Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Ultimatum is not just a great movie, but a fantastic end to an amazing trilogy. After a worldwide search for the truth behind his identity and his past, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) finally took the fight directly to the CIA, exposed the assassin program, and even learned that his real name is David Webb. It was a fitting and thrilling conclusion, leaving the franchise without a need for another sequel following the Damon character. Unfortunately, that's exactly that we've received in Jason Bourne, and it's exactly as forced and unnecessary as you would expect.
Based on a screenplay by Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, the film picks up years after the events of Bourne Ultimatum and finds the titular hero living in obscurity and on the fringe in Greece, passing time by participating in boxing matches -- clearly unable to entirely let go of the violence that had been drilled into him. This life is disrupted, however, when Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) comes back into his world, having hacked into the CIA and discovered something new and important about the Treadstone program: it was actually created by Jason Bourne's father (bum bum BUM!).
Much like the audience watching the story unfold, Bourne is thrown for a complete loop and is totally confused after this revelation, and once again finds himself propelled into an adventure -- and the CIA once again on his tail. This time around, the antagonists at the government organization are represented in Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), the agency's new cyber expert; an unnamed Asset (Vincent Cassel) with a personal score to settle with Bourne, and Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who wants the rogue agent captured at all costs. This urgency is particularly forced because the CIA is about to embark on a new program called Iron Hand involving the participation of Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), a tech genius about to launch a new social media platform called Deep Dream.
If plot beats such as "It was his father all along," "vengeful assassins," and "corruptible social media" read to you as low-hanging fruit utilized to unnecessarily perpetuate a franchise, then you already basically get the Jason Bourne experience. The first three movies in the series are tight, albeit mostly straightforward action thrillers, but this is the first one that just wears its tropes on its sleeve -- making it feel uninspired and artificial (two adjectives that particularly sting when you consider that this is the character's big screen return after a nine year hiatus). Above all else, it reeks of the studio really wanting a new film with "Bourne" in the title.
Of course, with a filmmaker as smart and talented as Paul Greengrass running the show, Jason Bourne does have some interesting things to offer within its mess of unfortunate choices, but they also lend the movie a bit of frustration to go with the audiences' disappointment. Specifically, it asks some compelling questions about the mindset of the eponymous former assassin, and whether or not the Treadstone program is entirely behind him. Bourne is very much lost when we catch up with him in this chapter, and there's a great dynamic explored between the hero and Heather Lee as she studies his files and begins to question if he can be "brought back in" (the question given weight thanks to strong performances from both Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander). While it's an idea well-explored by the film and honestly given a conclusion, it's so buried within the rest of the problematic script that it still never feels satisfying.
Continuing that theme is also the movie's big action moments, which are fun, but also surprisingly few and far between. Paul Greengrass certainly does set up a couple of big blockbuster beats, including a car-smashing trip through Las Vegas and some Bourne vs. Asset battle in Athens, and they are outfitted with the director's intense, albeit divisive, shaky cam style. Once again, however, the movie just doesn't live up to the standards that the previous installments established, not reaching the edge-of-your-seat level of crazy accomplished by the Russian showdown in Bourne Supremacy or the New York chase in Bourne Ultimatum. It's particularly in this category that the film falls victim to expectation, but all evidence did point us towards the idea of Jason Bourne delivering something better than we get.
Even as someone who sees the merits in Tony Gilroy's semi-spin-off The Bourne Legacy, I was excited when the news came that Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon would be returning to the franchise. Their collaboration on the second and third Bourne movies really defined the aesthetic and tone of the series -- and they're both talented enough that I will always be interested in all of the work they do. Taking into consideration the final result of Jason Bourne, however, it's hard not to wonder if we may have been better off with the return of Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross.