Moby’s Extreme Ways plays at the end of Jason Bourne, but it almost feels redundant. After all, we’ve just spent two hours watching what is essentially a lifeless retread of the series that felt so fresh and exciting in 2002. The series that had instantly made the Bond movies passe now cannot seem to find a fresh angle, and the entire movie ends up feeling like a by-the-numbers remake, all the way up to the familiar opening notes of that song playing over the end credits.
The movie isn’t The Bourne Legacy bad - having Paul Greengrass back in the director’s chair means the movie’s impressionistic action is at least interesting - but it’s easily the weakest and the dumbest of the films featuring Bourne himself. There’s a digital privacy storyline grafted onto the film that just sits there, lumpy and unmoving, not involving Bourne himself at all. And Bourne’s story - which is about his dad of all things - isn’t much better.
The film picks up with Jason Bourne not living happily in hiding but rather engaging in bare knuckles fights on the Greek border. He’s haunted by his past, and that now extends beyond his time as a brainwashed agent of Treadstone to the death of his father in 1999. Into his mopey, self-punishing existence pops Nikki (Julia Stiles), his trusty helper from the previous films. She’s working with a Julian Assange type and has hacked the CIA’s deepest Black Ops files (which are kept in a file folder titled Black Ops, and which she puts on a thumb drive labeled ENCRYPTED in block letters) and has dug up new dirt on Treadstone - dirt that includes the involvement of Daddy Bourne from the beginning.
Meanwhile the CIA is working with Deep Dream, a hooli-like company, to get back door access to their new platform, which will tie together all the apps in their ecosystem. It’s ‘full spectrum’ surveillance, and it would give the CIA access to everything every hooli user is doing, looking at and everyone they know. This has nothing to do with the main story at all. In fact Bourne only gets involved in it because the CIA director (good old crusty Tommy Lee Jones) is appearing at a cybersecurity event in Vegas, and Bourne wants to kill him, and the head of hooli, struck by regret, plans on blowing the lid off the CIA plot at the same event.
I understand why this secondary plot exists - Greengrass, who co-wrote the film, wants to make it of the moment, and this is very of the moment - but I don’t understand why it has absolutely nothing to do with Jason Bourne. The A and B plots are almost like different movies, and while they’re tenuously connected by a thematic thread (digital security) they simply don’t ever come together well enough to resonate or build to a satisfying climax.
The film’s action climax - a massive, destructive car chase through the streets of Las Vegas - is probably the most satisfying action piece in the film, but it may also be the most un-Bourne. It feels too big, way too blown out in comparison with the more realistic action of the previous films. I was excited for an early action sequence where Bourne evades and defeats CIA stooges in the middle of a Greek austerity protest turned riot, but for all the movie’s chaotic action the sequence never comes alive. Other action scenes feel like vintage Bourne, but that’s the problem - they feel vintage. This series shouldn’t feel vintage.
The hyper-kinetic, shakycam aesthetic that Greengrass exploded onto the mainstream became just that - mainstream. We’ve seen it a lot now, and while I don’t think he should be placing his camera on a tripod for long extended shots, there’s fatigue with the whole style. It shows up on TV shows now; its power is diminished. What felt like an exhilarating way of being thrown into the fight ten years ago now feels rote.
The other part of the problem is that the action set pieces begin to feel samey - Bourne walking through crowds, getting sniped at, guys jumping in from off frame, etc. Except for the really enormous car crashes of the final chase none of the set pieces stand out or feel revolutionary. That’s a high standard, but it’s the standard the first three Bourne films set for themselves. That this movie can’t meet it or exceed it only further makes it feel like a half-hearted retread.
That said, a Greengrass-directed Bourne retread is at least reasonably watchable. Jason Bourne didn’t get me excited like the original three films did, but it didn’t put me to sleep. Matt Damon brings a simmering intensity to the role this time, keying more into Bourne’s anger than anything else. Tommy Lee Jones is always exceptional in these kinds of roles - exhausted and nasty men doing bad things.
But the most interesting actor in the film is Alicia Vikander; she’s playing a CIA analyst who is maybe, just maybe, sympathetic to Bourne’s cause. Vikander is interesting in the role because you can never tell where she’s coming from - is she truly sympathetic? Does she have ulterior motives? Is she just too excited to help out or is she planning something? - and she manages to play it in such a way that from scene to scene you’re never quite sure. Her accent was distracting to me - is she trying to do an American accent? - but otherwise this new character, who is being set up as a central aspect of the series should it move forward, was the most exciting element of the film.
Part of what makes her exciting is that she’s using all sorts of high tech internet spy nonsense to keep tabs on Bourne at all times - she’s tapping into CCTV, she’s using phones to send out pulse waves to fry hard drives, she’s hacking her heart out. I liked that stuff better than the standardized Bourne action, and I kind of would love to see a movie where a spy like Bourne is in constant and direct communication with a high tech operator like Vikander. The comic book Queen and Country, basically.
Jason Bourne is a man without a country, a man without a mission, a man figuring himself out. That’s the same place in which the series finds itself; should there be a sixth (!) Bourne film, I would come see it, hoping this overly familiar film was just a warm up. But the Bourne films need to catch up to the world they kickstarted if they hope to continue in the second and third decades of the 21st century.