Director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon pretend “The Bourne Legacy” never happened in this fourth (fifth?) Bourne film, 14 years after the original’s debut.
At the film’s open we find Jason is still living like a backpacker in Europe, but times have changed, and Greece is not nearly the laid-back location it was at the end of “The Bourne Identity” when he sailed off into the sunset with his (now deceased) girlfriend (Franka Potente). Like a backpacker though, he’s managed to find some cash-in-hand work, but avoided the usual bartender trap and gone with the less traditional (but better hours) of street fighting.
Nine years later and the first thing that surprised me about Bourne’s return was that it reminded me of the season four opening episode of “The O.C.”, which found troubled hero, Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie), as a part time cage fighter (and bartender, but to be fair, I don’t think cage fighting paid as well in those days). Did “Bourne” and “The O.C.” really draw from the same screenwriting well of portraying emotionally stunted white boys turning to amateur fighting because they felt they deserved to be punished but also wanted to stay in shape? This was an unexpected beginning indeed, and who knows where it was going to go from there.
From there it led to a street riot (thus departing from “The O.C” playbook) as Bourne’s past finally caught up to him in the form of Nicky Parsons (hello Julia Stiles!), the former analyst turned CIA whistle-blower, who now had in her hands something ‘even bigger than Snowden’. Like a typical female, she only brought trouble with her, as the CIA had tracked her location and even sent “The Asset” (Vincent Cassel) in to take care of Bourne once and for all.
In all seriousness, the riot backdrop of their meeting here is inspired. Pulsing with energy and tension, it’s David vs Goliath in more than one sense as two rogue Americans take on the mighty powerful (and well resourced) CIA, while the Greek citizens around them take on the establishment. Brilliantly shot with a huge sense of scale, for those who are used to watching action scenes and start to find them repetitive, you really felt like you were watching something unique here.
With Nicky’s appearance, Jason finds the trigger to becoming an active character once again, and the cat and mouse games with the CIA go full Bourne, journeying from London to Vegas, but with a few new players, as the mystery this time revolves around his father’s role in his recruitment before his untimely death.
New to the scene is ambitious CIA computer expert, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who signals a changing of the guard in desired CIA skills (less back room meetings, more back room hacking), and is not as quick in her desire to ‘take down Bourne’ as the rest of her colleagues. Alicia is a great addition to the franchise as her character is strong, intelligent and complex, and I hope she continues as an ongoing antagonist/ally to Bourne. Shoutout to the quick cut of articles that background her rise in relation to the CIA’s new ‘Diversity Policy’. Also fascinating is the social media billionaire, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who nails his few scenes as the charismatic nerd founder of a technology giant.
With Aaron’s role, the film attempts relevancy by encasing the ‘Snowden+’ conspiracy with reference to technology’s ability to infringe on human privacy. But beyond acknowledging that privacy is a thing, people want that thing, the film unfortunately has very little else to say about it, as it basically gets dropped to focus on Bourne’s personal history. Even then that’s a bit too much story to carry all the way, as the third act in Vegas shifts gears again to ‘pew pew vroom vroom’.
While the final action scene through the Vegas Strip may work for action fans, to me it was confusing, unnecessary and dull, and must surely have only existed because they had heaps of budget left that they didn’t know what to do with, and didn’t want to hand it back. Kudos to the fact that they did NOT skimp on the extras in this film though. During the final showdown, I was just thinking how nice it was that they hired so many regular people and I hoped they got lunch as well.
Don’t get me wrong, the Bourne series is an above average action franchise; It’s great to see Matt Damon back in the role and as towel fight prepared as ever (spoiler: no towels in this film). He instills in Bourne an unusual relatability for someone who’s essentially a killing machine, has no sense of humour and takes up street fighting for fun.
It’s just a shame that the last act of the film felt so familiar.