RECAP: Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne (2016): Paul Greengrass

Strap on your puke bags, kiddos, because Greengrass and Damon are back to shaky-cam you to oblivion. After a forgettable Bourne outing minus Bourne, Matt Damon returns to the fold for a cool $25 million, and to right a few more wrongs buried in his forgotten past.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Jason Bourne returns to the grid to find out what his father had to do with Bourne’s crappy adult life as an assassin.  

Hero (4/10)

You know his name. No adjectives needed. Jason Bourne returns for the final (?) time as the American agent as dangerous as he is forgetful.

Matt Damon snatches the franchise back from Jeremy Renner, and acts like he was charged by the word. Jason Bourne has its main character speak about 30 lines, and not for the first 15 or so minutes.

Bourne first appears on the back of truck heading to the Greece-Albania border. He’s flashing back to some old scenes that are convenient for him to remember now, and not in his previous three films.

Bourne’s fight skills remain top notch. Damon is cut for this role, and he needed to be because he’s shirtless multiple times. At the border, he takes part in a fight ring.

After wrapping his hands in cloth and watching the locals bet heavily on the European opponent, Bourne takes three steps toward him and decks him in one punch. Bourne puts his shirt back on and leaves.

We see Bourne next in another Greek fight ring. He’s getting pounded, mostly because his heart’s not in it, until he sees a face from the past: Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). One sight of her and Bourne erupts with a multi-punch flourish to finish the fight, get to his bag, and learn the place to meet her.

RIP Nicky Parsons
RIP Nicky Parsons

Bourne and Parsons meet in downtown Athens, in the midst of a protest. Nicky found out that Bourne’s dad, Richard Webb, was wrapped up in founding Treadstone, the covert ops force David Webb volunteered to be brainwashed for.

Bourne shows off his motorcycle skills riding through Athens, avoiding the local police and sniper bullets. He rescues Nicky long enough for her to give him a key to a locker with some more information about where to find the next piece of the puzzle.

Damon’s fourth outing as Bourne is a sluggish one. He’s on screen plenty, but many of his actions are nonverbal. Were he fighting, that’d be great, but too much of his time is spent walking.

Bourne was eight years in hiding before the world dragged him back. Damon acted as if he had been out of the game for as long. More than one shot shows Bourne sitting quietly, alone, a somber expression plastered on his face, as if the actor and character were thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

Bourne dutifully advances the plot while more interesting ones revolve around him. In Athens he gets the Treadstone files on a flash drive labeled “encrypted”. He goes to Berlin to decrypt them. Then Bourne travels to London to ask a guy about one of the reports in the file.

People are chasing him, some to “bring him in,” most to kill him. Bourne’s heard that Treadstone was one of several covert ops programs. The CIA’s current one, Ironhand, is even worse. You got to come back and stop it, Jason!

Bourne doesn’t care. He seems to trace the evidence so that the CIA will leave him alone. Old men throughout history have endured quests, not for glory, but to be left alone.

Bourne’s effectiveness remains razor-sharp. No one can enter a building and exit a building with trained killers tracking you like Jason Bourne. In London, he triggers multiple fire alarms to flood a concourse with human shields, all so he can ask a guy a few questions.

In Las Vegas, Bourne walks around the security conference wearing only a hat for disguise. He saves the life of a tech CEO and helps kill the CIA director, and then leaves the building with no problems.

What was only a job for Bourne becomes personal, in the end, when he conveniently remembers that the Asset, the man who has chased Bourne throughout the movie, assassinated his father in Beirut.

What memories would Bourne have of his father? We see the ones from the day he died, and no more. I didn’t care, and I can’t see why Bourne would, either.

Villain (5/10)

Tommy Lee Jones, hangdog expression and all, joins the Bourne franchise as CIA director Robert Dewey. Dewey seems to have a hand in another black ops unit called Ironhand, and this unit is blacker and ops-ier than Jason Bourne’s Treadstone back in the halcyon days of the Aughts.

