Back in 2002, the perfect anti-hero for the new millennium came along in the form of a CIA ops renegade who lost his memory and went on the lam. The Bourne Identity became a hit action franchise, perfect for the times. It spawned several follow-ups including, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, which not only was the most critically acclaimed and best of the series but also won three Oscars. But it has been almost a decade since that last teaming of star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass. A misguided 2012 attempt, The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner taking over, did nothing to continue that cinematic legacy, so there is much anticipation around the return of Damon and Greengrass with Jason Bourne. The verdict: It’s an exciting and timely re-invention of the series.
Christopher Rouse, the Oscar-winning editor of Bourne Ultimatum, returns and also co-wrote the screenplay with Greengrass as well as becoming an executive producer of the franchise that started with author Robert Ludlum’s creation. Film editors don’t always get these kinds of promotions, but it makes perfect sense for this frenetic and nonstop-action series. Pace is everything, and that includes a dizzying storyline right in with the cyber nature of today’s world. Plot-wise, we learn that Jason Bourne has been hanging out in Greece after years in hiding, punching away in local prize fights. Into his life once again comes Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has hacked some sensitive top-secret files that also hold some clues to Bourne’s own identity and his father (Gregg Henry in brief flashbacks). She plans to expose it on a Wikileaks-style operation, but the CIA, especially new analyst Heather Lee (Oscar winner Alicia Vikander), is on to her and suspects new trouble. Working at a large Mission Control-type center, Nicky and boss Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) can chart her steps like they are watching a TV show.
This sets the action in motion, especially when the determined Dewey engages a lethal hitman called the Asset (Vincent Cassel) to track them down with the idea of eliminating Bourne once and for all to avoid any embarrassing and dangerous recollections he may be able to spill. Things quickly go awry on that front, and soon Bourne is off on his own, outrunning his pursuers even if the years have changed him in many ways. Meanwhile, complications arise with Aaron Kaloor (Riz Ahmed), the Silicon Valley king of a Facebook-like entity called Deep Dream, refusing to cooperate with the CIA when they want to compromise his 1.5 billion following by breaking encryption codes for key information. Dewey had covertly set Kaloor in business, but now the mogul is at odds with the devious plans of the CIA head.
All this, of course, is played out with spectacular action set pieces and chases in locations from Iceland to Greece to Berlin to London to Washington, D.C., and finally a humongous pursuit in the streets and casinos of Las Vegas for an over-the-top finale that pulls out all the stops — maybe a little too much after all we, and Bourne, have been through. The opening action sequence in Athens probably is the best and would be hard to top under any circumstances.
Damon is the perfect fit for this role, and his absence the last time around only underscores it. Vikander is coolly driven and a smart addition to the series, as is Jones, who brings every wrinkle on his well-worn face into play. Cassel scores as a no-nonsense assassin of few words who likes plugging his victims in the forehead just to be sure. Ahmed also is quite believable as the social media kingpin, a story development that keeps this edition right in step with a world that Jason Bourne must figure out anew in order to stay ahead of those out to get him.
Producers in addition to Greengrass and Damon are Frank Marshall, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith and Gregory Goodman. Universal releases the movie today.
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