After nine years, Matt Damon returns to his iconic role as the namesake of this summer’s Jason Bourne. The film begins with Bourne living off the CIA’s radar, making a living by pummeling fighters in underground boxing matches. He is pulled back into the agency’s ill will after his former cohort, Nicky Parsons, hacks into the CIA’s server and obtains black ops files that reveal secrets about Bourne’s father, in addition to implicating the CIA in major breaches of privacy. The rest of the film shows Bourne evading the CIA while hunting down the man who killed his father.
Jason Bourne returns to many familiar formats of the previous installments in the series—chaotic CIA surveillance rooms, calculated escape plans through crowded city squares, and fast-cutting, shaky-camera cinematography. But it is missing a key element that made the series work so well in the past: the humanity.
In the first three films, the amnesiac Bourne is driven by a desire to regain his identity, piecing together his past while fighting the morally compromised institutional giants that broke him in the first place. Throughout the car chases, fistfights, and narrow escapes, Bourne the machine fights to find Bourne the person. The third film, The Bourne Ultimatum, ends with redemption as Bourne finally pieces together his past and clears his name by exposing widespread corruption within the CIA.
Jason Bourne, unfortunately, is a missed opportunity. For the first time we could have seen a version of Bourne acting completely of his own accord. Writer/director Paul Greengrass could have used so much unexplored territory to fuel the thrills the series is known for, perhaps showing a more vulnerable man or bringing in the public sector to expand the web of institutional immorality. Instead, the character is reduced to a highly capable vengeance machine who has no moral position in the scrawling cyber-security conspiracy that drives the plot.
Instead of offering us a rare and nuanced view of someone who is offered redemption, Jason Bourne betrays any human element of its main character. That is the film’s greatest misstep. (Universal)