Dewey wants Bourne killed. He knows how dangerous Bourne is, especially when he doesn’t know what Bourne wants. Dewey enlists the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to aid him in killing Bourne. The Asset was a member of another CIA black ops unit exposed by Bourne, and this guy believes Bourne is a traitor.

Dewey goes through the motions trying to capture Bourne in Athens. His underling, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), runs the operation while Dewey oversees it. He’s in the background to say things like “Find him,” and “Come on, people.” That’s the level of leadership you expect in a tech-filled cyber room from a dinosaur like Dewey. Leave it to the nerds, man.

Dewey is content to leave the search for Bourne to the nerds. He’ll just undermine them at every turn. After Bourne shows up in London, Dewey loses some control of the operation to Lee, who wants to “bring in” Bourne. Dewey cannot abide, so he tasks the Asset to kill him.

The London op is confusing, and not only for me. Lee is on the ground running the capture op. The Asset is there and also using a secret backchannel to speak with Dewey as the director lounges in his Virginia study. Dewey wants the Asset to kill Bourne, and if that means killing some other dudes working for the CIA, so be it. The cost to silence Bourne cannot be too high for Dewey.

Dewey is willing to have the Mark Zuckerberg-like CEO of Deep Dream shot on stage in front of thousands of people. He’s not doing this out of fear, he’s doing them because he is a patriot, and patriots always sell out their friends for the betterment of their countries.

In the end, Dewey thinks he can bring Bourne in. He and Bourne face off in a Las Vegas hotel suite. Dewey believes he can kill Bourne by first feeding him some more lies about his past. That doesn’t work out for Dewey.

Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones

Is Tommy Lee Jones a slow loris? He’s played this game many times before, knowing he can cruise through this role on personality alone. All the acting work his subtle: a tiny laugh here, a quick smile there. Jason Bourne ain’t Jones’s first rodeo, and a less capable actor could have made the role bombastic or cartoonish. Jones avoids that.

Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones

Action/Effects (7/10)

The Bourne franchise is based on one premise: always keep running. Bourne, always on the move, can never stop.

In Athens, Bourne meets with Nicky, where she tells him about his father’s involvement with Treadstone and surveilling Bourne and whatever. Lee and her CIA nerds track them back in Langley. Lee tells her team to “isolate all social media posts,” which must be the most Millennial command yet uttered in an action movie.

Local tactical teams use camera scopes to scan the crowd. One flashes by Nicky’s blonde hair. Lee catches the glimpse, and with one blurry moment can identify the back of the head of a woman she’s never met. I guess that proves that blondes really do turn heads.

Once the CIA isolates the image of Nicky, Dewey chimes in. “Find her,” he orders. You’re helping out a lot today, eh Dewey? The guys on the ground follow Nicky and track her with a male. “Identify the male,” Dewey says. I wanted some tech to go, “Yes, sir, I was already doing that. I have three Ph.Ds. and am smart enough to consider IDing the male an important task.” Sadly, none did.

Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee
Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee

Bourne tells Nicky to meet him at the statue of Athena. Now, I’ve been to Athens, and I don’t remember a statue of Athena, but the city is named for her, and I bet there are many such statues.

So far all they’ve done is walk. And walk again they will. The city is enflamed around them. Thousands of Greeks are in the streets rioting and protesting…something. What are they protesting? In Greece it could be anything. We never find out.

Bourne steals a Molotov cocktail and breaks it beside a tram to distract two agents following him. They enter the tram car and Bourne knocks them out in a few blows.

The Asset, ordered to kill Bourne and Nicky, speeds to the scene as Greece declares a state of emergency. This protest must be about spanakopita prices. Maybe Greece lost in the semis at the Euro Cup.

Bourne beats down two riot police and knocks a third off of a motorcycle. Stealing it, he leads three other bikes toward a police van shooting a water cannon. Bourne dodges the water jet, but the other three don’t and fly off their bikes.

The Asset is coming. Two minutes out. Nicky runs from a pursuit team. How many guys does the CIA have in Athens, and in other cities?

