Posted by James Stephenson @jamesstephenson
Barely functional film obsessive - views cinema like a psychotic girlfriend. Writer of TWIM - thisweekinmoviesblog.wordpress.com

What is the most influential film series of the 21st Century?

The Dark Knight trilogy, I hear the corral of Nolan fan-boys cry as if recalling one of Christ's miracles? The first Spider-Man, for reviving the comic book movie as a box-office staple and leading to the Marvel/DC war? Call me a "hipster," or insane, but I believe that it is the Bourne trilogy. It might not have been the highest-grossing franchise, nor does it appear on best films of all time lists, but the style that Bourne (and more specifically director Paul Greengrass) introduced, that frenetically edited handheld pressure cooker of an action movie, has led to so much. The Daniel Craig Bond movies? Gone — they'd have never been possible without Bourne laying the groundwork for grittier spy films to work. The handheld style has been adopted, altered and subsequently butchered into "shaky-cam," the excuse of a by-the-numbers actioner for their stars not doing their own stunt-work, and a general inability to use a tripod. It also led to The Bourne Legacy...which isn't a spectacular achievement, but it counts.

But while Legacy felt more like a Bourne fan-fiction than anything else, Jason Bourne brings the core team back, while also bolstering the Bourne series with the additions of Tommy Lee Jones, and Hollywood's new beacon of light, Alicia Vikander, fresh from her Best Supporting Actress triumph for The Danish Girl. And let's not beat around the bush here - Jason Bourne is a good movie. At times, its even a great movie. Paul Greengrass hasn't lost any of his supreme talents, Matt Damon is still just as coolly professional, the new cast members chip in with their fair share as well. But, I'm caught up in a question I've been asking myself ever since I watched Jason Bourne - did it need to exist? Was there an urgent and pressing need for Bourne to be...re-Bourne?

The dilemma, in essence, is whether I can criticize this movie not as a standalone picture, but relative to the previous Bourne films. Because, while this feels like a Bourne film, looks like a Bourne film, sounds like a Bourne film...it isn't anything else. I know what you might be thinking: 'That snooty guy who writes TWIM...spent about three months criticizing everything and wondering when a good movie would arrive, and now he thinks one has he still has to find a way to shoot it down...will nothing make him happy?' But while I admit this is definitely a worthy Bourne film stylistically, there's nothing new going on. Bourne's already found his identity; his story wrapped up pretty nicely back in The Bourne Ultimatum. And while Jason Bourne promises an extension of Bourne's story, the new information isn't colossally profound, and the whole movie essentially becomes a vigilante revenge flick. A good revenge flick, I have to add, but there's no character development whatsoever — Bourne never changes in this film, he's still the same man with the same skill set and opinions, and even though a significant portion of Jason Bourne is dedicated to making you think he might return to the CIA, you just know that's never going to happen.

But onto the movie itself, and despite it feeling a little unnecessary, its a pretty good way to spend 2-and-a-tad hours of your time. Like I said earlier, this is definitely a Bourne film, full of tension and suspense, CIA surveillance and camera trickery. But not only is Jason Bourne deserving of the name, the new cast members add a lot to the table to. Particularly impressive is Vikander - despite her character being relatively new to the CIA, lacking major experience, the Swedish actress makes you totally buy her as a dedicated and highly intelligent individual. Vikander always looks like she has a plan, working three or four steps ahead of you - she's an excellent addition, and she's a character I really hope we can follow further, as Heather Lee's arc is a very interesting one. Vincent Cassel, one of France's most charismatic exports, also shines as a trained assassin with the same approach to hunting his targets as Bourne's approach to escaping his assailants. Cassel feels menacing, and However, the writing for Cassel's hitman is a little inconsistent, and during the final act he feels totally out of character in his actions. Tommy Lee Jones's character is also a little weak - he's nothing more than a CIA suit which Jones animates with his gravitas.

However, the very reason Jason Bourne has been anticipated so fervently by action movie fans (myself included) is that the old dogs have returned, specifically director Paul Greengrass, who comes back to the franchise he defined via Green Zone and the critically acclaimed Captain Phillips, his signature handheld camerawork as strong as ever. But Greengrass is an old dog who hasn't learnt any new tricks. While his hold on Jason Bourne's urban jungle action scenes, often staged amidst crowds, riots and whatever other madness, is absolutely superb, possibly the best of ANY director in the world even, Greengrass is only giving us a new rendition of previous Bourne movies. Visually, Jason Bourne is more like a greatest hits album than a comeback release - the songs on it are still good to listen to, but you can't help but clamouring for something new (shout out to all my MCR fans). The same goes for the technical crew: Bourne's editing and sound have been Academy Award winners, and that supreme level of quality remains, but it sticks to the formula, never daring to really change. I admit that Greengrass's rehash of the Bourne style, the style he forged, is one of the best rehashes I've ever seen, and his handle on the film's tone never wavers.

I wish I could say that about the script. Greengrass wasn't credited on either of the Bourne scripts he directed leading up to this, but he and the film's editor Christopher Rouse have written this one, and Jason Bourne misses the penmanship of Tony Gilroy, the writer of the entire Bourne trilogy, badly here: while Gilroy had a total knowledge of Bourne, and always kept everything consistent, Greengrass and Rouse have let some errors through the net. It could just be down to a bit of scriptwriting inexperience - admittedly its neither of their day jobs (and yes, these are day jobs they should not be quitting to evoke a famous saying), but that doesn't excuse the mistakes. As I hinted at earlier, the final act feels totally out of place with any Bourne film - it involves two characters who are masters of hiding in the shadows having a chase in the middle of a metropolis, and a very loud and visible one. It's almost as if they targeted the monuments actually, even crashing into some of them. Compared to the tense and gripping sequences of the first 90 minutes, there's no relation between them. The scene is technically fine, but feels more like Bond than Bourne.

Also, while the marketing teams and the filmmakers have really emphasized that this is Bourne for a new, post-Snowden landscape, it barely registers on the actual plot. Granted, Jason Bourne is full of references to events that occurred between Ultimatum and this, including Snowden, social media and the global financial crisis. But it has nothing to say about them, and making a reference is not the same as making a comment - in what world is there even a relation between the Grecian economy and Jason Bourne? He's had many crises, but I'm pretty confident he doesn't struggle against colossal youth unemployment. And that really sums up my questions over Jason Bourne's existence: it does exactly what you'd expect as well as you'd expect it, but never challenges that expectation. It makes reference to the changing landscape, but the characters and institutions remain the same. It promises new developments in Bourne's story, but his situation and mind-set remain unaltered. In effect, its like going to drive a go-kart: you can ride round the track for a couple of very entertaining hours, but when you leave that kart will be returned to the same garage you paid to get it from.

What did you think of Jason Bourne? Do you think it was a fantastic return to form, or an anticlimactic comeback? Sound off in the comment section below (spoiler-free, obviously)!

James Stephenson