Jason Bourne – cinema review

Jason-Bourne_movieposterRegular Fedora visitors will know that I love spy movies and am a sucker for stories about amnesia, so the Bourne saga – about a spy who forgets who he is and searches for answers from his old employers at the CIA – has been a very good fit for me! I went to see Jason Bourne at the weekend, my expectations tempered by some lukewarm reviews but nothing had truly prepared me for what I saw …

The following review is sarcastically offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog – you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been more properly selected.

“Why would he come back now?”

First, some context: the character first appeared in Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity in 1980 and remains for many his best novel overall (when it comes to the author this may not be saying much but let’s dodge that literary freight train) and he went on to write two sequels, The Bourne Supremacy (1986) and The Bourne Ultimatum (1990). Since Ludlum’s death in 2001, Eric Van Lustbader has continued the series, the tenth of which, The Bourne Enigma, was published last month. Identity was turned into a two-part TV-Movie in 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith, which I saw at the time and liked a lot, though I suspect it creaks a bit when viewed today …

” I remember. I remember everything.”

The initial Ludlum trilogy was very loosely adapted for the cinema with Matt Damon as Bourne, the three films released in 2002, 2004 and 2007 respectively. However, after the first, the adaptations were so loose as to have virtually nothing in common with the original books, which makes sense as they are about Bourne’s attempts to stop real-life terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, who since 1994 has been in jail in France. The new film, sadly not titled ‘Bourne Again,’ again stars Damon (he also co-produces) from a screenplay credited to the the film’s director, Paul Greengrass and its editor, Christopher Rouse – it is the first not directly related to a Ludlum source, though to call it ‘original’ would I think be a bit of stretch …

“I volunteered because of a lie!”

Bourne is ‘off the grid’ making some sort of living as a bare-knuckle fighter in Greece, still haunted by dreams of his violent past. His old comrade Nicky (Julia Stiles) tracks him down (we don’t know how) after hacking the CIA black ops file (which, conversely, is really simple, as the CIA computer file is helpfully labelled ‘Black Ops’ by the way … it’s that sort of film) with news about Bourne’s father, whose death originally spurred him on to become a super soldier for the CIA. But the CIA are on to them, Nicky gets fridged and Jason heads off to eliminate the killers. That is pretty much it. You get a big motorbike chase in Greece, hand-to-hand combat in Berlin and London, and then an extended car chase in Las Vegas. And that, really, truly, is pretty much it.

So what’s the new film actually like? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, Jason Bourne is the mostly unbelievable pile of redundant tripe and quite the most banal and lifeless piece of ‘entertainment’ I have seen at the cinema in years. The story could literally fit on the back of an envelope, as could all of Damon’s dialogue – he may speak about a dozen lines in the entire film (OK, maybe more, but not much), mostly just grunting and grimacing his way through it. A thoroughly exhausted-looking Tommy Lee Jones plays a CIA villain with no shading at all while Alicia Vikander, as his ambitious (and of course young and good-looking) analyst Heather, delivers every line with the flattest possible intonation. This really irritating monotone does however give rise to the only bit of (probably unintentional) humour in the film – as she speaks is an earpiece to ‘The Asset’ (played by the great Vincent Cassel, who has nothing to play with or against here), she gives him road directions in a combat zone, sounding every bit like a GPS app for hit men, which made me laugh out loud even though it was meant to be making me tense. But everything about this film is just so clichéd (and yes, the ending is ripped off from the ultimate spy amnesia story, The Manchurian Candidate) and contrived that it is hard to care. Also, most of the plot is just plain stupid …


Having established that the CIA can pretty much track anyone in seconds in the opening hacking sequence in Iceland (a pretty unimpressive bunch of hackers if the subtitles are to be believed, one saying to another, “use SQL to corrupt the databases”, a typical example of the superfluous dumbness of the film’s dialogue), it turns out that Bourne just goes around looking exactly the same as he always did, catching flights and trains all over the world and nobody can get hold of him. He does this throughout but only in the Vegas sequence is it called into question, and then only because it is convenient for the story. I mean, he doesn’t even wear a hat – didn’t they teach you anything about disguise at spy school, Jason?