Fireballs and green lasers are going off. Cars are on fire. Nicky makes the statue of Athena. The important one, I guess, just as Bourne arrives. He’s found a smoke gun on the motorcycle. He shoots it at an oncoming van, which causes it to crash into a parked car. In the chaos, Bourne punches one of the CIA operatives and Nicky hits another one with a metal bar she found on the ground. Bourne runs into the van passenger door as a man tries to leak out of it. All this in about three seconds.

Nicky, on the back of the bike, rides with Bourne and from the Asset. The latter’s car has a camera feed. Langley has satellites tasked above the city to mark police barricades, information relayed to the Asset. Bourne has maneuverability over the Volkswagen tailing him, and he uses that to dart up a stairway.

A Molotov bursts in flame on the the Asset’s hood, blinding his camera and his sight from the wall dead ahead. The brakes won’t help you now, Asset. He hits the wall and his airbag deploys. Bourne escapes.

The police show remarkable restraint in not killing the protesters who throw fireballs at them. Tear gas and water cannons are the worst the citizens get.

Everyone ignores Bourne and Nicky as the Asset climbs to a strike point and sets up his sniper rifle. They dodges flaming couches falling from rooftops as they make the street where the Asset is ready for them. “Take the shot,” Dewey begs to himself.

Smoke obscures the Asset’s sight until it doesn’t, and he shoots Nicky in the back, causing her to hit a concrete wall and fall off the bike. Bourne collides with a car and takes cover.

The scene will end with Nicky’s death and the Asset’s escape. You get most of the Bourne series in this sequence. Bourne receives important information and runs from pursuers in several ways. He has to fight them off, too, but mostly he runs. Bourne is always running; he will never stop.

Sidekicks (1/8)

Poor Julia Stiles. She comes back for an action movie, her most famous franchise, and she dies in the first act.

Nicky Parsons, out of the CIA for some time now, shows up in Reykjavik, Iceland, at a hacker conclave. Using an ancient device the CIA marked as destroyed, she hacks into Langley files for information about Treadstone.

She finds that her bosses had their fingers stirring many pots. Treadstone was one of 10 CIA death squad units. Nicky doesn’t like this. She steals the files, tosses some vodka on the old computers, and torches the evidence.

Too bad her CIA foil, replacement Heather Lee, stuck some traceable malware files in flash drive. That comes into play later.

Nicky and the CIA and the Asset find Bourne in Athens. There’s a motorcycle chase and a shootout and Nicky dies. Blammo. The old Say Hello to Your Maker. She tosses Bourne the info he needs though. Be thankful for that.

Moving on, we have Deep Dream CEO Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed). He’s not Bourne’s sidekick except that they both have the same enemy. Kalloor and Bourne never meet.

Best pic I could get of Riz Ahmed, who might as well be in a different film.
Best pic I could get of Riz Ahmed, who might as well be in a different film.

Kalloor is waffling against a prior agreement made with Dewey. The CIA chief wanted a backdoor into Deep Dream’s programming, and now Kalloor wants out. His conscience can’t handle it.

Tommy Lee Jones all but says, “I don’t care.” Kalloor has one trick left up his sleeve. At Exocon, a cyber security conference, he goes on stage to admit to the world that he tried to let the government hack their most private social media accounts. Does the phrase “private social media” sound like an oxymoron? Congratulations, you just advanced to the next level!

Dewey orders the Asset to shoot Kalloor, but he’s foiled at the last moment by Bourne knocking a spotlight in his face. Kalloor turns out fine.

These sidekicks were underutilized. Kalloor, for all he knew, was starring in a different film.

Henchmen (5/8)

The obvious henchman is the Asset. Old Slide Face himself, Vincent Cassel, joins the franchise as unnamed assassin par excellence. He’s out for revenge, and this time it’s personal. (ominous music)

The Asset sits in an apartment in Rome watching a soccer match late at night. Dewey, his only boss, it seems, calls him and tells him to drop everything he’s doing and fly to Athens to kill Bourne. The Asset hears his orders, walks to the bathroom, and shoots the man duct-taped in the bathtub. He’s that kind of guy.

