey has designs on turning Deep Dream into a backdoor for global surveillance, and impresses upon Kalloor his platform’s importance to national security. Their conversations are pitched with the intensity of a true conspiracy thriller, but the script boils down their arguments into:

“Privacy is freedom!”
“Freedom is America!”

As a character, Kalloor could have been a great avenue for Greengrass to address social media privacy directly. Instead, he becomes little more than a pit stop along Bourne’s mission to exorcise his own personal demons. Bourne doesn’t actually care about Kalloor’s plight, or really even know who he is in the first place, but he knows Kalloor isn’t the bad guy, and that’s good enough for him.

It almost feels like they’re searching for a new purpose for Jason Bourne, and somehow the purpose they landed on is “kung fu Edward Snowden”. He’s the government whistleblower who can hack mainframes and steal secret files, and when the government tries to stop him he takes a couple shots to the gut, kicks a guy’s face in and then runs off into the night. He’s like Batman if Batman didn’t have time for costumes.

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Always bringing a grenade launcher to a gunfight. Solid strategy, I guess.

Jason Bourne’s entire arc is that of a government killing machine who realizes what he is and struggles to break himself free of that cycle. The revelation that sets the whole story into motion isn’t even particularly compelling, and turns out to be of little consequence to anyone but himself. This sets the film’s stakes relatively low in the context of the series. Bourne is no longer out to reveal huge government secrets; he’s out for blood. He doesn’t want to kill anyone he doesn’t have to, which is what tips Heather Lee off to his true intentions. It’s a motivation that flies right out the window in the film’s climactic chase through Las Vegas, unleashing an insane amount of vehicular carnage that renders Bourne’s aversion to violence hilariously moot.

“I’m trying to find another way!” – Jason Bourne

The feeling this time around is “more of the same”. The moment Parsons hacks into the CIA network, you know an action sequence is imminent. The moment Bourne arrives in Athens or London or Las Vegas, you know another chase is right around the corner. One chase leads to another piece of information which leads to another fistfight, all in the name of government secrets and Bourne’s own bruised psyche. If you’ve seen one Bourne movie, you’ve kinda seen ‘em all. Then again, if you’ve never seen any Bourne movie, this one is sort of the platonic ideal of how a Bourne movie works. It’s been done better and it’s been done worse, leaving this one stuck somewhere in the middle.

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Please just kill Bourne already, Vince.

If the cyber-intrigue featured here piques your interest, you might get more out of Laura Poitras’ CitizenFour, the Oscar-winning documentary about the Snowden leaks, or Alex Gibney’s latest film Zero Days, about the current danger of state-sponsored cyber-terrorism. Both of these documentaries highlight America’s relationship with online security in ways that are both eye-opening and genuinely chilling. If you can’t handle current events without Greengrass’ signature shakycam and Matt Damon delivering harsh beatdowns, Jason Bourne will have to tide you over for now.

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Matt Damon
Paul Greengrass' Shakycam
Real-World Cyber Intrigue
Pulse-Pounding Action
Character Development

About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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