“The next bullet’s in your head!”

If this had been the 1980s and the movie starred Stallone of Schwarzenegger then it probably would have passed muster, but Damon and Greengrass are supposed to be far savvier and smarter than that. They are supposed to be deconstructing this kind of film for crying out loud, not just lazily rehashing every known trope in the book. But sadly not, Damon’s is a one-note performance that basically seems to be channeling the moronic version of himself from Team America, while Greengrass treats his audience with the utmost contempt, literally spelling everything out of importance on the screen. For instance, when Heather cracks open the Bourne file, it literally has pull out quotes so the audience will understand all the plot-relevant bits – and she then reads them out in case we didn’t get the message. In the ops room, every time something needs to be done (like re-tasking a satellite or calling on a team of agents), we never just see it happen, oh no. First we hear it being asked for (“Initiate Alpha team”), then relayed (“Calling Alpha”), then we are told it is in place (“Team standing by”), and then we see it happen! This is narrative for the hard of thinking and is just patronising in the extreme. And as for the topical references to political unrest in Greece and the Snowden hacking, these are just window dressing, discarded as soon as they are mentioned. The only real effort seems to have been to make the two big chases exciting – which they are, but very much in the modern, video game, Fast and Furious mode, in which the laws of Physics really don’t apply.

“You’re never going to find any peace. Not till you admit to yourself who you really are.”

Easily the least ambitious of all the Bourne films, I would bet real money that the Chamberlain TV-Movie holds up much better. Trite, stupid and unimaginative, apart from the opening and closing chases (which as mentioned above are dynamic but totally unreal), Jason Bourne is a disastrous farrago that retrospectively tarnishes all the previous films of its writer-director. I would write more, but I’ve forgotten the movie already …

The Jason Bourne Mysteries

  1. The Bourne Identity (1980)
  2. The Bourne Supremacy (1986)
  3. The Bourne Ultimatum (1990)
  4. The Bourne Legacy (2004) by Eric Van Lustbader
  5. The Bourne Betrayal (2007) by Eric Van Lustbader
  6. The Bourne Sanction (2008) by Eric Van Lustbader
  7. The Bourne Deception (2009) by Eric Van Lustbader
  8. The Bourne Objective (2010) by Eric Van Lustbader
  9. The Bourne Dominion (2011) by Eric Van Lustbader
  10. The Bourne Imperative (2012) by Eric Van Lustbader
  11. The Bourne Retribution (2013) by Eric Van Lustbader
  12. The Bourne Ascendancy (2014) by Eric Van Lustbader
  13. The Bourne Enigma (2016) by Eric Van Lustbader


***** (0.5 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in Espionage, Greece, Las Vegas, London, Reykjavik, Rome, Spy movies, Tuesday's Overlooked Film, Washington DC. Bookmark the permalink.

84 Responses to Jason Bourne – cinema review

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    I can’t remember a lower score. Guess we will go to the Woody Allen movie instead.

  2. Colin says:

    Come on, be honest, you didn’t much like it, right? 😀
    That’s one stinging review if ever I read one, and I don’t for one moment doubt it deserves it. The trailer looks like the very definition of generic so it’s not surprising the finished film is a big, dumb, cliched mess.
    I remember reading the original Bourne trilogy back when Ludlum first published them. They were OK as such chunky action/espionage fiction goes, and I remember finding the TV movie passable entertainment.
    The first three Damon efforts weren’t bad in my view, but not something I’d consider essential either. This sounds like a total waste of time though.

    • More than anything, it just seems like a shame, a wasted opportunity – you take a well-known and successfully property and could do anything with it, having earned considerable good will, but to return with the lowest common denominator, no matter how well put together technically, seems like a real retreat. I agree that the earlier Bourne films were not that amazing, but I liked the second one especially and thought the structural conceit of the third one very clever and unexpected – it just hurts to see the filmmakers, and studio, take so many steps back (right up its fundament, frankly). But you have to see it for the Greek setting (though it was actually shot on Tenerife, can’t imagine why …)

  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    No need to hold back on our account, Sergio – how did you really feel about the film?? 😉 – Seriously, I am sorry it was such a disappointment. It’s so much better when a spy thriller actually has some substance to it. Thank you for your candor.