In Athens, and later in London, the Asset shows his tracking skills. Dozens of police officers try to trace Bourne through the city. The Asset, getting livestream updates from Langley, easily finds Bourne and, more importantly, where he’s going to be.

Vincent Cassel as The Asset
Vincent Cassel as The Asset

The Asset sets up his sniper rifle on a roof overlooking a narrow, smoke filled street. He kills three bystanders to ensure he’s alone on the roof. As Bourne and Nicky speed through on a motorcycle, the Asset shoots Nicky in the torso, knocking her into a wall and into the street.

Bourne, also off the back, takes cover behind a car when he regains consciousness. Nicky huffs in the street, all but her head exposed to the Asset, who waits. She’s the bait; Bourne’s the prey. A helicopter zeroes in on the Asset’s position, but he’s patient, waiting for the right moment to finish Nicky. When he does, he escapes by sliding down a rope he brought.

In London, the Asset ups the game. He starts killing CIA operatives, men who are tasked with capturing Bourne while the Asset wants him dead. The Asset kills four men before he can find Bourne, who interrogates a guy on a rooftop.

The Asset nearly makes his mark in London. He’s tasked to Las Vegas, but to kill Kalloor and Lee, not Bourne.

The more interesting henchman is Vikander as new CIA big wig Heather Lee. This young woman recently joined the CIA and worked her way up quickly. She immediately gained control of the Bourne situation by tracking the device Nicky used to hack CIA servers.

Lee reads about Bourne and his past with Treadstone and believes she can reactivate him as an agent. She uses this belief to gain the upper hand in tracing Bourne and to gain his trust.

I liked Lee because she has her own motives. Dewey works against her, and she’s a little slow to figure it out, but when she does she acts ruthlessly, undermining her boss as he undermines her. This is not the hallmark of a successful spy organization, but discord a good movie makes.

Lee meets Bourne in London and he asks her why she helps him. “We want Dewey gone, but for different reasons,” she says. Turns out those reasons are professional advancement. Lee is the one who kills Dewey, her boss, in Las Vegas. She aids Bourne’s escape from another CIA team in Berlin and kills Dewey as he’s about to kill Bourne.

That’s right, the CIA director was murdered by one of his subordinates and potential rival. How Shakespearean is that? Lee shows no qualms about taking out Dewey to her new boss. “He was old,” she says. No other reason necessary.

Vikander adopts a strange accent to play an American. Her voice sounds too deep for a face so light and airy. Vikander is a tough gal, proving that a tiny person can intimidate.

Stunts (6/6)

Come for the Damon, stay for the fights. That’s the formula for all non-Renner Bourne movies. While Damon speaks so infrequently in his eponymous film that it could be titled The Bourne Throwback: Silent Movie Edition, the stunt team did not regress to silence.

I detail a chase scene earlier and the climactic car chase later, and rest assured that they are terrific. My drawback from Jason Bourne lay in the lack of interest in the main, Bourne-related plot. If that happens to you, don’t let it detract you from the great fights and chases.

This is how the chase ended. No airbags were used in the driving of this car.
This is how the chase ended. No airbags were used in the driving of this car.

Thankfully, the patented Greengrass-Shakevision from the earlier trilogy is numbed a bit in Jason Bourne. The damage done is not. In this movie we see a river of cars decimated by an armored truck. Bourne leaps off a building and grabs a wire stretched through the air. Nicky Parsons is shot in the back off her motorcycle and into a concrete wall. Bourne shoots a smoke grenade from a motorcycle into an oncoming van.

I can’t recall seeing any of those specific stunts in other films. The creativity is high and the execution too.

Climax (2/6)

Jason Bourne has infiltrated Exocon at Las Vegas’s Aria hotel and saved the lives of Kalloor and Lee. Dewey wants to track him down, so he sends his men after Bourne, but Bourne is too smart for that. He rigs an elevator and enters, alone, Dewey’s room. The CIA director is ready for him.

“You took a long time to get here,” Dewey says. “It all ends tonight,” Bourne says. It’s hard to tell if they are speaking about the Bourne plot or the Bourne series. Anyway, adversaries should talk.

