Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Inexplicable Movie Review: Jason Bourne

Note: Spoilers follow for Jason Bourne.

On Twitter, I quipped that the most unrealistic part of the new Jason Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, is that there is a tech-like Comic Con panel, and somehow, Chris Hardwick isn’t hosting it. However, that was more because it struck me as a funny line, whereas the truth was a bit less humorous. “Somehow, an armored police SWAT truck and a Dodge Charger tear through the streets of Vegas, with the armored car plowing through a row of about 20 cars with drivers in them at one point.”

There are some Grand Theft Auto-level traffic hijinks going on in this movie, except that in the video game, cars get destroyed after a couple crashes. In contrast, Jason Bourne has multiple action sequences where cars and motorcycles manage to survive hopping over curves, smashing other cars, and being used as battering rams. The drivers are usually unaffected by these crashes, but they at least have the slight justification of being trained assassins.

Anyway, this is by far the most mindless of the Bourne movies, to its detriment. I liked the original trilogy because they combined the car chases and hand-to-hand fighting of conventional action movies with an existential crisis. There was always a lingering feeling that Bourne was uneasy with his power, and using it reluctantly.

In contrast, Jason Bourne uses flimsy justification to get the “gang” back together. You see, there is a NEW evil, government surveillance program that’s way worse than the one from the original trilogy, and because of that, Julia Stiles needs to get herself a movie paycheck, because rent on a good New York City loft is high.

… Okay, maybe she really liked the script or something. I don’t know why, though. It basically takes some current buzzwords and hot news stories – Facebook! Wikileaks! Surveillance! Greek riots! – and throws them into a blender. The result is something that feels more appropriate for a bad CBS show that your parents watch, not a motion picture I paid $10 for. This film features a lot of dramatic, unrealistic Hacking and Surveillance and Bugging. Yes, it’s the CIA, but they still can’t turn a grainy image into crystal clear by yelling, “Enhance!”

As a result, the only thing really propping the movie up is Bourne, and hey, Matt Damon is Matt Damon. He’s still friggin’ great. As pointed out in a review on RogerEbert.com by Brian Tallerico, Damon probably has 25 lines of dialogue in the entire film. He works though as the quiet, steely type that’s the closest thing to a “realistic” superhero we have in the movies.

Damon gets to do cool Bourne-stuff, like decking guys with one punch in unlicensed bare-knuckles boxing matches, a la Snatch, although Bourne does his work in the desert. (Side note: Remember when Jason Statham was funny?) The only other character that gets to show some “personality” is Vincent Cassel as the unnamed Asset, essentially a predecessor to Bourne. Cassel manages to convey antagonism with his sneers and stares, which is important, since he doesn’t get much screen time because we need 20 scenes about hacking and data gathering.

Speaking of, the rest of the cast feels somewhat wasted. Tommy Lee Jones plays the heavy, CIA director Robert Dewey, but he’s so far to the Evil side of the ledger that you can’t ever really put yourself in his shoes. There is more nuance in the positions of Iron Man and Captain American in Marvel’s Civil War. Alicia Vikander is incredibly easy on the eyes as the CIA counter-intelligence technology something or other, but because the movie is so muddled in its plot, it’s unclear what her motivations are.

Something for the sequel, I suppose. It’s unclear if the movie will get one, but so far, it’s made $246 million against a budget of $120 million, suggesting it’s a modest hit even without being released in China, Mexico or Russia yet. I’d be game for another installment, just because Damon is getting older and that would be an interesting dynamic to play with, plus the biggest hanging curve with the series is, “How does Bourne actually continue with his life?” By the end of Jason Bourne, pretty much every significant person in Bourne’s life is dead, except Pam Landy (not in this movie) and Paz, the assassin from the third movie (also not in this movie). They still have some room to run with the series, but not much.

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