    • It’s not often I go negative, right? It’s not exactly ‘first Brexit, now this’ but I hate when you just know the filmmakers are treating their customers like idiots!

  4. realthog says:

    a two-part TV-Movie in 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith, which I saw at the time and liked a lot, though I suspect it creaks a bit when viewed today

    I watched this a few years ago, and actually it holds up pretty well. You forget the other major star in it: Denholm Elliott. Okay, it’s just a supporting part, but he’s so very very good in it.

    We watched and enjoyed the first Damon Bourne movie — whose premise and pace just carry everything along so brilliantly — watched with growing annoyance the second, didn’t bother with the third and probably will do likewise with the fourth. Hello, Stieg Larsson.

    • I love Elliot as the doctor, thanks for pointing that out – I must just re-watch the whole thing (once my bile has settled). I liked the second Bourne movie a lot actually (I got distracted a bit in the first by some clear post-production tampering) and the third did some very unusual things very well, which made me hope this might progress from that – how wrong can you be? Hope dies again on the silver screen … 🙂

  5. Not a massive fan of the first three films so thanks for.convincing me not to bother with this one. Have you seen the non-Damon Bourne film with Jeremy Renner btw?

    • Wouldn’t want to spoil your summer break chum 🙂 No, must admit, not seen Legacy – not really that big a Renner fan, though I like the work of its writer-director Tony Gilroy, who importantly contributed to all the Bourne film scripts except this latest one (he also wrote and directed one of my favourite contemporary thrillers, Michael Clayton).

      • Todd Mason says:

        I haven’t yet bothered with the third film, having been mildly entertained (at best) by the the first two Damon films, but, well, Rachel Weisz will entice me to watch anything…and while (as someone was noting the other day, I’m zoned out enough to have forgotten who) LEGACY manages to not bother having much of a third act, it’s at least as entertaining as the two Damon films I’ve seen. And, at least, the protags make some effort to be clever while using public transportation. And, Rachel Weisz.

  6. JJ says:

    Considering how the first three films didn’t even cover the entire plot of the first book, I’m surprised they didn’t use the plot of the second book here. That brings Bourne back in a way that makes perfect sense in the context of the character, so would have made a great follow-up movie. Ah, well, the old “use the off-screen parent” trope rears its head to predictably uninspiring effect once again… Thanks, Sergio, shall give this a miss.

    Incidentally, Ludlum was an awesome author, dude. Currently reading The Parsifal Mosaic, and no-one comes close to his paranoid conspiracies on an international scale. He even had a late career resurgence with The Sigma Protocol and The Janson Directive…don’t dismiss him too easily, we’ll probably never see his like again!

    • Well, I did read several in my distant youth (my gran was a big fan) but it has been decades since I picked one up, I’ll admit … I am not however a big fan, in general, on the brick-sized international conspiracy thriller that was such big deal in the 70s and 80s and nothing could induce me to pick up a Clancy for instance …

      • JJ says:

        Ha, I understand, nothing could induce me to pick up a Clancy, either. But I still love (some of) Ludlum’s work!

        • I did read several in the 1980s and remember liking The Holcroft Covenant though the one that really stood out for me at the time was The Gemini Contender – ever read that one?

          • JJ says:

            After Parsifal, I think the only ones I haven’t read are Gemini Contenders, Aquitaine Progression, and Chancellor Manuscript — supposedly they’re all very good, so I’ve accidentally managed to oragnise it quite well…!

          • I think I read Chancellor – I had Aquitaine for ages in hardback but it was so huge I could never get myself in the right mood to open it!