“I volunteered because I thought our enemies killed him,” Bourne says of his dad. Oops, they didn’t. CIA did it to convince Bourne to join Treadstone. Bourne joined, and now he wants out, again. “I’m trying to find another way,” he says. Dewey mocks him. “How’s that working out for you?”

Dewey plays his last card, trying to convince Bourne to “come in.” “I can’t,” Bourne says, “not for you.” Dewey’s right-hand man bursts in, Bourne shoots him, gets shot. Dewey stands over Bourne with a gun until he’s shot by Lee. It’s a bang-bang-bang sequence that ends with Bourne going after the Asset for some reason. Oh right, because he killed his dad that he hardly remembers.

The Asset leaves the hotel and knifes a SWAT member in the base of the neck and steals a SWAT truck. On the radio we hear reports that Bourne has stolen a black Dodge Charger. Remember that, kids, when buying your next vehicle.

Asset and Bourne proceed to annihilate cars driving down The Strip. I admired Bourne’s tenacity. He rams the SWAT truck despite his car being about four times lighter. Bourne first has to take care of the local cops chasing him. He whips his car across two lanes to spin around one squad car into another.

Bourne survives the first hit with the SWAT truck but does nothing to derail the Asset’s driving. Instead, Bourne zooms onto the wrong side of the road. He keeps pace with the SWAT truck while dodging light traffic. Several blocks pass before Bourne mounts the median and flies back into the right side and in pursuit.

The Asset hits the brakes to disrupt more cop cars, but Bourne is not phased. Our hero mounts the curb, his right tires on the grassy median and left tires on asphalt. Bourne bowls over several trees but avoids cars. Somehow, his airbag does not deploy. The Asset is driving right down the center of the sometimes-five-lane road and approaching a red light.crash gif

The Asset has an armored vehicle, and he plows it through dozens of stopped cars in a spectacular crash, parting the cars like they were grains of sand. The number of cars destroyed must approach the Blues Brothers total. Imagine kicking your leg through water and you have the visual.

They make a right turn and the Asset clips Bourne, pinning the Dodge Charger to the front. Bourne can’t control the thing. After a bit Bourne gets free and reverses into a stairwell. A chopper is in pursuit now. Still no airbag.

Down into a parking garage they descend. More cars are smashed. Nice tourists who just came to Vegas for alcohol-fueled affairs or to spend their annual salary on the point spread to the Patriots game. Bourne drives over a ledge onto a lower level. Again, no airbag deploys.

Outside the garage, the Asset realizes he can’t outdrive Bourne, so he crashes into cars to muck up the road. It’s a good tactic, but Bourne is too good a driver.

They approach Bally’s. Bourne drives an incline parallel to the street and a half-story above it. Bourne wrenches the wheel left to drive the car through a railing and crash atop the SWAT truck. Still the airbag does not deploy.

The Asset loses control and drives both vehicles into the not-actually-neighboring-Bally’s Riviera casino. Bourne’s car hits the marquee and flops to the ground like a tossed doll. I’m beginning to think that the Dodge Charger has no safety features at all. No airbag goes off. The car might be trying to kill its driver. Keep THAT in mind, kids, when buying your next vehicle.

The SWAT car busts into the casino floor. The Asset is totally fine, popping out the back with a vest and an automatic rifle.

They go on foot. Did you remember that Bourne was shot a few minutes ago? He was, and it’s slowing him down. Bourne catches the Asset in the tunnels and they fight. This is a brutal, powerful fight. Bourne throws the Asset into a wall like an adult would fighting a child.

There’s some wound pressing and knife dodging. Bourne finds a pot in this trashy setting and uses that to deflect and remove the knife from the Asset.

Bourne gains the upper hand as he seems to recall his fight club training until the Asset finds a cord to whip at him and choke him with.

“You’re a traitor,” Asset says. “You’ve always been a traitor.” Bourne grabs the Asset’s legs and falls backward to gain position. A few moments of choking later and the Asset is dead. Bourne walks away. That bullet wound? Don’t worry about it.

