Jason Bourne is a cinematic hero out of his time, a strong and silent type of action movie figure in an era defined by wisecracking superheroes.
He owes a greater debt to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name than, say, Tony Stark, in part because the Bourne franchise began more than a decade ago, long before Marvel transformed into a big-screen powerhouse.
So “Jason Bourne,” Matt Damon’s fourth go-round as Robert Ludlum’s taciturn spy, plays like a retro experience in 2016. That’s the case even as director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Christopher Rouse work to update the franchise to the second decade of the 21st century, engaging with our post-Snowden awareness of the realities of governmental surveillance and the tech industry’s complex role in that picture.
In the nine years since Damon last played the part (the less said about the Jeremy Renner-starring spinoff “The Bourne Legacy,” the better), the character and the world he inhabits have become increasingly less interesting.
With the spy now remembering every bit of his Operation Treadstone experience, once lost to amnesia, there’s not much left for Damon to play from a human standpoint. Bourne is such a loner that he all but reverts to killing machine form here, uttering a mere 25 lines of dialogue and seeming to have been so beaten down by his tumultuous experiences that he barely registers emotionally.
Then there’s the question of whether there’s much fresh value to be offered in the spectacle of the government, embodied by the CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones) and a devoted agent (Alicia Vikander), utilizing its most advanced tools to locate and eliminate the threat posed by Bourne before he can spill the beans on yet another nefarious, constitutionally-questionable surveillance program. We’ve seen this before, many times, and we’re seeing variations of it in more interesting fashion on the nightly news.
There’s an unmistakable undercurrent of weariness with the whole enterprise, manifest in a sense of disbelief on the part of many of the major players that they’re here, again, with Bourne doing his thing, again.
Even so, Damon and Greengrass are such a potent combination that the movie offers its share of genuine big-budget thrills. There are several risible action scenes, most notably an extended chase set amid a large-scale riot in Greece, and an impressively orchestrated symphony of destruction on the Las Vegas Strip. These guys couldn’t make a boring movie if they tried. But it’s time to move on from Bourne.