        • Todd Mason says:

          My father being an espionage/suspense paperback brick buff as well, I had a few of Ludlum’s around the house in my youth, and found the first Bourne and (iirc) MOSAIC very easy to put down…certainly compared to comparable work by the likes of Alfred Coppel (who turned out to have had an early career steeped in sf, particularly at PLANET STORIES magazine in its best years) or Alan Eckert (likewise, if less so and at other magazines, before making his big splash with historical and western bug crushers…John Jakes’s or Michael Shaara’s career literally writ large). And, of course, on my own I was already finiding Len Deighton and Brian Garfield and “Le Carre” and Edward Wellen…even better at a similar sort of thing. Ludlum wasn’t even as entertainingly bad as Harold Robbins was, for me, not that I’d read more than a scrap of Robbins at a time, usually until something aggressively stupid arose. Pretty quickly, in other words. Also surprised by how little I liked Fleming’s Bonds…even if the ending of the novel CASINO ROYALE is so vastly better than the end of the recent film.

          • JJ says:

            I’ve never gotten into Deighton, maybe I should give him a go — much like you and Ludlum, it sounds, I tried him in my teens and didn’t really take to him. Maybe a few years’ distance will help me appreciate him more. Thanks for the reminder!

          • Deighton is terrific JJ, one of the best – first BERLIN GAME, then SS-GB, then maybe FUNERAL IN BERLIN – if you are not convinced, you probably never will be (but I think you will).

          • Well, you know what though? Three things – one, who the hell is Edward Wellen? Two, but the movie keeps the ending of the Fleming novel completely intact, it just builds around it (I love that movie, knock it at your peril, Todd). Three, there is something reassuring about debating the comparative merits of non-serious fiction in horrible time that feel politically fictional but tragically aren’t, lacking as they do in any sense of irony – the horror, the horror …

          • Todd Mason says:

            Aa I recall the novel, she doesn’t go in for Tragic Self-Immolation, so much as there’s a bitter lingering death of their relation. I don’t dig the big tragic. I’ll risk the peril, Sergio…despite fine performances (including by that very nice man who seems to have stolen Ms. Weisz away from the rest of us), it doesn’t work for me even as well as the CLIMAX teleplay version, which is creaky, but, you know, Linda Darnell.

          • That was Linda Christian, not a patch on Darnell I would have though, lovely though she was (married to Tyrone Power at the time, as we are ignoring inconvenient husbands). But I think the newer film dramatises it very well – given that this is a modern era Bond movie, to keep the ending that they did was pretty damn remarkable, don’t you think? And I still say the shower scene is superb.

          • Todd Mason says:

            Edward Wellen, in part:

            Hijack (1971) also appeared as:
            Variant Title: Cosa Nostra che sei nei cieli [Italian] (1977)
            –in magazine publication:
            Hijack (Complete Novel) (1970)
            Cosa nostra che sei nei cieli (Complete novel) [Italian] (1974)

            Goldbrick (1978) also appeared as:
            Variant Title: O Tijolo Dourado [Portuguese] (unknown)
            Variant Title: Ponti D’oro [Italian] (1996)

            http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=8530 which also notes novel and collection:
            An Hour to Kill. St. Martin’s, hc, 1993.
            Perps. Five Star, ss collection, hc, 2001.

          • Thanks chum – completely unknown to me until now … But admittedly, not usually my cup of java, even then.

          • Todd Mason says:

            Shower scene OK…ending in film doesn’t work for me. Not that I enjoyed the novel enough. Torture scene also a no go.

          • Todd Mason says:

            I dunno, Sergio…I think you’d like at least some of Wellen’s fiction.

          • Shall have a quick hunt – thanks

          • Todd Mason says:

            Sleepy error in re Christian and Darnell, thanks. Like Christian, though.

          • Todd Mason says:

            Eva Green loves an operatic role. Outside opera, that’s not so much for me.

          • Did you see THE DREAMERS? Great in that

  7. Sergio, I don’t read a lot of harsh reviews from your pen. If memory serves me well, I think this is the most negative I have read. Good reason for me catch the film on cable TV. I watched the first three but remember little. I also read Ludlum’s bestsellers but none by Eric Van Lustbader. When I watched GREEN ZONE recently, I thought Damon’s character looked a lot like Jason Bourne; as does the film itself. And then I found that Greengrass had directed it. He has, in fact, indirectly admitted to the similarities between GREEN ZONE and his two BOURNE films. Damon is almost comatose in the former.