While the car chase was terrific stunt work, I felt the climactic moment occurred when Lee killed Dewey, which happened before the chase. I didn’t care that the Asset killed Bourne’s father. I didn’t care about the Asset at all.

Jokes (0/4)

I can’t recall laughing once during Jason Bourne, save moments when I wasn’t supposed to. One of my favorite tropes to mock in today’s spy movies is the room full of techies using billion-dollar devices to capture/kill one person. In these scenes is always the chief of the organization barking minimal and obvious orders such as “Get him,” “OK people, let’s go to work,” or “Don’t let him get away.”

The Bourne chiefs are the best. Chris Cooper exceled at silly phrases and being disgruntled. Tommy Lee Jones seems like he was born cantankerous, making his role a perfect one for him. CIA villains, football coaches, guidance counsellors: Jones shouldplay them all.

I’m getting sidetracked. The movie was a little funny, but not on purpose.

Setting (2/4)

No spy movie can stay in one place, and Jason Bourne hits many. Berlin, Reykjavik, Athens, Langley, and London all are visited by the main characters.

No place stands out more than Las Vegas. The filmmakers shut down a few block of the Strip in January 2016 to film a spectacular chase scene and make people late for a J. Lo show. Priorities, people.

The Las Vegas of Jason Bourne’s world exists mostly away from green card tables and jingly slot machines. Strange to see a film set in Vegas without any gambling or entertainment. Only death.

Commentary (1/2)

Stuffed inside this chase film is a plot about the CIA controlling Silicon Valley. Kalloor is a Zuckerberg-like CEO of Facebook-like Deep Dream platform. In the past he agreed to let the CIA use his site to spy but has since reneged on that choice. He almost dies for it.

This is a neat plot. But it has nothing to do with Jason Bourne. Literally nothing. Kalloor never interacts with Bourne and has no idea who he is. The Deep Dream plot I found more interesting than the Jason Bourne who-am-I-for-the-fourth-time plot. At least Deep Dream is new.

But it didn’t belong in Jason Bourne. The title disqualifies it. Had it been The Bourne Surveillance, then maybe. Bourne learns he’d been surveilled even before joining Treadstone. The movie is called Jason Bourne. That’s it. No more adjacent plots.

I enjoyed the Consumer Electronics Show ripoff Exocon, which seemed to be a tech security conference. Bourne picks up a free tracking device and a audio amplifier from distributor tables at the conference. He flashes an ill-gotten badge to gain access to the speech floor.

I loved the idea of a security conference being infiltrated by two world-class assassins, one of whom is the target of a worldwide manhunt. All Bourne needs to avoid detection is a baseball cap, Exocon-emblazoned, of course.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

Jason Bourne is not immune to Girl Syndrome. Dewey makes the case about two-thirds of the way through the movie.

At Exocon, Dewey is about to go on stage with Kalloor, and also setting up his murder. All in a day’s work for Dewey. While speaking with the Asset, Dewey orders him to shoot Kalloor and “the girl.”

“The girl” is Lee, the woman in charge of the Bourne case and a way high up in the CIA. Kalloor is some patsy Dewey wants to use. The only reason to call Lee a girl is because Dewey disrespects her…as a woman. We already know he disrespects her because he spent her time in London using the Asset to undermine her.

I can’t tell if this is lazy filmmaking or not. Given the lack of dialogue overall, Jones might have ad-libbed his line. I throw up my hands.

There’s an argument that the screenwriters meant the line. After the events of Jason Bourne are resolved, Lee sits in a car with the new CIA director, Russell, who asks her if Kalloor will be a problem. She tells him that Kalloor is one of her people, and that Dewey was too old. Dewey’s underestimation of Lee got him killed, by Lee, so HA.


  • Alicia Vikander’s accent was really weird.

Summary (32/68): 47%

Damon’s fourth go around as Jason Bourne is a tired exercise in the chase genre. We can tell Bourne is tired of running, and it seems that Damon is too. We don’t need more Bourne chase movies.

Notice I said “chase” movies. James Bond recently passed 50 years of spy action flicks. But his plots change with the times. Bourne must do so as well if it is to survive the coming decades.