It is barely twenty-minutes into Jason Bourne, and I’m already on the edge of my seat. As the titular hero (anti-hero?) rides a motorcycle through the streets of Athens in the midst of an anti-austerity protest, an “asset” is across town getting ready to line up Bourne in the sight of his sniper rifle. Across the world, CIA agents countdown the time until Bourne will be visible for the asset to take his shot (ten seconds…five seconds…) as John Powell’s familiar, heart-quickening score builds and builds to the climax of one of the film’s three incredible set-pieces. It’s at this point that I realise Bourne is well and truly back, and boy is it good to see him again.
It’s always concerning when a franchise is revived after such a long period of absence, especially when said franchise consists of a trilogy – I refuse to remember the awful attempt at a spin-off, The Bourne Legacy – of almost-flawless spy movies that reinvented the generic wheel. Yet, the return of Bourne is a case of perfect timing in that the world has changed massively since the last time we saw his character almost ten-years ago. And with Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon back in the driving seat – quite literally in regards to Damon, who once again has another epic, metal-crunching car chase – the franchise is given new life as a much older and much more battered Bourne, now going grey around the edges, faces the challenges of modern day spying.
Having spent the last few years living off the grid, we find Jason Bourne on the Greek-Albanian border where, to earn a bit of money, he spends his days and nights putting his skills to use in bare-knuckle boxing matches. During one of his fights, he spots a familiar face in the crowd, a face which belongs to Nicky Parsons (played by Julia Stiles, the only other actor to have starred in every Bourne film to date) who, whilst trying to expose the CIA’s top secret black ops, Snowden-style, finds some information about Bourne’s past that she feels he needs to know.
It doesn’t take long for things to escalate when Parsons is tracked to Bourne’s location by the CIA. At the head of the operation to either take him out or bring him in is CIA director Robert Dewey (a scowling, gurning Tommy Lee Jones who is terrific in this kind of role) and his protégé, Heather Lee (a superb Alicia Vikander, whose performance here makes up for the lack of Joan Allen). In a way, it’s their mentor/mentee relationship that best sums up the appeal of Jason Bourne; a relationship which is, at its core, a tug of war between the past and the future.
Greengrass and Damon have said in multiple interviews that this new state of play was the biggest reason to return to a franchise that they swore to leave alone, and that’s evident throughout. Social media plays an important part in the proceedings, mentioned in passing as the CIA attempt to block any social media from coming out of the Athens protest, and featuring heavily in the grander scheme of the plot which features a Mark Zuckerberg-type character (Riz Ahmed) whose social network is caught up in the government’s shady interests
Much like last year’s Spectre, the debate surrounding surveillance and privacy are at the film’s centre, something which feels incredibly current in an age of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden – Snowden is even referenced during one sequence. But, for all of the political and technological changes that come with Jason Bourne, this newest instalment manages to maintain everything that made the first three films so successful in the first place; namely an acute sense of realism that has become a staple of Greengrass’ film-making.
With years of journalistic experience, not only does the director have all the intelligence to tell a story of this kind, but his documentary-like visual style lends even more tension to an already tense thriller. In the wincingly-real fight scenes – the film’s finale features one of the series’ most brutal fights to date – you feel every punch and can almost smell the combination of blood and sweat through the cinema screen. The same applies when it comes to the car chases – a must for any Bourne film – which will leave you weaving in your seat out of fear of being caught up in the carnage.
Nobody does this kind of thriller quite like Paul Greengrass, and that’s sort of the point. Whilst so many sequels and reboots end up a disappointment, Jason Bourne delivers the goods. Helped largely by the extremely professional Matt Damon who puts in another fantastically intense and contained performance, along with the frenetic editing of Christopher Rouse – who also co-writes with Greengrass – it is a fine spy thriller and great addition to the series.
As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Jason Bourne proves that the franchise’s winning formula is far from broken, and, in spite of its satisfying conclusion, only leaves you wanting more. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another nine-years for the next instalment.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com