    • Thanks Prashant – I usually try very hard to only write about stuff I like – and it was;t that I was driven by some grand passion here, just a strong sense of disappointment. I don’t go to the cinema as often as I used to but have been making an effort to keep up with things a bit more, but the Summer is traditionally the ‘silly season’ when it comes to movies after all …

  8. Mike says:

    Ha ha Sergio, a very scathing critique and there’s very little to argue with. Mrs M and I rather enjoyed it, but in that cosy sense of Paul Greengrass giving us exactly what we wanted in terms of remaking the second – and best in the series – movie. I guess you embrace it as daft fun if you like, which we did – the bit where the CIA can keep tabs on Julia Stiles during the riot scene because she’s the only one with long blonde hair made us laugh… Bourne’s ability to slip in and out of the shadows beggars belief. The climactic chase scene in Vegas was incredible stuff, because if you’re going to do it then why not in a SWAT van? Also the efforts of these two supposedly clandestine agents tearing the strip up was just crazy, but entertaining craziness, and after it all of course Bourne once again somehow goes off grid.

    I suppose it’s worth highlighting the fact that the last ‘proper’ Bourne movie was in 2007, nearly ten years ago. The world’s moved on. This franchise hasn’t. So it really exists to make a quick buck out of people like us, which is fine. I prefer this to another Transformers picture, or anything starring Adam Sandler…

    • Oh please god, not another Transformers movie … Good to hear from you Mike and glad you and the missus had a good time. Probably didn’t help that I’d been to see the Star Trek movie the week before with the same mate of mine and we had the same ‘meh’ reaction …

      • Mike says:

        I know, sad proof that there’s somehow even less originality in big budget cinema. Star Trek was okay, but it isn’t really Star Trek and the plot points are radio’d ahead for anyone with an ounce of attention. Last week I caught THE NAVIGATOR during the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, featuring a live piano accompaniment. Never seen it before, lots of innocent good natured fun, a lot that today’s blockbusters are missing.

  9. tracybham says:

    I have skimmed this but I think I will wait to read this in full until we have watched the movie. Assuming we do. I did not realize it was getting bad reviews. So sad, I really like Matt Damon in just about anything.

  10. Sergio –I agree with you 100 percent. JASON BOURNE was a big disappointment. You hit all the low points, including that MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE rip off. However, I got a big laugh out of that Las Vegas car chase. It was so unintentionally funny. Then, with every cop in Nevada after them, Damon and Cassel run into some concrete corridor and have a long, boring fight, and no cops arrive. Well, I guess you can do anything in you want in a cartoon. By the way, your line about Vikander sounding like a GPS for hit men was hilarious.

    • It is so cartoony at the end, right? Thanks Elgin, glad it wasn’t just me that thought so 🙂 I really wish it had been better though, I really do!

      • I really wanted it to be good. But, it was just a “pay-day movie.” You know, the expensive movies where everyone involved gets a big pay check. At least director Greengrass goes back and forth, taking the big money for the living cartoons, but also doing serious movies like UNITED 93 and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

        • You’d hardly think that Greengrass and Damon needed the cash, though I suppose what it does do is raise your profile both professionally and commercially – but still, it should have been much better and still be commercially viable, dangnammit!

  11. Yvette says:

    I loved the first three films (in fact they’re on my list of all time favorite thrillers) and I was looking forward to this one, Sergio. Now I’m not so sure. Oh well, by the time it shows up on Netflix, I’ll probably watch it anyway. At least I won’t have had to lay out some real cash. I rarely go to the movies these days, so by the time they show up online, I usually forget the original reviews. HA!
    I think those of us who love these films just plain love Matt Damon’s face. He’s so good at showing confusion and angst without moving a muscle. I read a good review of the film at either Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, so it wasn’t all bad, bad. 🙂

  12. curtis evans says:

    Definitely skipping this one!

  13. Todd Mason says:

    I think my response as to Edward Wellen, who he? went to spam, since it had several links in it.

  14. This is hilarious – I wouldn’t have seen the film anyway, so you didn’t spoil it for me, I could just enjoy the venom…

  15. Georgia says:

    I was on the fence about watching this film, I wasn’t a big fan of the other ones so I wasn’t sure if I was going to watch this one – think I’ve saved myself after reading this

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