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Jason Bourne Review: Matt Damon Packs a Timely Punch

By Brian Gallagher — July 26th, 2016

The original Bourne trilogy movies (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) are quite noteworthy for a number of different reasons. First and foremost, it solidified Matt Damon as a bona fide movie star, who could open a big budget film on his own, while showcasing the action movie chops no one knew he had. It's also one of the rare movie trilogies to show big improvement each time out at the domestic box office, with The Bourne Identity earning $121.6 million, followed by The Bourne Supremacy's $176.2 million and The Bourne Ultimatum's $227 million. Despite all of this success, it took nine years for Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass to finally bring this action icon back to the big screen with Jason Bourne, and, thankfully, it was well worth the wait.

No matter how successful the previous entry was, a lengthy wait between movies doesn't often bode well for some franchises. They could be huge hits like Jurassic World, which earned $652.2 million domestic, $1.5 billion worldwide, last summer, 15 years after the last movie in the franchise, Jurassic Park 3. Or, they could flop like this spring's My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, a sequel to one of the most successful indie movies ever made, which earned just $59.6 million domestically, a far cry from the original's $241.4 million back in 2002. In the nine years that followed The Bourne Supremacy, both Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass had maintained that they would love to come back and make a new Bourne movie, but the story had to be right, and, for nearly a decade, that story apparently eluded the star and filmmaker. The timing couldn't be better, with our current social and political climate, because Jason Bourne represents the kind of hero we could desperately use in our own society.

It's established early on, after a hazy montage of memories that essentially serves as a movie version of a "Previously, on...." TV-style recap, that Jason Bourne is still in the wind, off the grid, etc., while we see a number of pieces that fit into place for this story to take shape. Of course, at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne, a.k.a. David Webb, got his memory back, but he's still trying to unlock even more secrets about his involvement with secret government programs like BlackBriar and Treadstone. Early on, we see Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hack into the CIA, to retrieve files on all of the agency's shady secret operations like Treadstone, but Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) is following her every step of the way. Once the CIA establishes that Nicky Parsons is in fact the hacker, it doesn't take long for the agency to realize that Jason Bourne is back.

The story is quite sprawling and ambitious, spanning from remote areas of Greece to London, Berlin, Rome and even Las Vegas, following Bourne as he chases the truth about these government programs, Heather as she chases Bourne, and Heather's boss, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), as he chases whatever angle keeps his agenda intact. What's really interesting here is we get some new insight into why David Webb volunteered to become Jason Bourne in the first place, which involves his father Richard Webb (Gregg Henry). We're also introduced to a few new characters like an unnamed "Asset" (Vincent Cassel), who is gunning for Bourne because he betrayed the agency, and the up and coming young star Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Aaron Kalloor, the creator of a massive social media company who has shady ties to the CIA.

The script by Christopher Rouse and Paul Greengrass has a "ripped from the headlines" feel to it, and even though it's a fictional story with fictional characters, it feels very much rooted in our reality today. The script has a tepid pace which isn't necessarily difficult to follow, but the writers tend to gloss over some points in favor of keeping the story moving forward swiftly, such as Heather's motivations and alliances, but perhaps that is being saved for the possibly inevitable sequel. Still, the script is quite impressive, especially considering Greengrass hasn't written or co-written a script in a decade, since United 93, and this movie marks the writing debut of Christopher Rouse, who has worked as Greengrass' editor on The Bourne Supremacy, United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone, Captain Phillips and this movie as well.

Paul Greengrass' flare for action scenes is still there, but some of them felt almost too fast-paced or even over-edited at times. Regardless, Jason Bourne more than holds up against any other film in the original trilogy in terms of car chases and hand-to-hand combat scenes. Still, Jason Bourne is just another example of an emerging Hollywood trend, which is basically a hybrid of both a sequel and a remake. Movies like Jurassic World and Vacation still follow the continuity of its predecessors, and is set in the same world, so it can essentially be considered a sequel. But, on the other hand, a whole new cast is being introduced, in essence, rebooting the franchise while still keeping the same continuity.

There is no "official term" for this type of movie yet, but it's basically Hollywood's example of having your cake and eating it too. Universal's Jason Bourne fits this model to a T, bringing back Matt Damon and Julia Stiles from the trilogy, while also bringing in new stars playing new characters that will propel the franchise forward with what I can only assume is a new trilogy. No matter what you call it, reboot, sequel, rebquel or sequeboot (I'm partial to sequeboot, myself), Jason Bourne gives fans of the original trilogy plenty to enjoy, while showcasing how the title character and this franchise itself can deftly adapt to the times and technology around us now.

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